Sir Mark Rowley sends apology to Peter Tatchell
More police services are expected to also apologise
London, UK – 7 June 2023
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, has said “sorry” to the LGBT+ community for his force’s past homophobic persecution. He’s the first UK police chief to apologise.
In a personal letter to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, which was read out in the House of Lords, at today’s launch of the #ApologiseNow campaign, Sir Mark wrote:
“The Met has had systems and processes in place which have led to bias and discrimination in the way we have policed London’s communities, and in the way we have treated our officers and staff, over many decades. Recent cases of appalling behaviour by some officers have revealed that there are still racists, misogynists, homophobes and transphobes in the organisation, and we have already doubled down on rooting out those who corrupt and abuse their position.”
Sir Mark concluded; “I am clear that there is much for us to do. I am sorry to all of the communities we have let down for the failings of the past and look forward to building a new Met for London, one all Londoners can be proud of and in which they can have confidence.”
LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who led negotiations for the Met’s apology, said:
“We thank Sir Mark Rowley for being the first UK police chief to say sorry. His apology is a ground-breaking step forward that will, we hope, spur other police forces to follow suit. It draws a line under past Met persecution. This will help strengthen LGBT+ trust and confidence in the police; encouraging more LGBTs to report hate crime, domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The launch of the #ApologiseNow campaign, which is bidding to secure apologies from all UK Chief Constables, was hosted by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC and featured a video by the late TV star Paul O’Grady, recorded before his death. In it, Paul urged the police to say sorry for the often abusive, and sometimes illegal, way they treated LGBT+ people.
The #ApologiseNow campaign is dedicated to Paul’s memory. His partner, Andre Portasio, and manager, Joan Marshrons, were present at today’s launch.
The #ApologiseNow!” campaign is organised by the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
The #ApologiseNow petition is now live at ApologiseNow.com
Paul O’Grady backed the apology campaign based on his personal experience of police victimisation. He was present during a police raid on the gay bar, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, on 24 January 1987. He described the raid as “homophobic…we were being treated like animals.”
See more quotes from Paul O’Grady below.
The launch event heard testimony from LGBTs who were insulted and assaulted by the police. We heard from campaigner Alan Shea about homophobic police persecution on the Isle of Man, and the successful 2022 campaign to get the island’s Chief Constable to say sorry – the first police chief in the British Isles to do so.
Other police services across the UK are currently engaging with the #ApologiseNow campaign, but as discussions are at an early stage we will not be naming them.
“We are not asking the police to apologise for enforcing the law, but to apologise for the often illegal and abusive way they enforced it,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“Officers raided gay bars, clubs and even private birthday parties, insulting LGBTs as ‘poofs’ and ‘queers’. They gave the names and addresses of arrested gay men to local papers, which led to some being evicted, sacked and violently beaten. Police harassed LGBTs leaving gay venues and arrested same-sex couples for kissing, cuddling and holding hands, right up until the 1990s.
“The police did not make the law but they chose to enforce it in ways that today would be deemed illegal and unacceptable. They went out of their way to target gay and bisexual men to boost their arrest figures and ‘crime fighting’ reputation. Young handsome male officers were sent into public toilets and parks, where they lured gay men into committing offences and then arrested them. These so-called ‘pretty police’ acted as agents provocateurs.
“The yearly average of homosexual offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was nearly three times greater after the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967, than it was in the previous eight decades of total criminalisation – clear evidence of a police witch-hunt.
“Police forces in New York, Copenhagen, Sydney, Berlin, Amsterdam, Montreal and San Francisco have apologised, as has the Chief Constable of the Isle of Man. UK police should do the same,” said Mr Tatchell.
Paul O’Grady’s account of the police raid on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on 24 January 1987:
“Police have apologised all around the world for their behaviour all those years ago. I think it is about time the British police did the same thing and said we are so sorry for what happened, because it was unnecessary. It was homophobic,” said Mr O’Grady
“I’d only been there for about ten minutes and a copper burst in the dressing room. I thought he was a stripper. He was so rude and so aggressive. And when I came out on the stage, they were all wearing rubber gloves. I said: ‘Oh good, have you come to do the washing up?’ There was pandemonium and people were scared.
“I was called a lascivious act in the South London Press and to tell you the truth I was delighted about that.
“Past injustices often cross my mind and this is one of them. The bloody cheek of them. It was disgusting, it was just offensive. We were being treated like animals. Pure homophobia that’s what it was. And nothing else will make me change my mind. So apologise, because I know where you are!” said Mr O’Grady.
Peter Tatchell added:
“In the 1980s, we had the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, James Anderton, saying that gay people were ‘swirling round in a cesspit of their own making.’ He gave a green light for the police across the country to persecute our community.
“At the height of this persecution in 1989, there were 1,718 convictions and cautions for so-called ‘gross indecency’ between men – almost as many as in 1954-55 when male homosexuality was totally illegal, and the country was gripped by a McCarthyite-style anti-gay witch hunt.
“If the police say they have changed, they need to show it by acknowledging past wrongs. They need to follow the lead of the Met Police Commissioner. All Chief Constables should apologise for the many decades of past police harassment. Apologise now!”