Gay man ‘nearly thrown in River Thames’ in homophobic attack doesn’t feel safe in the UK

In this photograph, Nathan Esslemont can be seen with wounds on his face

A gay man left for dead by teenagers who beat and robbed him says he no longer feels safe in the UK.

Nathan Esslemont, 25, was walking along Golden Jubilee Bridge (which crosses London’s River Thames) with a friend after a night out in G-A-Y Late on 17 August when he became the victim of a homophobic hate crime.

As they crossed the bridge at around 5am, a group of four teenage boys and a girl threw a water bottle at Nathan’s friend.

One of the teens grabbed Nathan and demanded he handed over his possessions. He refused.

“He just started punching me in the head,” Nathan told PinkNews, saying he was being “punched and punched again.”

“Two put me on the floor and started kicking me, beating me and trying to get my phone.”

At the same time, he says, his friend was being punched in the stomach before having his necklace and phone taken by the teens.

“At this point, I was bleeding from my nose, head, everything you can think of,” Nathan said.

“I was covered in bruises and I eventually just gave up and gave them my phone.”

‘They tried to throw me in the river’

Nathan had only purchased his Samsung phone three days before. Between blows, the teens demanded he tell them its passcode, something he says he struggled to do – he was on the brink of passing out and his speech was slurred.

“One of them said they thought they’d killed me, and that’s when they decided to start stripping me – my bag, shoes, jacket, trousers, they tried to throw them all in the river,” Nathan said.

“One of them grabbed me by the leg and tried to throw me in the river, he was trying to pull me in. I was doing everything I could so they wouldn’t think I was dead and that’s when the guys all started running away.”

The thugs had spotted police officers, who’d been called to the scene, walking toward them.

“If my friend wasn’t there, and the police didn’t get there on time, I would be in that river. I would be dead,” Nathan says.

He was rushed to St Thomas’ Hospital by paramedics, suffering from a deep wound on his head and a footprint on the side of his face.

Nathan Esslemont suffered a deep gash on his face. (Instagram/@nathanesslemont12)

Nathan’s ordeal continued after the attack

But the violence he’d faced that night wasn’t at an end – he says a man at the hospital shouted “something homophobic” at him while he lay on a hospital trolley bed, woozy from painkillers.

Weeks on, Nathan struggles to remember the faces of his attackers (“I literally had blood in my eyes”) and suffers from near-constant headaches.

“I was in a really dark place the first and second week. It was just so difficult to do anything day to day,” he said.

Police chased down two of his attackers, who were just 15 years old, and arrested them within minutes. The pair have since pleaded guilty to robbery and will be sentenced 21 September at Highbury Magistrates Court.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time Nathan has been hospitalised because of a homophobic attack. He and a friend were beaten up after the end of lockdowns, and he feels homophobia has risen since the pandemic.

“It’s 2022, we have Prides every year. This shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

“As a queer person, I don’t feel safe anymore at all.”

Nathan worked for three years as a promoter a Heaven, one of the longest-running LGBTQ+ nightclubs in Europe. Police officers tend to patrol outside such venues, he notes, but that’s often not where violence takes place – it’s on the walks to nearby Tube stations and home where he’s seen most queer folk attacked.

“It can happen to anyone. If it wasn’t me on that bridge, it would have been someone else.”

In 2022, a year marked by the government excluding trans people from its conversion therapy ban, a failed global LGBTQ+ rights conference and the peddling of anti-trans policies, police have reported a steep rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime.

Reports of homophobic hate crimes were up from 10,003 in 2016-17 to 26,824 in 2021-22, a dizzying increase of more than 168 per cent.

Transphobic hate crimes also surged by 240 per cent, from 1,292 reports in 2016-17 to 4,399 five years later, in what police believe to be the largest increase ever seen since records began.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said of the attack: “During the early hours of 17 August, police were called to a report of a group assaulting two young people.

“Officers arrived on scene within four minutes of being called. They chased a number of suspects from the scene, arrested two, and recovered some of the victims’ property. Officers provided the two victims with first aid, took them to hospital for treatment, and returned them home.

“It was identified that this was a homophobic hate crime from the outset. Officers obtained accounts from the victims and others and reviewed CCTV.

“Detectives are continuing enquiries to identify other individuals involved in the attack. If you have any information relating to this incident, please contact us, quoting reference 996/17AUG22.”

“This attack was absolutely sickening,” added superintendent Dan Ivey.

“The victims were punched, kicked and beaten and were stripped of some of their clothing, in what was clearly an attack by opportunist thieves motivated by hate.”