West Midlands Police urged to apologise for history of homophobic ‘witch hunts’

Peter Tatchell talking to the West Midlands Police chief while walking in a Pride march, surrounded by police holding rainbow flags

Ahead of Birmingham Pride, the city’s police force is being urged to apologise for a history of homophobia and its past “vindictive policy” against gay men.

Veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell has called on West Midlands Police chief constable Craig Guildford to issue an apology for the force’s past behaviour.

In a letter seen by PinkNews, Tatchell wrote: “In the decades before the full decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2003, West Midlands officers went out of their way to target and arrest thousands of gay and bisexual men for consenting, victimless behaviour.”

He said West Midlands Police had been “one of the most zealously homophobic police forces in the country, with arrest figures way above the national average”.

“Your force had a vindictive policy of releasing the names, addresses and workplaces of arrested men to the media, which led to public humiliation, ostracism, evictions, sackings and even violent attack,” the campaigner added.

Tatchell highlighted the impact of this policy, including how these men were often sent to jail where they were attacked.

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“Others were hit with huge fines,” he continued. “Many lost their jobs, homes and marriages. Some were bashed by homophobic mobs, driven to mental breakdowns, and attempted or committed suicide.”

Guildford became chief constable of West Midlands Police in December 2022. Tatchell said that while he was not personally responsible for past wrongs, he is the current “head of the force that witch-hunted us and wrecked LGBT+ lives”.

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“I would respectfully request you to put the past behind us by making an apology to the LGBT+ community, so we can move forward together,” the letter urged.

Tatchell noted how in 2020, Guildford’s predecessor, Sir David Thompson, apologised to the Black community for the force’s historical racism.

Tatchell confronted Thompson for an apology to the LGBTQ+ community as he marched in Birmingham Pride in 2021, but one was not forthcoming.

Such a statement “would help to further improve LGBT+ trust and confidence in the police, which is what we all want”, he added.

The letter asked for the apology to be made before Birmingham Pride, which takes place on 27 May.

In a statement, West Midlands Police confirmed it had received the letter and “will be responding to it in due course”.

It comes after London’s Met Police was found to be institutionally homophobic, racist and sexist by a major review.

A subsequent report found the force had not learned from the “calamitous litany of failures” witnessed in the Stephen Port investigation. The Met initially failed to connect the murders of young gay men carried out by Port.

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An independent inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found such failures could happen again.

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