Now aged 89, Terry (not his real name) was a young man when he was arrested in central London following an admission from his then boyfriend that the pair were in a consensual, private – but under the law of the time, criminal – sexual relationship. Terry told The Independent his story.
“It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life. The police came to my flat in the early morning. I think they were hoping to find me and my boyfriend in bed together but he happened to be out of town that week. He was arrested later.
“They turned the place upside down and I remember one of the constables saying to his colleague that they’d got ‘another effing queer’. I was given a suspended sentence on the basis of my boyfriend’s statement. They were scary times. A real witch hunt was going on. Even now it’s pretty hard to talk about it – I told no one for years and lots of people still don’t know.”
The Independent reminds us that the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, which introduced the notorious Section 11 offence of two men committing “gross indecency”, was used to prosecute Oscar Wilde in 1895. The bulk of prosecutions took place after the 1930s and sharply accelerated during the post-war period as homosexuals became increasingly equated by the Establishment with depravity and betrayal.
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who was made Home Secretary in 1951, instructed the forces of law and order to conduct a “new drive against male vice” that would “rid England of this plague”.