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Gay News 161, 22 February–7 March 1979

CHE Man Dies in Shotgun Killing

Croydon CHE member Peter Wells has been found shot dead at his South Croydon home. A man has appeared in court charged with his murder. At the time of his death, Peter Wells was engaged in the final stages of an appeal to the European Human Rights Commission against the UK government and laws against homosexuality in England and Wales.

His legal advisor, solicitor William Nash, believes the case may not however, automatically be dropped because of Mr Wells’ death.

Peter Wells’ body was found on Wednesday, February 7 1979 when an Australian friend, who shared his house, returned home in the evening. The dead man lay on the floor in a back living room. A post mortem report said he died of shotgun wounds.

The next day police interviewed a man in connection with the incident and on Friday he appeared before Croydon magistrates charged with murder. His name was given as William George Purton-Henderson (25) of no fixed abode. He was remanded in custody.


Peter Wells’ application to Strasbourg followed his release from prison in 1976. He had been serving a sentence imposed by the Old Bailey in 1974 for buggery charges in 1974 involving two 18 year old men. Shortly after his release he attended the annual conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in Southampton where CHE was debating the age of consent laws. He received a sympathetic ovation when a friend told delegates of his harsh treatment in prison and pointed out where Wells was sitting in the hall.

Unknown to CHE members Peter Wells had already started the process of complaining to the Human Rights Commission in Strasbourg. A wealthy man, he was able to finance the private case out of his own resources without appealing for support to the gay community.

In his submission he claimed that the laws against homosexuality in England and Wales violated his right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and that his treatment ‘amounted to a denial of his right to freedom of expression under Article 10’.

The Commission declared that his case was admissible and held a hearing on the merits early in 1978.
The Commission has now prepared a report on the case which it has decided not to send to the European Human Rights Court in the Hague. Instead, it will forward its report to the Committee of Ministers who will decide whether or not to approve the report for publication.

The UK government has never denied that the discriminatory laws against homosexuality amount to ‘interference with the right to respect for private life’. They argue, however, that they are justified in their interference under Article 8 (2) for protection of health or morals as well as the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.


There has not yet been a ruling by the Commission on whther Peter Wells’ case should be dropped now that the applicant is dead. But his solicitor, William Nash, told Gay News: ‘I don’t think that technically the case does automatically drop’.

Every complaint to the Commission, he explained, must contain an element of public interest, and that would not be extinguished by the death of the applicant. ‘I would personally be prepared to go ahead with it’.

A finding against the Government would clearly put Parliament under strong pressure to reform the present law. But there are few people who are optimistic about the chances of success. In the past the Commission and the Committee of Ministers have taken the position that a blanket ban on homosexuality is probably indefensible – but that it is fair to discriminate between the heterosexual and homosexual ages of consent.

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Death – A Mystery

News of Peter Wells’ death came as a shock to the many Croydon people who knew him. A friend who knew him well told Gay News he had been drinking with Peter only a day before the incident. ‘It takes some getting used to,’ he said.

Peter’s involvement with Croydon CHE had been limited almost entirely to its social events, he explained. His main interest was in the CHE tennis group, though he attended a number of discos.
Nigel Webb, the local CHE convenor, said members were still trying to find out what had happened. Information about Peter’s death was still rather sketchy, and no details were likely to emerge publicly now a man had been arrested and charged with murder.

Peter was also an active member of the local Liberal Party.

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