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Gay News issue 95, 20 May – 3 June 1976

Taking Each Day As It Comes

Peter Wells looks back with GN’s Jeff Grace on the two years he lost through love

Peter Wells is a mild mannered, soft spoken man of 28. He is attractive, financially secure, charming and has many friends. His direct and impish eyes immediately hold your attention and convince you that he has a great love and enthusiasm for life.

But there is much, much more to this man. There a retimes when he seems totally introspective. When his voice becomes an almost inaudible whisper. When his gaze wanders and he finds it difficult to look you in the eye.

The past two and a half years of Peter’s life have caused this other side to his naturally ebullient, friendly nature. The past two and a half years that he spent in prisons up and down England.

This change in the young man was not brought about because of some terrible crime to society. This change in Peter came because of his love for another young man – a young man of 18 years.

And the society in which he lived three years ago when his love relationship began and the one in which he still resides – a society closed, inward-looking, village-like in the Olde English tradition and totally bigoted – is largely to blame for the injustice shown to Peter. An injustice which extends from the sleepy community of Sanderstead to the very highest figures of English law.


Peter has lived for in the commuter belt of Surrey for many, many years, and previous to his time in prison, worked as a personal assistant to the Managing Director of a plastics firm. He has enjoyed, and still does to a slightly lesser extent, the proliferation of clubs and societies that are common in middle class Sanderstead. But it is those very cliques – more particularly the attitudes they hold – which have caused so much pain to the dapper young man.

Peter invited me to his home in the country-like atmosphere in order to tell his tale. He lives I half of the house that he owns in one of Sanderstead’s residential streets. It is close to the railway that whisks you back to the metropolis and a freer air. And our chat is punctuated by the arrival and departure of trains at the local station.

He converted his property into two self-contained flats some years ago. He explains that he doesn’t need much space – he doesn’t obviously put a great importance on his home-base. And the flat now, after two years without care and attention, shows that something or someone has been absent.

The weeds are still a tangle in his small back garden. But it’s a pleasant day, the birds tell us that spring has arrived and nothing could seem more peaceful. Peter’s past suffering is not immediately evident. It is only when he begins his story that one realises what immense pain this likeable guy has been through.

He tells me that he met a local young man just over three years ago. He and the younger man are both gay. They liked each other and a relationship began.

For nine months they saw each other. It wasn’t an exclusive arrangement, they both had other gay lovers. But it meant a lot. “You don’t have a nine month relationship with a guy without being fond of him,” says Peter with a twinkle in his eye. “In fact I loved the guy”.


But after some months, the mother of the eighteen-year-old (I’ll call him James, not his real name for obvious reasons) became suspicious.

She is a great churchgoer, as is James and as was Peter until his prison experience, and she went along to the local rector, Canon Derek Landreth, head of the Parish of Sanderstead, and told him.

Peter and James were both members of the Church’s Servers guild and the Rector, supposedly anxious and worried about two of his flock, asked them to call round to see him.

And this was just three days after Peter had taken the Rector out for a cream tea, he adds bitterly.

They went along to see him after church one Sunday and aware of their legal position denied everything. The Rector seemed happy with what they told him.

But two days later James went back to the Rector’s. “I suppose it was on his conscience.” He told the Churchman about his relationship with Peter “and he told him much more”.

Peter feels that James felt forced into justifying his actions and said lots of things which were not true. He said that he was afraid of the older man and that everything he had done had been in fear of 26-year-old Peter.

The Rector wasted no time and, although it was past midnight, rang a policeman member of the Church’s adult confirmation class and asked to see him.

The officer went round to the Rectory and was told James’ story. He thought it all terrible and shocking and insisted that it had to be reported to the police.

Three years on

The Rector put James in his car and drove him to the nearest manned police station. There he was questioned and medically examined. But the police did not believe his story that there had been a lengthy relationship so they locked him up for a couple of hours. “To frighten him I suppose. They were pretty hard on him”.

The first Peter knew about it was the next day when a third person, a friend of both he and James, rang him at work. This other man, Peter claims, had also slept with Jame and he is still wondering, almost three years on, why he was not charged too.

The friend explained by telephone that James had been seen by the police and that they would want to see him (Peter) too.

“I was forewarned,” continues Peter. “So I phoned my solicitor and arranged to see him that evening. Then I phoned the police and said that I thought they would want to see me”.

The police did want to see him and Peter arranged to go to the police station with his solicitor at 8.3 that evening.

“At 7.30, three police arrived at my gate shouting ‘Police, open up or we’ll smash the gate in’.”

The gate was locked and this enabled Peter to nip out the back way, across the station and round to his cousin’s with whom he got a lift to the meeting with his solicitor.

“And then we both drove down to the police station”.

There, his solicitor was refused admittance – “they wouldn’t let him in further than the desk” – and Peter was taken away and locked up. The solicitor hung around for three or four hours, then went home.

And it wasn’t until 2 in the morning that police officers came and interrogated the by-now rather frightened man. Four times that night the police questioned him, until at about 5.30am he was put into a police car and taken to Croydon police station.

At the local magistrates court later that day, Peter appeared before the bench and was remanded in custody to Brixton prison. His application for bail had been contested by the police and was refused.

Bail refused

Again bail was refused the following week at Croydon. But the matter went to a judge in chambers and he granted bail on condition that Peter did James and that sureties of £2,500 could be obtained.

The latter were found quite easily – Peter’s family is moneyed, in fact he receives an allowance from the estate of his late parents and so has no financial pressure on him. Something he has been particularly thankful for since his release from prison.
James. He stuck it out for a couple of days too, but could hold back no longer. He wanted to see the young man.

Someone in ‘concerned’ Sanderstead found out about the meeting, and informed the police.

“I was re-arrested and locked up back in Brixton.”

And there Peter stayed until his appearance at the Old Bailey on charges of buggery with two 18-year-old men. The other man, Peter explains, had been a one-night-stand and again the police had found out via the Sanderstead grapevine.

After a month in Wandsworth for medical reports, he went back to the Old Bailey and on September 5, 1974, was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment.

And that’s when his torture began.

Peter’s notoriety preceded him to the first timers’ Wormwood Scrubs. The London evening papers had made quite a bit of the case, especially since Peter was an active member of the Church.

And before he arrived, the erroneous story was already round the prison that Peter has assaulted two eight-year-old choirboys.

“Instead of having had a relationship with a man of 18 and having sex with another guy of the same age, they thought I was a nonce. That’s a sex criminal who assaults kids, perhaps imprisoning them and beating them up.”

Labelled a ‘nonce’

Peter’s ‘nonce’ label meant that he was in for a very rough time in the ensuing four months.

During that time at the Scrubs and his time at Brixton on remand he was assaulted no fewer than nine times. Twice in the former he attempted suicide – once by slashing his wrists and once by self-strangulation.

The extent of his injuries are still evident today. The scar that extends down his cheek and the less-than-straight nose guarantee that Peter will not too easily forget his stretch.

Assaults on him included (information taken from the Governor’s report):

1. On remand he was assaulted by two prison officers because of the nature of his offence. He received some bruising.
2. After conviction but before his sentence he was assaulted by other prisoners while having a bath in the reception area. He received blows to the nose and was admitted to the prison hospital.
3. He was attacked on arrival at the Scrubs after sentence and was kicked on the back of the head.
4. Shortly after this he was put on a report for fighting with another prisoner. This started because of the nature of his offence.
5. A few days later, he was attacked again by inmates when returning from the exercise yard.
6. In October, he was kicked in the chin and foot and although he received an injury to his big toe did not report the incident. He waited three weeks before getting medical attention.
7. In November, Peter had boiling water thrown over him while collecting his meal at the hotplate. He lost consciousness on the way to hospital.
8. The same month, Peter was pushed into his cell, his gear disarranged and his bedding soaked by other prisoners.
9. And the final assault came in December, when he was pushed around by three other prisoners on a landing.

Throughout these four months, until Peter was transferred from the Scrubs to Lewes prison, he did not once complain to the officers about his rough treatment. Furthermore, he at no time asked for Rule 43, which would have meant solitary confinement for his own personal safety.

Asked why he didn’t ever complain, he explains that, “you just don’t tell tales. You don’t grass in prison. It could get worse”.

Also Peter did not want solitary confinement anyway. During his time in the mixed area of the prisons, he never once hid the fact that he was gay and glad to be so. And he was having frequent sex with other inmates – the hets who turned gay once inside and the gay prisoners too.

Solitary confinement

But he was put into solitary when the prison authorities found out the extent of the attacks made on him. They did this also to stop him having further sexual contact with his fellow prisoners. He had contracted venereal disease when he was forced to have relations with an older guy for the amusement of the inmates.

It was in January 1975 then, that he was transferred to Lewes. Following the move, Peter’s mental state went to pieces. “I just cracked up completely,” he admits.

A report from a doctor at the Maudsley Hospital, in South London, which was submitted at Peter’s later appeal in the High Court, describes the state he was in:

“When I saw him Mr Wells was obviously very anxious and depressed. He had a coarse tremor of his hands which he could only control by clenching his fists in his pockets.

He sat throughout the interview hunched up with downcast eyes, avoiding my gaze.

He sweated profusely. He appeared intensely fearful, glancing at the door apprehensively before answering any questions. He told me that he was sleeping badly and was weeping every night. He had lost four stones in weight partly because he had lost his appetite and partly because he was fearful of eating with the other men at the canteen.”

The report goes on, and concludes with a plea for Peter’s early release. The doctor offered to see Peter once he was at liberty to help with some form of ‘psychiatric first aid’.

But it did little good when the appeal was heard. At the Court of Criminal Appeal [sic- it was actually the Court of Appeal of England and Wales], Lord Justice James, Mr Justice May and Lord Chief Justice Widgery, decided that prison had been the correct course of action in Peter’s case. As he was taken from the court, he shouted, “haven’t you had enough vengeance?”

This was in May, 1975, by which time Peter was back at Wandsworth because Lewes prison hospital could not cater for him. The rest of his sentence was to be lived out in a cell in the prison hospital there. It meant solitary confinement with just half an hour’s exercise each day.

“A walk around the yard and that was it, finish,” Peter remembers.

‘Living death’

After a while, he just accepted the hours and hours of this “living death”. And afterr three months he felt confident enough to start an English A-level course.

One of the education officers helped him through this – she came in once a week.

A thought strikes Peter: “Do you know, she was the only person I talked to all that time who wasn’t a guard”.

So, exactly 51 weeks after his transfer back to Wandsworth, Peter was released – a free man.

Eleven weeks later, when this interview was taped, he explains that he is still adjusting back. As there is no financial pressure on him to go back to work, he feels that he won’t be doing so for some time yet. Anyway, even if his circumstances had been different, he didn’t think he would have been able to: “I’d be on Social Security, I suppose”.

As far as sex is concerned, Peter confides that he has been proceeding cautiously: “I’ve had some one-night-stands. I was very frightened the first time”.

About getting caught again? I ask.

“Just afraid,” is his reply.

As to the Rector who turned him over to the police more or less, Peter is especially bitter. “He is an old man with no comprehension of modern life. Completely out of touch.

“He lives in a little world of his own. And that man could have solved it all by having a friendly chat with everyone concerned.

“That would have been the Christian thing to do”.

He adds that he had nothing to do with the Church while he was inside and now felt that he wanted nothing to do with it again.

“I was heavily involved before. And it was important to me. I had a faith”.

But that faith had been crushed by the bigoted actions of his own Rector.

Club membership

Other things are still important in the claustrophobic community, however, Peter has been reapplying for membership at his old clubs and has succeeded by and large in getting back in. They seem only interested in the membership fee.

One club had refused, though, the local cricket club. “Because some of the members have young sons,” he explains, and shows his disgust with just one word: “Bullshit!”.

He is enjoying his freedom in other ways too – a few days after I met him he flew off to Malta for a short holiday. And he has been going back to the west-end gambling clubs that he knew before. Meanwhile, there are frequent phone calls about poker schools and horse racing.

I ask him if this constant social action is his attempt to forget. He agrees that it could be, but explains that he’s still not back on the scene “in a big way”.

His time inside is still heavily on his mind, and the biggest significant change in him, he adds, is that that he has become much slower. “Though, maybe it’s because I’m two years older!”

He wants to see the law changed, of course. And society’s attitudes too. Peter has joined CHE as a positive attempt at their achievement. But he’s a little depressed about this, as he feels that most of het society has no opinion about homosexuality at all.

On a more personal level, he tells me that he sees a future for James and himself.

“At times I have feelings of hate against him, other times feelings of love and yet other times when there are no feelings.

“But basically I love the guy. I’m not blaming him for what’s happened.

I blame society and old fashioned and out-of-date laws and prejudices”.

Asked whether he thinks it would be better if the two of them got out of dear, little Sanderstead, Peter is hesitant. “Maybe,” he concedes. But it is still obvious that the society which led to his imprisonment, the net-curtained outpost, still holds him.

I explain that I find this curious, and he tells me that it is too early for him to know yet. “I just don’t know”.

I ask him if he has any great aims for the future on a purely personal level.

His answer is perfectly straightforward: “I just take every day as it comes”.

Sanderstead Rector, Canon Derek Landreth, had nothing to say about Peter Wells’ horrific experience over the past two and a half years.

He politely explained to GN: “I’m sorry, but I’ve been told be my Bishop not to make comments about Peter Wells”.

Gay News 95 -1

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