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Time Out, 9 or 15 April 1976

Justice With A Vengeance

Two years ago Peter Wells was personal assistant to the managing director of a large plastics company in Croydon. He was 26, head server at the All Saints church in Sanderstead, Surrey, opening bowler for the local cricket team and he had a wide circle of friends. Six weeks ago he came out of Wandsworth prison after 20 months inside. During his time in jail he had attempted suicide twice, been beaten up on nine occasions, been raped and scalded by boiling water, had lost four stone and heard another prisoner die while awaiting trial in the next cell. His offence? He had a homosexual relationship with an 18-year old friend whom he had known for most of his life.

‘He was a server at the Church as well, and we had been going out together for about nine months. His mother became suspicious and went to the Rector of the Church,’ says Peter. ‘He called the two of us in and asked us if it was true. We both denied it. But two days later the friend, John, went to the Rector and told him that it was true. The Rector called a policeman who was a member of the congregation and asked him what he should do. Of course, the policeman told him to turn us in – if you ask a fisherman whether to eat fish or meat, he’ll tell you fish; if you ask a policeman about a so-called crime, he’ll tell you to go to the police.’

Peter heard from another friend that the police were investigating his case so he phoned the local station at Kenley and said that he was prepared to come down; he also contacted his lawyer so that he could have him present when he spoke to the police. But instead the police chose to call at Peter’s house, telling him to open up or they would smash down the door. Peter left through the back entrance to meet his lawyer and he drove with him down to the police station. The lawyer was not allowed in with him and Peter was held overnight and then remanded in custody in Brixton prison.

‘The police then interviewed all my friends and my parents’ friends – 78 people altogether. You can imagine what that was like in a place like Sanderstead. They also ransacked my house. After two weeks I was granted bail on condition that I didn’t see john. But I had to see him because I had no real idea about what was happening. Anyway, they found out so I was taken back to jail again. That was in May of 74. In September I appeared in front of Justice Abdela at the Old Bailey, charged with buggery under Section 12 of the 1956 Sexual Offences Act. He sentenced me to two and a half years. I couldn’t believe it.’

‘ “Debauched life of ex-choir boy,” ran the headline in that day’s Evening Standard. So the people in jail got the impression that I’d been buggering choirboys. The beatings-up started almost as soon as I got in.’ Peter was attacked on nine separate occasions during his time inside Wandsworth, Lewes and Wormwood Scrubs; he still has scars on his chin, his chest and the top of his head. On one occasion he was scalded with boiling water. On another, he was held down by a group of prisoners so that an older homosexual could rape him. He caught syphilis as a result of this.

‘I tried to kill myself twice. Once by strangling myself, the other time by slashing my wrists. Eventually I was put in prison hospital where I spent a total of ten months. It was while I was in there they brought in a young junkie – I could hear them fighting with him, even my cell was shaking with the noise. Eventually they shot him full of largactyl. He was dead in the morning. The coroner’s verdict was that he had died of dehydration… people have no idea what sort of things go on inside prison. And that bloke was just awaiting trial, he hadn’t even been convicted. The only thing that kept me going was an educational officer, she was helping me with my English A levels.

A year ago, Peter’s appeal came up before lord Chief Justice Widgery. It was accompanied by requests for clemency from the Bishop of Gloucester and from the Rector of All Saints, as well as psychiatric reports from the Maudsley Hospital saying that they would be prepared to treat Peter as an out-patient. Widgery summed up: ‘There is a great deal of evidence that he (Peter) is unlikely to get very much better unless and until he is treated out of prison. He has become a psychiatric patient now urgently in need of treatment… He maintains quite stoutly that he does not intend to give up these homosexual practices… but we are very conscious of the fact that this is not a case in which the appellant hopes to change his ways. The appeal is therefore dismissed.’

‘If I’d lied and said I had decided not to be a homosexual, I suppose it would have been all right. They just couldn’t stand my saying that I was quite happy to be gay,’ says Peter. As he was taken from the court he shouted to Widgery: ‘Haven’t you had enough vengeance?’

‘There have been two kinds of reactions from people: for instance, the local cricket team have told me that it would be better if I didn’t come around – they say that some of the members have “got young sons”. But last Christmas I got 59 Christmas cards – one had 27 signatures on it. And the people I knew in pubs and places I went to in the middle of London don’t mind at all. I have joined the Croydon branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). I knew about it before, but never thought it was my scene.

‘It all seems so pointless. The Rector could have sorted the whole thing out just by getting us together and talking about it instead of going to the police. I still can’t understand it – I have never forced anyone to have a relationship with me; all my relationships with men or women, have been one-to-one. If I had really done anything to be ashamed of, anything violent or brutal, then I would never have had the courage to come back to Sanderstead – I would have gone off and hidden somewhere in the West Country.’

Two weeks ago, the National Council for Civil Liberties produced recommendations for the Law Commission about changes in the laws regarding the age and types of sexual relationships. One suggestion was to bring the laws regarding homosexual relationships into line with those for heterosexuals, so that to have a relationship with someone of the same sex over the age of 16 would no longer be illegal. It would be sad if such a just measure was lost in the arguments about incest and 10-year-olds.

The cost of locking up Peter Wells in a series of prisons for 20 months and subjecting him to two trials and a massive police investigation is in the region of £15,000. The cost to Wells is incalculable: two suicide attempts, a lot of violence, lost friends, a lost job and a large chunk out of his life.

It seems like a heavy price to pay for having a relationship with a friend.

Time Out 9 or 15 April 1976

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