A campaigner who came to symbolise the battle for gay rights on the Isle of Man has welcomed a “long overdue” apology from a police chief for the way the island’s laws against homosexuality were enforced.
In a five page letter to the Isle of Pride group, Gary Roberts, the chief constable of Isle of Man constabulary, makes an apology for his service’s “institutionalised approach, which caused harm to some people”.
Homosexuality on the Isle of Man remained an imprisonable offence for decades after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised sex between two men over 21 and “in private”. The reforms only applied to England and Wales. It was not until 1992 that sodomy laws on the Isle of Man were repealed.
Alan Shea has been at the forefront of the Manx battle for gay rights. On 5 July 1991, the Manx bank holiday of Tynwald Day, he wore a concentration camp uniform to petition parliament to legalise homosexuality, making parallels with the Nazi persecution of gay people.
It helped bring about change and that uniform is now on display at the Manx museum in Douglas as is, from this week, the chief constable’s written apology.
Shea welcomed Roberts’ letter which he believed was “the first time a chief of police in the British isles has issued an apology”.
Shea started campaigning in the 1980s after a young man killed himself following his arrest in a public toilet.
The man’s mother was at an event with Shea on Saturday. “I said to her: ‘Once you give me the nod for this apology and you accept it… we’ll call it a day.’
“She turned round and said: ‘I’ve waited 33 years for this apology. I’ve got it. Let’s call it a day.’”
For that reason he too has accepted the apology – “it’s a good thing… I can chill out and relax now” – although Shea said he was not at the stage of being able to fully trust the police.
He still vividly recalls what it was like as a young gay man living on the Isle of Man. “It was a horrific time,” he said. “Police raided my home. They were outside watching. People were stopped from coming in and out of my house. My phone was tapped.
“When I was out and wanted to go to the toilet, I wouldn’t go near a public toilet because I had the fear they were watching me and were going to arrest me. I had to go into a pub and buy a Coke just to use the toilet. In the 1980s the police on the Isle of Man could say anything they wanted and they did. People died.
“I think police attitudes are changing but they’re not going to change overnight.”
Shea said the apology was “long overdue” but he thanked Roberts for it and he hoped it would encourage other UK chief constables to follow suit.
The letter was read out at a private event at the Manx Museum on Saturday. Roberts said it was in many ways “the most difficult letter I have had to write in a lifetime of public service that began in October 1981”.
He said: “Whilst I cannot apologise for the act of enforcing the law, I can and will apologise for the way that the law was sometimes enforced.”
The island’s police service today was “tolerant, diverse and inclusive” with links to communities that were “stronger than ever,” he said.
The apology follows an announcement in February that men who have been convicted for homosexual acts on the Isle of Man would be automatically pardoned.
August 9, 2022 at 06:36PM Mark BrownNorth of England correspondent