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Reconstructing The Spanner Operation 1983 to 1990


We are informed by Raphael Samuel that in the run up tp the 1983 election, ” Mrs. Thatcher annexed ‘Victorian values’ to her Party’s platform and turned them into a talisman for lost stabilities.”
Although there is no doubt that Downing Street had specifically chosen the Spannermen for incarcerations as a means of indirect and retaliatory harassment of a whistleblower , it is extremely unlikely that No.10 had pulled the idea and demand for the police enforcement of ” traditional Judaeo-Christian Family Values” out of a hat.
“The 1980s saw a new wave of social conservatism as Margaret Thatcher
sought to enshrine Judaeo-Christian family values within the fiscal, legal
and social fabric of the country.”

After all, the Office of Witchfinder General had always been under the remit of the General Synod, and not Downing Street, and it would appear the two had worked together in this matter by perhaps finding the common ground in a little help from each other. From the wish of Downing Street to firmly affix Mrs. Thatcher’s term of office through the support of the church and both their Metropolitan and Manchester Police agents; and by the wish of the church,
(1) as a return to Christian fundamentalist values to perhaps try and stop or slow the ongoing and dwindling support of the church from the public at large, and
(2) to perhaps appease demands from extremist members of the Synod to make examples of perceived waywardness of gay men and their practices, (and also perhaps where the possibility existed that self-harm and other unsanctioned and alternative methods may have been perceived as having been used to attain “enlightenment” of one form or another).
If we look at the timelines of both the Operation Spanner procedures, and the dates of the elections in June 1983 and June 1987, although the first part of Operation Spanner had completed before the 1987 election, it had actually already been at least, if nothing else, in the information gathering stage prior to the 1983 election. Similarly the second part of Operation Spanner (the Spannermen case) appears to have fallen mostly into Mrs. Thatcher’s third term of office, and provisionally ended on 19th December 1990 – on her departure from Number 10; although the Spannermen raids had commenced several months prior to the 1987 election.
Thus Operation Spanner on the whole was not linked to any outcomes from either election, and carried on regardless of whomever may have subsequently inhabited No.10.
Unless, of course, any of those particular electoral procedures may be brought into disrepute hereafter, the Operation could not have been a crusade by Mrs. Thatcher alone.

There can be no doubt that Operation Spanner was an integral and pre-planned attack on gay men on behalf of the Church and the State under the banner of “Christian Family Values” to be enforced and brought through the courts by the Synod’s “Witchfinder General”, and tasked the Crown Prosecution Service with the legal difficulties of criminalising rough sexual foreplay previously regarded as consensual behaviour between adults, and outside the boundaries of legal procedures.

So the purpose of the false claims by the police and media and to the courts now come into focus as the means to an end – and the end of the Spannermen case was, quite mistakenly, considered to be the incarcerations of the men, albeit on extremely tenuous grounds.


So although we have been informed that Thatcher suddenly introduced and attached a campaign of ” Judeo Christian Family Values” (Victorian Values) within her own election campaign, we may surmise that this action had been covertly imposed by the Church of England since there was no reliance on Thatcher’s success at the polls, and the campaign appeared to run independently.

On that basis we must also therefore question the cover story of Michael Hames being specially chosen and appointed by Thatcher to spearhead the campaign (using police enforcement where necessary), The attack was upon gay men and their practices – the gay contact magazine was used to identify and covertly contact those who would be targeted; and was already in full swing in early 1983 before Thatcher’s re-election.

We may also therefore surmise that the story of Thatcher choosing Hames personally for the position of head of Obscene Publications (Witchfinder General of the General Synod) is also perhaps just a cover story too, and that he was indeed appointed and chosen by the Church of England to spearhead the campaign and to which Thatcher had been required to offer full support.

Nevertheless the targeting of the Spannermen specifically is another matter altogether, and although coming under the umbrella of the campaign, was reserved for three years prior to the raids.

There were many more extreme practices advertised than the Spannermen had engaged in that could have been targeted, but were not (although I believe that these had mostly been adverts placed by the police). The prior involvement/trespass initially of John Allen’s Bryn Alyn security personnel and the following MI5 interest at the location both before, during and after the incarcerations painted another picture altogether. – One which exposed why the Spannermen had been chosen.


The Rev. Tony Higton still campaigning and complaining after all these years –

(for background details, please refer to (Page 1) – 1987 Rev. Tony Higton Motion – which called for expulsion of all homosexuals from the Church, and for the re-criminalisation of homosexuality, prior to being watered down by the General Synod (back to the traditional viewpoint on homosexuality) where it still stands today)

Homosexuality and the Church

Conclusion (Page 16)

This report is much better than previous ones: the Gloucester Report and certainly the unpublished Osborne Report. It is helpful on the biblical teaching and it clearly rules out
in principle practising homosexual clergy, at least for the foreseeable future. However, it is seriously flawed: in using language which appears to tolerate lay homosexual couples being full communicant
church members; in leaving the door open to the possibility of justifying homosexual practice in the future; in advocating clergy discipline only where there is a danger of scandal, and in refusing to question candidates for ordination on the matter of sexual activity. in virtually ignoring the 1987 resolution passed by a 98% majority of General Synod [although this was based on a private member’s motion it was radically amended on behalf of the House of Bishops and a successful private member’s motion has the full status of a General Synod decision].

This Study Guide has been sent to all the full time clergy in the Church of England. It affords the opportunity for every parish to make an impact for good over the issue and to counteract the progress of the homosexual lobby within the church. Bear in mind that some parishes might decide to respond by expressing support for that lobby. Discuss what action you can take as a church.
We invite you to take the following action:
1. For the PCC to pass motions such as those below;
2. To convey them to your bishop(s), both diocesan and suffragan (if any) your General Synod representatives your archbishop
a. Issues in Human Sexuality is available from Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN
(Mail Order 0171 340 0276/0277) at £3.95.
To take part in this action is not aken as identifying your clergyman or church as supporting ABWON.
[suggested wording]

Suggested Motion 1
“That this council affirms the 1987 General Synod resolution on sexuality, respectfully urges the House of Bishops and our clerical and lay representatives in General Synod to uphold that resolution in future debates on the subject and not to support any motion which could be understood as approving homosexual practice.”
[The 1987 resolution was:
“This Synod affirms that the Biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and expression of, God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:
1.that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent marriage relationship;
2.that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
3.that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
4.that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required for Christian leaders.”]
Suggested Motion 2
This council:
a. is grateful for the many strengths of the Bishops’ Report Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), particularly for its helpful treatment of Scripture, its welcome for all who attend church and its disapproval of practising homosexual clergy, but
b. expresses deep concern that it uses language which appears to tolerate lay practising homosexuals being full communicant churchmembers*; leaves the door open to the possibility of justifying homosexual practice amongst clergy; advocates clergy discipline only where there is a danger of scandal, and refuses to interview candidates for ordination on the matter of sexual activity, and
c. urges the House of Bishops and the General Synod to rectify these weaknesses as soon as possible
d. respectfully requests the House of Bishops to support clergy in upholding the 1987 Synod decision on sexuality [* See section about this below]
Suggested Motion 3
A more detailed PCC Motion This council
a. is grateful for the many strengths of the Bishop’s report Issues in Human Sexuality (1991),in particular for its helpful treatment of Scripture, its constructive comments on many of the issues and for making clear its disapproval of practising homosexual clergy;
b. expresses deep concern that clergy discipline is advocated only where there is danger of scandal, and respectfully requests that discipline is always initiated where the bishop knows a clergyperson is a practising homosexual or lesbian or otherwise engaging in a sexual
relationship outside of marriage;
c. requests that candidates for ordination are privately and sensitively asked whether they uphold in principle and practice the traditional teaching of the church on sexuality and are only recommended for training if they intend to confine their own sexual relationship within heterosexual marriage (or else remain chaste or celibate); and intend to teach these principles to congregations in the future.
d. deeply regrets that the report appears to tolerate lay practising homosexuals being full communicant church members* and opens the door for them to be in lay leadership, and requests that this impression be reversed; and
e. reiterates that this parish rejects homophobia and will continue to offer a warm welcome and pastoral care to all who attend services, so that they might discover more of the saving love of God in Christ, but will continue to remind prospective communicants of the need for repentance before receiving communion, and through teaching will ensure that regular communicants and lay leaders understand that this includes the importance of upholding sexual morality as traditionally taught by the church and reaffirmed by General Synod in 1987. [*See section about this on page 15…dthechurch.pdf


The contradictions throughout the above pamphlet speak for themselves, so I will not insult the integrity of the reader with pointing them out.

I believe sexuality and personal morality are not the business of anyone else unless they have already impinged upon the freedom of others.

To recap:

That the whole of the operation and the prosecution was based on homophobic bias is

evidenced by the targeting of gay men only through the pro-active use of a dragnet sting attack using a unique gay contact magazine with which to ensnare the raided men ; and the unusual step of charging the consentees with “aiding and abetting”.

No similar operation or prosecution had been undertaken targeting any other groups. To my knowledge, no other consentees have ever been charged with “aiding and abetting”.

It is no coincidence that the 1987 Higton Motion had originally sought to re-criminalise homosexuality.
The Church of England had demanded the incarcerations. It is believed that Thatcher and the Home Office had personally chosen the victims because of their connections.

Contrary to reports, there had never been any suspicion by the OPB that someone may have been murdered, as the original Spannermen tape was in their possession for three years prior to the raids.

The second part of Operation Spanner – the Spanner Case – initially targeting visitors to a Bryn Alyn whistleblower’s address – (together with surveillance) – had been the only response by the Home Office, to a letter to the Prime Minister of May 1985 (and also copied to opposition Party leaders of the House of Commons) , reporting corruption between Bryn Alyn Community and Manchester Children’s Services – having been notified as passed to the Home Office by 10 Downing Street on 4th June 1985, for their attention.

Apart from the contacted House of Commons recipients, no other communication had ever been forthcoming from the intended recipients of that letter.

Neither had there ever been any action taken by anybody (other than an internal cover-up at Bryn Alyn, naturally) over the reported child abuse, nor the proposed recommendations in the mature student’s report of 1983, even after Downing Street had been informed of the situation in 1985.


R v Brown – twenty four years on, a critical secular perspective (part 2)

In his second and concluding article about the notorious case of R v Brown, LSS member Dr. Peter Bowen-Walker makes the case for a secular legal system.

In Part 1 the attention of the reader was drawn to comments made recently by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, who opined that the courts were largely secular in nature and that where in the past judges had allowed religion to influence their reasoning they may have “[got] themselves into difficulties”.

This concluding article argues that the controversial judgment in R v Brown [1] can be better understood if it is viewed as one of those judgments where unconscious religious bias clouded the normally objective and rational views of respected judges.

Viewed from a secular perspective, the intemperate moralistic and paternalistic language, the comments on seemingly irrelevant but emotive matters (such as bestiality), the clearly expressed indignation and disgust of their Lordships, and the unjustifiable catastrophising (despite lack of evidence), can all arguably be explained by the culture-shock experienced by these “establishment” men when their “establishment” morality was offended.

When the socio-cultural milieu of these judges is considered, it is evident that religion, and in particular the Anglican religion (with its homophobia and arguably irrational views on sex) played a role, and still does play a role, in the day to day lives of judges and the courts despite recent pronouncements to the contrary.

It will not be argued that their Lordships were explicitly homophobic or biased, but since the decision in R v Brown eventually came to be decided as a matter of public policy and on what was “in the public interest” rather than through an interpretation of the black letter law, then what “maketh the man” (the underlying values and unconscious biases) matters.

It will be argued that when it comes to matters of public policy and what is “in the public interest”, judges should respectfully adhere to a basic principle of the rule of law, and not their seemingly religiously-inspired instincts, namely they should find in favour of the defendant not the Prosecution and therefore not criminalise people where there is an unsettled point of law. It is clear in the case of R v Brown that their Lordships were on the cusp of making such a libertarian-inspired decision but – by a narrow margin – I will respectfully argue that their fear, prejudice and irrationality got the better of them and that three of the five judges resorted to making a moralistic judgment. Where did this prejudice come from? From a secular perspective it could be argued it came from the omnipresence of the State religion in the lives of our “establishment” figures and in the day to day workings of our courts.

To recap Part 1

R v Brown was a case which appeared before the House of Lords in 1993 in which a number of gay men were found guilty of causing ABH during sadomasochistic (SM) sexual activity.

The activity had in fact been ongoing for more than ten years and the participants had “positively wanted, asked for, the acts to be done to them” [2], and all had consented to being involved.

No complaint was ever made to the police, who only became interested because of unrelated enquiries which drew the SM activities to their attention.

The video material seized by the police documenting the SM activity was allegedly originally interpreted by them as “snuff” videos depicting the murder of individuals during the course of sexual violence [3]. It is now known that this was incorrect, but in fairness, this was clearly an understandable early consideration which of course justified further investigation.

However, the enquiry went on to cost an estimated £4 million [4] and some critics have argued that this expenditure may account for the determination (and possibly creativity) of the authorities to proceed with the prosecution, to save face and justify the cost. Support for the veracity of this claim can even be found in several passages from the judgment itself which questions as “adventitious” the use of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA) as a “statute…clearly intended to penalise conduct of a quite different nature” [5], [6], [7].

The men were found guilty at first instance of various offences (mainly ABH). The verdicts were upheld on appeal, but the sentences were reduced [8].

The main question certified for consideration by their Lordships was whether the fact that all the participants had consented to taking part in the SM activities provided a defence against the charges of ABH.

The answer was a 3:2 “no”; a close call which ossified the law and which has been widely criticized for what was perceived to be hetero-normative bias (or to be more forthright, homophobic bias). Since then, the judgment has been criticized further because of the other unintended and unforeseen consequences it has had.

When the case was appealed in the European Court of Justice, the charge that the judgments had been motivated by homophobia was dismissed [9]. The European judges held the convictions were safe and within the wide margin of discretion available to a member state to protect health or morals.

Nevertheless, the language used by their Lordships indicated, if not direct homophobia, then possibly indirect homophobia, and at the very least a deep seated “discomfort” with the lifestyles of the defendants and the material they were asked to consider in the course of their judgment.

Indeed, in a commentary on this judgment, Carl Stychin concluded the law “pathologises gay male sexuality” [10]. Examples of the language which revealed the shock and resulting moralising include the following:

Lord Templeman: SM is “degrading to body and mind”; “society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence”

Lord Jauncey: “rather curious activities”

Lord Lowry: “[SM’s function is] to satisfy a perverted and depraved sexual desire. SM homosexual activity cannot be regarded as conducive to the enhancement or enjoyment of family life or conducive to the welfare of society. A relaxation of [the law] can only encourage the practice of homosexual SM, with the physical cruelty that it must involve (and which can scarcely be regarded as a ‘manly diversion’)…”

Lord Mustill: “It is sufficient to say that whatever the outside might feel about the subject matter of the prosecution — perhaps horror, amazement or incomprehension, perhaps sadness — very few could read even a summary of the other activities without disgust”; “If repugnance to general public sentiments of morality and propriety were the test, one would have expected proceedings in respect of the most disgusting conduct to be prosecuted with the greater vigour”; “Thus, whilst acknowledging that very many people, if asked whether the appellants’ conduct was wrong, would reply ‘Yes, repulsively wrong’.”; “Leaving aside repugnance and moral objection, both of which are entirely natural…”

Lord Slynn: “Nor is it necessary to refer to other facts which are mentioned in the papers before the House which can only add to one’s feeling of revulsion and bewilderment…”

According to evidence gathered by the Law Commission [11], the consequence of the R v Brown judgment has been inter alia to lead to uncertainty concerning the law in this area, with many respondents indicating their surprise that some SM activities are illegal.

It was contended that the oppressive effect of the judgment had also led to at least one death [12] and that it stigmatizes and vilifies the not insignificant numbers of SM practitioners. Whilst it is difficult to obtain statistics for the precise numbers of people who engage in SM, studies have indicated that between 5 and 22% of the population [13] may be involved to some extent (including members of the judiciary [14] and some well-known individuals [15]). Another concern expressed was that it exposed people to the risk of blackmail [16].

Furthermore, the law as it currently stands was believed to have led to the hindering of police investigations [17] because potential witnesses are reluctant to come forward.

Evidence was also given to the Commission that the current law might endanger the safety of SM practitioners because many felt unable to access information and to educate themselves of the dangers due to the stigma or risk of prosecution, and were compelled to turn to practicing risky activities unaccompanied [18], [19].

Other evidence suggested that on the rare occasion medical assistance might be required, people could be deterred from seeking help.

In addition, evidence was given that the current law was in fact given a “low priority” for enforcement by the police [20], but has it attained the position of being a “dead letter”?

This latter question is perhaps partly answered in the affirmative by the outcome of the recent case of R v Lock [21], in which a man was found not guilty by a jury after “contracting” with a woman to engage in SM activity which resulted in her suffering ABH. Of course, being found not guilty is not the same as the activity itself being lawful according to the letter of the law.

So despite the “public policy” reasons cited in the judgment, the benefits to the public at large do not appear to have been realised. Indeed, it could be argued that very significant problems and undesirable consequences have resulted as a direct consequence of the way the law fell to be decided in R v Brown.

The general position

Provided no harm is caused, SM activity in private between consenting adults is not unlawful.

The law concerning the application of unlawful but non-fatal force against a person arguably falls along an inelegant continuum. The law in this area comes from several acts and common law principles, the most significant one being the OAPA which has been widely criticized (including in R v Brown) as difficult to interpret and as “piece-meal legislation”, and covering a “rag-bag of offences” [22].

The spectrum begins at one end with an offence arising from the mere reasonable apprehension of the deployment of unlawful force; then, to the actual infliction of force resulting in no harm; then, to the use of force resulting in some harm (which can be a mere mark, or bruise (ABH)); and finally, to force resulting in serious harm (GBH). A person performing any of these acts is committing an offence, and the law rightly protects citizens from such unwelcome intrusions and harms.

Yet, if the law were to be left at that, many desirable and indeed vital activities would be rendered unlawful, such as surgery or hair-cutting. So the law has developed a number of mechanisms to widen the ambit of activities involving the application of force by one person against another, to remove the constraint of the starting point and to enable them to proceed in the public interest. Consequently, the law identifies a number of “exceptions” to the general rule which permit, with the valid and informed consent of the person, that physical force can be applied against them lawfully.

The activities included within the “exceptions” list are there because of the workings of public policy: the activities are considered to be of benefit, or in the public interest. The activities include some predictable ones but also some rather surprising ones:

Boxing and martial arts [23]
Religious flagellation (whipping/flogging) or mortification [24]
Tattooing and even branding one’s wife’s buttocks with one’s initials using a hot knife (deemed to be of the same species of action, see R v Wilson [25])
Ritual male genital mutilation (circumcision)
Heterosexual sado-masochism causing harm of a trivial and trifling nature (provided it is not long lasting) within the context of a marriage
Ear/eyelid/lip/genital piercing, provided it is for decorative purposes and not sexual gratification [26]
Having a haircut [27]
Surgical intervention (such as amputation, mastectomy, etc.) [28]

In addition to the defence of consent being available for the above activities, consent can also be given as a valid defence to “running the risk” of being harmed in the following circumstances:

Consenting to the risk of contracting a potentially fatal sexually transmitted disease (such as HIV) during intercourse [29], [30]
Consenting to the risk of injury during potentially dangerous contact sports [31]
Consenting to the risk of serious injury during potentially dangerous “manly diversions” and rough horseplay – the “belief” that consent was given is enough (it doesn’t even need to be a reasonable belief: just an “honestly held” belief is sufficient [32], [33])
Consenting to the risk of injury during dangerous exhibitionism (driving a motorbike through flames, knife-throwing displays and team acrobatics, etc.) [34]

So the law is construed so as to attempt to protect people from being subjected to unlawful physical interventions and assaults, but it is flexible enough to accommodate activities and actions which society might deem necessary or desirable. The list of “exceptions” is not a closed list and judges are at liberty within the constraints of the doctrine of precedence to widen the list.

It was precisely this – a request to include consensual homosexual sado-masochistic sex within the list of “exceptions” – to which the defence of informed consent by sui juris adults could be deployed in the event of harm that R v Brown was concerned with.

When the lists above are considered (together with the rule of law principle not to criminalise where the law is unclear), it may therefore seem surprising that their Lordships refused to invent a “consent” defence for homosexual sado-masochistic sex. This is especially so, given the warning by Lord Devlin who stated “…a law that appears to be arbitrary and illogical, in the end and after the wave of moral indignation that has put it on the statute book subsides, forfeits respect.” [35]

Surprising that is, until the personal biases (informed by prevailing social context) are recognised and considered.

Criticisms of the judgment in R v Brown

The judgment in R v Brown has been widely analyzed, and it is fair to say it has been widely criticized. One criticism made of the prevailing judgment was that the bar for the availability of the defence afforded by valid consent in the context of homosexual SM was set at too low a level (below ABH), which rendered the defence of consent unavailable to the defendants in this case.

Another criticism made was that the judgment was too moralistic and that it was informed by underlying homophobic or hetero-normative values held by the judges. One commentator waspishly stated the outcome of the case was as a result of the acts being “contrary to Lord Templeman’s personal morality, not the law of England and Wales” [36]. Another blog opined that the judgment was “unpleasant” and followed a homophobic “witch-hunt” pursued by the police [37].

Read more: R v Brown – twenty four years on, a critical secular perspective (part 2)

R v Brown: twenty four years on, a critical secular perspective (part 1)

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