South Yorkshire Police chief apologises for past LGBTQ+ witch-hunts

Graham Robson August 16, 2023

The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, Lauren Poultney, has said “sorry” and made an “official apology” to the LGBTQ+ community for her force’s past historic homophobic persecution.

She is only the third UK Chief Constable to do so, following a similar apology by the heads of the Metropolitan and Sussex forces.

The campaign, #ApologiseNow, was launched by human rights activist Peter Tatchell and was backed by the comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady before his death.

Responding to an appeal for an apology by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Lauren Poultney said: “My reply is an official apology from South Yorkshire Police… I want you to know that I have heard you. I have reflected on the past and I understand the policing approach in the 1980s, early 1990s and perhaps more recently has caused many of you untold harm. For some, this may have influenced your view of policing, of society as a whole and even of how you fit into society. For this, I am deeply sorry.

“Whilst we cannot change history, it’s imperative we acknowledge it, however uncomfortable that may be and we as a police service seek to rebuild the trust you may have once had the opportunity to place in us. I want you to know I am committed to earning your trust and confidence back in policing and feel this starts with acknowledging our failings of the past.”

“Whilst we cannot change history, it’s imperative we acknowledge it, however uncomfortable that may be and we as a police service seek to rebuild the trust you may have once had the opportunity to place in us.” 

Peter Tatchell has responded with praise for the Chief Constable’s statement: “It is a forthright, generous apology that comes across as passionate and genuine.

“Some people in power find it hard to say sorry for past wrongs. Lauren Poultney didn’t hesitate. That marks her out as a commendable Chief Constable. We thank her.

“This apology does South Yorkshire Police proud and will win much appreciation and praise from the LGBTQ+ community.

“Having drawn a line under past police homophobia, I hope this will boost LGBTQ+ confidence in the police and encourage more LGBTs to report hate crime, domestic violence and sexual assault”

The Peter Tatchell Foundation is asking every Chief Constable in the UK to say sorry for past homophobic persecution.

Peter Tatchell added: “We are not asking the police to apologise for enforcing the law, but to apologise for the often illegal and abusive way they enforced it.

“Officers raided gay bars, clubs and even private birthday parties, insulting LGBTs as ‘poofs’ and ‘queers’. They gave the names and addresses of arrested gay men to local papers, which led to some being evicted, sacked and violently beaten. Police harassed LGBTs leaving gay venues and arrested same-sex couples for kissing, cuddling and holding hands, right up until the 1990s.

“The police did not make the law but they chose to enforce it in ways that today would be deemed illegal and unacceptable. They went out of their way to target gay and bisexual men to boost their arrest figures and ‘crime fighting’ reputation. Young handsome male officers were sent into public toilets and parks, where they lured gay men into committing offences and then arrested them. These so-called ‘pretty police’ acted as agents provocateurs.

“The yearly average of homosexual offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was nearly three times greater after the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967, than it was in the previous eight decades of total criminalisation – clear evidence of a police witch-hunt.

“At the height of this post-1967 persecution, in 1989 there were 1,718 convictions and cautions for so-called ‘gross indecency’ between men – almost as many as in 1954-55 when male homosexuality was totally illegal, and the country was gripped by a McCarthyite-style anti-gay witch hunt.

“If the police say they have changed, they need to show it by acknowledging past wrongs. They need to follow the laudable lead of the South Yorkshire and Sussex Chief Constables and the Met Police Commissioner. All Chief Constables should apologise for the many decades of past police harassment. Apologise now!”.

The #ApologiseNow petition is now live at