Clive Coleman: Naked Rambler 'to continue protest'
A man who has spent 10 years in prison because he goes naked in public has told the BBC he will continue his protest even if it means he has to spend the rest of his life in custody.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord (Ken) Macdonald QC says it is not in the public interest for Stephen Gough to be prosecuted as he does not pose a danger to the public.
Mr Gough, known as the "Naked Rambler", was released from Winchester Prison on 14 August, aged 56, having served half of a 30-month sentence for breaching an anti-social behaviour order.
The cost to the taxpayer of his prosecution, imprisonment and legal appeals is estimated to be close to £1m.
He is currently walking from the Cotswolds to Eastleigh in Hampshire, clothed to avoid arrest, hoping to meet his two teenage children, whose childhoods he has largely missed because of the time he has spent in prison.
With the help of an OS map and grid reference, I found him in an open barn, complete with bats and the occasional rat, drying his walking socks on a blackberry bush, and packing up his sleeping bag and few belongings, ready for the day's walk.
Mr Gough had a normal childhood, spent five years as a marine and had a stint with the Moonies, before starting a family. It was then that things changed dramatically. After what he refers to as an "epiphany" moment whilst walking through woods, he decided to dedicate his life to going naked in public.
He told me: "It's freedom to act according to what is appropriate. We are taught to be sensible and use common sense. So unless there is a good reason not to, why shouldn't we wear what we want, whether it's nothing or seven layers of clothing?"
In 2003 Mr Gough walked naked from Land's End to John O'Groats, earning the name the Naked Rambler. He has been frequently arrested for minor public order offences which criminalise threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour within sight of another person who may be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
That offence does not carry a prison sentence, just a fine. However, breaching the anti-social behaviour orders that he has been placed under has led to ever longer prison terms.
His most recent conviction, in October 2014, resulted in a 30-month sentence. He was refused the right to appear naked in court at his trial and was tried in his absence. He went on to make legal history in June when he appeared naked via video link at the Court of Appeal where his appeal against conviction and sentence were dismissed.
Mr Gough has also had a case alleging infringement of his human rights to a private and family life, and freedom of expression, dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights.
Almost all his 10 years in prison have been spent in solitary confinement, often being locked up for 23 hours a day, because of his refusal to wear clothes.
Some people support Mr Gough going naked, some find it funny, and some find it deeply offensive, but should he go to prison for 10 years, more than some rapists and armed robbers, just for doing it?
Not according to the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, who told me: "This man is not a danger to anybody, he's a nuisance. He's an eccentric, as far as one can tell he's a harmless eccentric. He's spent around 10 years in prison, that's £40,000 a year. This seems to be a draconian, quite inappropriate response to his behaviour."
Lord Macdonald believes it is not in the public interest to prosecute Mr Gough.
"He's served 10 years, which on normal remission terms would be the equivalent of a 15-20 year sentence in prison," he said.
"Very few rapists get that sort of sentence, not many murderers serve more than that. Prison should be for people who represent a risk to the public, not for people who annoy the public in the way that he seems to from time to time."
I asked Mr Gough whether he would continue to go naked in public, even if it meant spending the rest of his life in prison.
He told me: "How the future will pan out I can't guarantee, but my feeling is I am continuing. That's my deep down gut feeling. That I am continuing and it will not end here. I really can't see that this country would sentence someone to life in prison just for being naked in public. But if that's what it will mean I am prepared for that."
Once he has seen his children, Mr Gough intends to resume going naked in public. He will ramble uphill, down dale and, in all likelihood, back to jail.