A group of naturists have accused police of putting them at risk after “wrongly” suggesting it was illegal to walk around naked.
Three Rivers Outdoor Club, a naturist club based in the north-east of England, complained about a Facebook post by Durham constabulary, following reports of a naked man walking around Waldridge Fell, near Chester-le-Street.
Officers arrested the man on suspicion of outraging public decency and brought him in for questioning. The force posted a summary of the incident on Facebook, before he was later released without charge.
The club, which organised naked swimming and rambling outings in non-Covid times, said the Facebook post suggested public nudity was illegal and did not mention any reason for the arrest other than the nudity.
Police guidance says that passive public nudity is not illegal unless there is an intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
The College of Policing says naturists only break the law if they “commit sexual offences or use disorderly behaviour that they intend to or are aware may be disorderly within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”.
Nonetheless, the minority of people who decide to test the law have often found themselves in trouble with police – notably Stephen Gough, known as the “naked rambler”, who was sent to prison several times after repeatedly breaching legal orders to keep his clothes on.
A spokesperson for Three Rivers Outdoor Club told the Newcastle Chronicle: “Our events are usually a liberating and joyful experience, but during one walk last summer, one of the ramblers had water thrown over them, while the assailant told the group that they should not be walking naked in public.
“It is wrong for Durham police to post misleading reports that suggest that public nudity is illegal, and it puts us at greater risk of harassment in future.”
The club said Durham constabulary refused to change the post and complained that the force’s professional standards department would not register a complaint about the post being discriminatory.
In response, the force said: “We received several calls from members of the public reporting an elderly man walking naked on Waldridge Fell on 14 and 15 September, who was later identified and arrested on suspicion of outraging public decency. Following a medical assessment, it was considered that it was not in the public interest to pursue the matter and he was subsequently released with no further action.
“Over recent years, there have been several sexual and public order incidents reported on Waldridge Fell, which have led to concerns from local residents and councillors.
“We often use Facebook as a means of communicating with our residents and to inform them of issues that are relevant to their area. This particular post was uploaded to reassure the local community, and to show them that we are taking their concerns seriously.”