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West Midlands Police has “politely declined” calls to apologise for its prior homophobic treatment of LGBTQ+ people.

Peter Tatchell, one of the UK’s most prominent human rights activists, demanded that the force to make amends for “its past homophobic witch hunts” as part of the #ApologiseNow campaign being launched on 7 June by the Peter Tatchell Foundation and Baroness Helena Kennedy KC.

He accused the force, which is the country’s second largest, of being “one of the most homophobic in Britain” for going “out of its way to target consenting, victimless behaviour that harmed no one in a shameful, cynical bid to boost its arrest and conviction rates”.

In a letter addressed to the activist, Chief Constable Craig Guildford said: “Historically, West Midlands Police, like all other police forces in England and Wales, was responsible for enforcing laws which we all would view very differently today. I make that statement as a father, a police officer of 30 years-service and as Chief Constable.

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“Thankfully law makers here and elsewhere have continued to interpret and acknowledge the views of contemporary society. We can all opine on how long some changes can often take. Of salience, legislation came into effect on 1 October 2012 that allows people in England with convictions and cautions for acts (which are no longer unlawful), to apply to the Home Office to have these offences disregarded from their criminal records.”

He added that he has read his predecessor’s correspondence and as such will “politely decline your invitation to make a formal apology” at this time. 

“The role of the police is to apply the laws made by politicians”

“The role of the police is to apply the laws made by politicians who you and I elect as citizens of this country without fear of favour,” he continued. “I remain positively optimistic for the future and personally respect the well-argued historic references contained within it.”

Tatchell has since issued a statement accusing Guildford of being “disingenuous” as his request was for an apology over the “often illegal and abusive way they enforced anti-gay legislation” – not for simply enforcing the law.

“In the past, his force went way beyond merely applying the law. It waged an unjustifiable vicious witch hunt against the LGBT+ community,” he continued.

READ MORE: Peter Tatchell on the past, present and future of LGBTQ+ activism

“Officers disparaged LGBTs as ‘poofs’ and ‘queers’. They gave the names and addresses of arrested gay men to local papers, which led to them sacked and violently assaulted. They arrested men for mere kissing and dancing together, which was not against the law. Officers also tried to shut down gay bars and clubs and harassed LGBTs leaving gay venues, pushing, shoving and insulting them with homophobic epithets.”

Tatchell stated that this “excessive, over-zealous, homophobic and downright nasty” enforcement of the law “wrecked the lives of thousands of LGBT+ people” in the years before the full decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2003.