and on-going campaign


Quotes from a long article by Dr. Bill Thompson,
first published published in SKIN TWO magazine, issue 16.

... Some judges in their role as self-appointed moral guardians clearly resent the freedom exhibited by the growing number of magazines, books, clubs and organizations exploring SM sex-play, and wish to put a stop to SM dabblers by targeting the devotees.

Many in the SM community have indignantly complained that it made no sense to prosecute SM for assault while sports like boxing remained immune; but that is to miss the point, and real threat, behind the “Spanner” prosecution ...


As it turned out, Judge Rant's ruling ... forced the defendants to change their pleas to guilty.
And when they were formally convicted on December 19th 1990, they found out why the Judge had made that ruling. His comments included the declaration that it was the role of the Court to draw a line between what was and was not acceptable in a civilized society, and that as sadomasochism was “degrading and vicious”, it was on the wrong side of the line. This decision, upheld at the Court of Appeal 18 months later and then confirmed by a split 3:2 decision by Law Lords in March 1992, raised two problems for a really civilized society:

• the Judges' beliefs concerning SM sex bore no relation to what SM sex is all about; and

• their legal justifications for making consenting activities like spanking an illegal assault were more than dubious.

... the real scandal in the “Spanner” affair was the court case itself!

Dr. Bill Thompson is a Criminologist at Reading University . His book 'Sadomasochism: Painful Perversion or Pleasurable Play' has recently been published by Cassell. (1995?)

by Jim Stewart (1996) Published in 'Criminal Confessions from Suburbia'

The idea was to give here a simple overview of the Spanner Affair. But life is never simple is it!

Like the authors of WE LOVE S&M, my resentment wells up every time I look back towards what I still refuse to call the Spanner ‘Trial' - because when a Judge announces his verdict before the Prosecution has begun to present it's evidence to the Court, it can not truthfully be called a trial.

People with more experience of court procedure than myself may not have been surprised that a Judge can refuse to accept a plea of ‘Not Guilty' on the opening day - but to people with a respect for common sense, insistence upon a plea of ‘Guilty' seems to suggest that, in the mind of the judge at least, the verdict was never in doubt. Less prejudiced minds than mine are still reviewing the evidence and I suspect that this whole sorry affair will live on to haunt the British legal system well into the next century.

The victims in what became known as Operation Spanner have been forced to pay the price for this expensive legalistic charade. The drama was played out before a wide audience and much to the relish of the mass media. It is a theatrical dictum that tragedy usually teeters on the edge of farce. Conversely, good farce always contains an element of near tragedy. So, it is no laughing matter that with this case ‘The Establishment' in Britain successfully contrived to set new legal precedents and define things that were previously left to the intelligence and unbiased judgment of local magistrates. The joke maybe that, because of intelligent press coverage of the Spanner Affair (and there was a lot) there is now a greater general awareness of S&M as an extension of a sexuality acceptable to more than a “Despicable, degenerate minority.” Certainly, four years after Judge James Rant's resounding refusal to accept the reality of a more open-minded contemporary sexuality, the echoes still sound and the games are still played, often in defiance of the law. Perhaps the sad joke is that the whole questionable affair has made it difficult for many intelligent and independent-minded people to take seriously our police, judiciary or the people who govern us.

My sincere thanks to COUNTDOWN ON SPANNER, SMGAYS and SKIN TWO magazine for permission to reprint here informative commentary on this issue.

M.J.Stewart-Addison. Seattle Oct ‘95


FROM SMGAYS “Resource Book 2 ”

In December 1990, 16 gay men were given prison sentences of up to four and a half years or fined for engaging in consensual SM activity ... The convictions have now been upheld by both the Court of Appeal and by the Law Lords.

Despite what you may have read in newspapers, for the most part, the men were not convicted of sexual offences but the everyday crime of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. ...

The Case
In 1987 the police received, anonymously through the post, a video-tape which showed a number of identifiable men engaging in heavy SM activities including beatings, genital abrasions and lacerations. The police claim that they immediately started a murder investigation because they were convinced that the men were being killed. This investigation is rumoured to have cost £4 million. Dozens of gay men were interviewed. The police learned that none of the men in the video had been murdered, or even suffered injuries which required medical attention. However the police may well have felt that they had to bring some prosecutions to justify their expensive investigation.

The Verdicts
16 of the men were found guilty (20th Dec. '90) of a number of offences and were sent to jail, given suspended jail sentences or fined. The men's defence was based on the fact that they had all consented to the activities. But Judge Rant, in a complex legal argument, decided that the activities in which they engaged fell outside the exceptions to the law of assault.

A number of the defendants appealed against their convictions and sentences. Their convictions were upheld though the sentences were reduced as it was felt they might well have been unaware that their activities were illegal. However the Appeal Court warned that this would not apply to similar cases in the future. The case then went to the House of Lords.

The Law Lords heard the case in 1992 and delivered their judgment in January 1993. They upheld the prosecutions by a majority of three to two.

The Evidence
The evidence against the men comprised the video-tape and their own statements. When they were questioned by the police, the men were so confident that their activities were lawful (because they had consented to them) that they freely admitted to taking part in the activities on the video. Without these statements and the video-tape , the police would have had no evidence to present against the men and would have found it impossible to bring any prosecutions.

The Law Of Assault
In law, you cannot, as a rule, condone an assault. There are exceptions. For example, you can consent to a medical practitioner touching and possibly injuring your body; you can consent to an opponent hitting or injuring you in sports such as rugby or boxing; you can consent to tattoos or piercings if they are for ornamental purposes. You can also use consent as a defence against a charge of what is called Common Assault. This is an assault which causes no injury.

The Judgment
The Law Lords have now ruled that SM activity provides no exception to the rule that consent is no defence to charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm or causing grievous bodily harm. These are defined as activities which cause injuries of a lasting nature. Bruises or cuts could be considered lasting injuries by a court, even if they heal up completely and that takes a short period of time. Grievous bodily harm covers more serious injury and maiming.

Judge Rant introduced some new terms to define what he considered to be lawful and unlawful bodily harm. Judge Rant decreed that bodily harm applied or received during sexual activities was lawful if the pain it caused was “just momentary” and “so slight that it can be discounted”. His judgment applies also to bodily marks such as those produced by beatings or bondage. These too, according to him, must not be of a lasting nature. In essence, Judge Rant decided that any injury, pain or mark that was more than trifling and momentary was illegal and would be considered an assault under the law.

SMGAYS meet regularly in London, and publish a series of informative Resource Books which cover many different aspects of S&M including how to behave if approached by the police concerning SM related activities or possession of equipment. These Resource Books are valuable to people of all sexual orientations whether they have an active interest in or only a casual curiosity about this complex subject. For more information send S.A.S.E. to BM SM Gays, London WC1N 3XX


The denial of the Spanner defendants rights to choose what to do with their own bodies has lead to a series of ludicrous legal situations.

The judgments mean that body piercings for decoration are quite legal but for the “ ... satisfaction of a sadomasochistic libido” are illegal! In practice this means that you are permitted to get your body pierced if you experience only pain. If you also experience pleasure, however, a serious criminal assault has taken place!

The Law Lords' opinion in the Spanner judgement, together with recent test cases, has confirmed that it is legal for adults to beat children in their care for the purpose of “lawful correction or chastisement'' whilst the same activity between consenting adults is a criminal assault.

Despite Lord Lane's assertion that consent is immaterial in cases concerning SM, several of the men were convicted of “aiding and abetting” assaults on themselves! How did these men aid and abet the assaults? Erm ... well ... presumably by consenting to them. Consent, it seems, is only “Immaterial'' when it suits the courts!

The convictions were subsequently upheld through all appeals despite the fact that:
• All the men consented fully to all the activities concerned.
• No one received permanent injuries or needed medical attention.
• All the activities took place in private and the police received no complaints.

The courts and police claim to be trying to protect people from themselves. These legal absurdities expose the fact that the Spanner case was not about assault at all, but about sex.

COUNTDOWN ON SPANNER is a mixed-sexuality group of sadomasochists originally formed to support the Spanner defendants and campaign for their rights. It is currently fund-raising to support in the European Court of Human Rights a further appeal against the Spanner judgement. Funds raised are administered for the Spanner Trust by 'Liberty' the British organization for Human Rights.

COUNTDOWN ON SPANNER, in it's widely distributed Information Pack, defines it's declared aims and position:-

The term sadomasochism covers a wide variety of activities and desires, but Countdown on Spanner uses the following working definition:

• SM is obtaining pleasure from a power exchange and/or pain in consensual sex play or sexual fantasy.
• SM sex is, by definition consensual. Non-consensual sex is an abuse of power and is therefore sexual violence, not SM sex.
• There are no predetermined roles in sex. Power relations are defined by choice.

Countdown on Spanner needs the support of people of all sexualities who believe in equal rights for sexual minorities and in informed consent as the basis of all sexual activity.

For more information about activities and events send an SAE to: update 1996 address


This year the Law Commission (official body set up by the British Government in 1965 to work towards the “simplification and modernisation of the law”), published an extension of their review of law concerning “Consent and Offences Against the Person”. This Green Paper is the result of a long and serious consideration by a team of respected legal experts reviewing laws concerning a broad range of topics which include ritual circumcision, cosmetic piercing, dangerous sports and martial arts. Predictably, when reporting the publication, even the Quality press zoomed in on the small part of the general review which deals with sadomasochism.

Although the commission suggests that “ ...in non-recognised sports any intentional or reckless causing of an injury should continue to be criminal” sensation mongering editors headlined news of the publication with KINKY SEX ‘NOT A CRIME' and SADO-MASOCHISM ‘SHOULD BE LEGAL'. More predictably the Daily Mail which continues to wage war on the Law Commission because of it's previous proposals for reform of British divorce laws, screamed LAW CHIEFS PROPOSE ‘LICENCE' FOR PERVERTS and followed it up with a long article from William Oddie headed WHY THESE PERVERSIONS MUST NEVER BE LEGALISED.

Inevitably, the more vociferous of the morally self-righteous network immediately pitched into the battle with gusto. Their professional Parliamentary lobbyist grabbed the opportunity to appear on BBC's Newsnight on the day of publication, seething with indignation. When asked about the possible harm of allowing responsible consenting adults a little more freedom of choice he replied that “ ... children must be protected from abuse”. When gently reminded by the presenter that the question was about consenting adults, this spokesperson who could have been mistaken for a representative of Moral Myopia replied that if adults were free to enjoy such activities “... this would lead to them doing it to children”.

Obviously, serious media discussion of sado-masochism is impossible when fanaticism & sensation-mongering cloud the real issues. The Law Commission is still accepting submissions regarding it's general subject. Dedicated lobbyists and pseudo-Christian moralists will bring out any big guns in their armoury to undermine attempts at rational thinking on matters concerning freedom of the individual especially when S.E.X. is involved. It is hoped that the Law Commission and sensible people who try to keep British Law and Government in touch with the real world will not allow themselves to be bullied by irresponsible politicians and media moguls.

CONSENT IN THE CRIMINAL LAW , Law Commission Consultation Paper 139 is available from Her Majesty's Stationary Office price £21.