Police in London have fined men cruising for gay sex on Hampstead Heath for breaching coronavirus rules, with frequenters being urged to consider the health risks of mixing with other households.
North London police responded after members of the public reported men “cruising and having sex” on the Heath, long known as a cruising hotspot.
This resulted in officers attending the Heath and issuing fixed penalty notices for lockdown breaches.
Police consulted with LGBT+ rights including the Peter Tatchell Foundation in a tacit acknowledgment of the tensions between police and gay men who have historically been targeted at cruising spots.
Peter Tatchell, director of the human rights group, said: “The police have made it clear to us that they do not proactively patrol the Heath, but only act in response to public complaints.”
Police similarly assured the foundation that they will not penalise late-night sexual behaviour that is not visible to the public. The primary concern is the potential danger to public health when cruising leads to risks of spreading COVID-19.
Tatchell added: “We are urging gay and bisexual men to ‘play safe’: have fun but protect yourself and your partners by following the COVID lockdown rules. We also advise against having sex in circumstances where you might be seen by members of the public and cause them offence.
“We are living through a major health emergency and it is imperative that our community does what it can to limit the spread of COVID and save lives.”
The Peter Tatchell Foundation suspects that similar practises are happening elsewhere in London and across the country.
It has suggested police put up signs to inform the public that fixed penalty notices are being given out, and to ensure that closeted and isolated members who may not interact with LGBT+ media are aware of the risks.
“We don’t want to see gay and bisexual men breaking the rules, putting themselves and others at risk and getting fined,” Tatchell added.
Hampstead Heath, along with the rest of London and most of the South East, is under the government’s new tier four restrictions. Official guidelines for tier four state that people can visit an outdoor public place only with their household, support bubble or with one other person “if you maintain social distancing”.
Police in England can fine people £200 for the first breach of these regulations, doubling on subsequent offences up to a maximum of £6,400. The fines differ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have slightly lower penalties.
For larger gatherings of over 30 people, the government have said police can issue fines of £10,000.