A man known as the “naked rambler” has made legal history – by appearing before leading judges in the nude.
Former British marine Stephen Gough, from Hampshire, watched proceedings at the Court of Appeal in London via video link from prison.
Gough, who says it is his human right to be naked in public, remained seated behind a large table as the judges were asked to quash his most recent conviction.
A lawyer representing him in court argued on his behalf that the conviction for breaching an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) – by walking out of prison wearing only his boots and socks – was “unsafe” because he was not permitted to stand trial “not wearing any clothes”.
The trial at Winchester Crown Court in October last year was held in his absence. He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced by the trial judge to two-and-a-half years jail.
Gough, now 56, had refused to put on clothes as he left Winchester Prison as he was released from a term of imprisonment for a previous breach of the Asbo, which bans him from appearing in public without clothing. He was arrested outside the prison.
His appeal against the conviction was thrown out today by Lady Justice Rafferty and two other judges.
Lady Justice Rafferty announced: “In our judgment, were the defendant to have appeared naked in front of the court it would have been a further breach of the anti-social behaviour order.”
She said this would be a “bizarre notion” and “fatal to his argument”.
The judges also rejected a bid by Gough to challenge his “manifestly” excessive jail sentence.
While sentencing Gough last year, Judge Jane Miller had suggested moves should be made to find him a closed nudist community to live in to prevent the cycle of imprisonment which had seen him jailed for much of the past eight years.
Gough earned his nickname when he completed a naked trek from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2003 and he featured in a BBC documentary covering his journey.
Matthew Scott, appearing for Gough, said he was "not disruptive", and the trial judge had no reasonable grounds for thinking that he would do anything other than participate "respectfully and politely in the trial of his case".
Counsel added: “The dignity of the court would not be greatly offended by allowing a man to behave eccentrically, but respectfully in the courtroom.
“The dignity of the court is more affected by excluding a defendant without good grounds from participating in his trial with the result that that trial has to go ahead with the most vital person from it missing.”
The right to participate in a criminal trial was a “fundamental right”.
Lady Justice Rafferty told the lawyer: “He had that right. It was open to him from start to finish.”
Mr Scott replied: “He did not have the right to participate in the trial while not wearing clothes.”
The judge pointed out: “That is very different.”
Lady Justice Rafferty said Gough had not sought legal representation for his trial, as he had wanted to present his own case to the jury.
He had “firmly declined” to put clothes on to do so.
Back in 2013 Brian Leveson, dismissing Gough’s challenge against a conviction for violating public order when he walked through a town centre wearing only walking boots, socks and a hat, said: “For some 10 years Stephen Gough ... has walked naked through the highways and byways of the United Kingdom, from John o’ Groats to Land’s End.
“He has made it clear that arrests, prosecutions and convictions will not deter him from nude walking in the future.”