By GREGORY KATZ, Associated Press
So John Crawford, 70, wants his criminal record cleaned up for good, so that he doesn't have to disclose his conviction when he seeks volunteer work, and because of a deeply held belief that he should not be punished for his sexual orientation.
"I came into this world without a criminal record and I'd like to leave this world without one," said Crawford, a retired butler. "The police beat me and beat me and forced me to confess to being gay, but I know in my heart I did nothing wrong."
Crawford's bid to clean up his record is backed by gay organizations looking to help others who were convicted under Britain's once draconian anti-homosexuality laws, which began to be eased in 1967 as social values changed and sex acts between consenting adults began to be decriminalized.
"These laws were homophobic in the first place, that's why they were rescinded, but the laws are still penalizing people," said Deborah Gold, director of Galop, a gay rights group that has helped Crawford. "We've always had a regular trickle of people asking about it, how to get their records cleaned up."
She said Crawford suffered horrific treatment from the police and should not have to disclose his criminal conviction when seeking employment or volunteer work.
His lawyers wrote to Justice Secretary Jack Straw last week asking that the law be changed so that Crawford and others in his position would not have to disclose their convictions during the job interview process.
If no action is taken by March 12, attorneys will seek a formal judicial review because the policy is not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, said lawyer Anna Mazzola.
"John Crawford wants to do it, to change the law for other people," she said. "Others are in exactly the same position. The justice secretary has the power to do this, without going through Parliament."
Mazzola's firm has also filed a freedom of information request for data about the number of people convicted of consensual sexual offenses that would now be legal.
"I think there are quite a lot," she said.
Crawford's legal campaign has already been productive. In response to a letter from his lawyers, police have removed the record of his conviction from the criminal database, meaning it will not turn up during a computerized criminal records search.
"We are very sympathetic to Mr. Crawford's concerns," said a Hampshire police spokesman, who asked not to be identified under department policy. "We recognize that this is an exceptional case and have acted quickly to resolve it."
The spokesman said the conviction is no longer relevant and has been taken out of the Police National Computer database. The special ruling applies only to Crawford, however, not to other gay or bisexual men with similar offenses in their past.
This welcome decision removes one substantial obstacle Crawford faces in his retirement as he pursues voluntary positions, such as hospital work where he would be helping to feed ill people.
He is not satisfied, however, because he is still legally required to reveal the 1959 episode when asked if he has ever been convicted of any criminal offense. This happens frequently on questionnaires when applying for volunteer work with vulnerable persons.
"I think it's ridiculous," Crawford said.
His lingering anger comes in part from the humiliation he suffered at the hands of police officers in 1959. He said they abused him physically and harassed him with vulgar taunts, then coerced him into pleading guilty by threatening to continue beating him if he did not cooperate.
As a result of that plea, he said he was saddled with a conviction that would not have been possible otherwise, especially since he was not accused of having sex in public.
"I wanted to plead not guilty, and the case would have been thrown out and I wouldn't be talking about it now," Crawford said. "Until the police drop it completely, I won't be happy. I've got to be able to put my hand on my heart and say to the world, I haven't got a criminal record, and I can't say that now."