The BBC reported last month that Stephen Gough had been released from prison after serving a five-month sentence for public nudity. This was not Gough’s first offense by any means—it was his 18th, and he “has been in prison almost without a break since May 2006” as a result of his insistence on rambling about the UK “typically wearing only boots, socks, a rucksack and perhaps a hat.”
Gough, who is known as the “Naked Rambler” for fairly obvious reasons, is deeply committed to his belief that being naked in public is a fundamental freedom and that, as the BBC puts it, “nakedness is an aspect of his personal autonomy.” He has twice exercised this autonomy by choosing to walk naked “from Land’s End to John o’ Groats,” and at first I thought that was some kind of euphemism for being stark naked but it turns out to be the traditional route for traveling the length of Great Britain, literally from Land’s End in Cornwall up to John o’ Groats in northeastern Scotland. On foot the route is something like 1,200 miles long, which would account for the boots and socks. But Gough rambles everywhere naked, it seems.
Scotland is said to be less tolerant than England of pantless travelers, which seems a little odd since it is the land of the kilt. But a kilt does at least cover your John o’ Groats, I suppose, and Gough has been increasingly reluctant to wear any clothes at all, ever. When he was arrested in 2006 after one of his rambles, he decided he was done wearing clothes to court. On his way to Edinburgh for a hearing, he got on the plane clothed but stripped during the flight. “I knew I wanted to go to court naked,” he told The Guardian, “and I suddenly thought, why not now?” (I had the same thought on Thursday, I just didn’t act on it.) He also refused to wear clothes in prison, or after being released; the latter has meant that “his previous spells of freedom have often been as little as a few seconds.”
At this point, though, it seems fair to say that Gough is not being deterred by prison, nor do people seem all that comfortable with locking up someone for years just for being naked in public. (The Guardian‘s report says Gough has had a number of psychiatric evaluations that he has passed with flying colors.) Keeping him there is also expensive, of course. The Scots are said to be “exasperated” and considering alternative approaches. Chief among them: shipping him back to England.
“On his release from Edinburgh prison in 2007,” one report says, “police officers offered to take Gough to an address of his choosing in Yorkshire” and drop him off there, in somebody else’s jurisdiction. (County sheriffs in England have apparently been handling him this way for years.) He declined and said he would walk there instead—and then was arrested again for doing it naked. The Scots have also asked Gough if he would like to be transferred to an English prison, but he did not consider this an “acceptable arrangement.” It’s not clear from the report whether they asked the English about this, or were just planning to drop him off on the doorstep and speed away.
That’s an amusing thought but not likely to work. I mean, obviously the guy knows the way to Scotland by now.
In case you missed this somewhat related story, public nudity may soon be illegal even in San Francisco, unless you are in a parade.