DEVON and Cornwall’s Acting Chief Constable, Jim Colwell, has made a formal apology to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans+ community (LGBT+) , acknowledging past homophobic witch-hunts and discriminatory law enforcement.

In a letter to LGBT+ campaigner Peter Tatchell, ACC Colwell expressed regret for the harm caused by the often-abusive way the police enforced historic anti-LGBT+ laws.

Peter Tatchell and the late Paul O’Grady at the launch of the Apologise Now campaign.
Peter Tatchell and the late Paul O’Grady at the launch of the Apologise Now campaign. (Peter Tatchell Foundation)

He said: “We know that the police have to uphold the laws of the day. Of course, it also matters how the law is upheld.

“I know that, at the time, the way the laws were enforced was often disrespectful and inappropriate, and caused long-running damage to trust in policing amongst LGBT+ communities.

“This includes impacting adversely on our own LGBT+ officers and staff. I have, of course, heard this directly from ex-officers.

“I want to apologise for the way those laws were enforced in the past and for any harm caused to LGBT+ communities in Devon and Cornwall as a result.”

He continued: “It seems now incredible that the anti-homosexual laws of the past could ever have existed.

“I look at my current workforce and am proud to see it proportionately reflects the LGBT+ population.

“We are in a fortunate position within Devon and Cornwall where our multiple Pride committees continue to extend invites to our force, and we engage with such events to help us to have meaningful exchanges with our wider communities.

“The force is clear we need to be providing leadership in reducing prejudice and increasing understanding between different groups of people.”

Mr Colwell concluded that he will be “reaching out to learn more from people subjected to policing at the time, to learn from their experiences and ensure that an understanding of the inequalities of the past informs our policing going forwards”.

He continued by wishing Mr Tatchell well with his Apologise Now! Campaign and concluded: “I hope that policing is, as a result, able to draw a line under past homophobic victimisation and to boost LGBT+ trust and confidence in the police.”

ACC Colwell heads the 15th UK police chief to apologise, following similar apologies by the heads of the Metropolitan, City of London, Sussex, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Gwent, Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset, West Mercia, North Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Nottinghamshire forces.

His apology is in response to the #ApologiseNow campaign initiated by the Peter Tatchell Foundation. The campaign was backed by comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady before his untimely passing.

Peter Tatchell expressed gratitude for Jim Colwell’s apology.

He said: “My immense gratitude to Jim Colwell for his forthright apology to the LGBT+ community on behalf of Devon and Cornwall police – and for the positive, supportive and inclusive LGBT+ policies he set out in his letter to me. 

“Some people in power find it hard to say sorry for past wrongs. Jim Colwell didn’t hesitate or evade the need for a clear apology. That marks him out as a commendable police chief. We thank him and his officers.

“This apology does the Devon and Cornwall police proud and will win much appreciation and praise from the LGBT+ community.

“It will go a long way towards securing a more constructive, collaborative relationship between Devon and Cornwall police and LGBT+ people – further building trust and co-operation.

“Saying sorry helps draw a line under past police homophobia. It’s a laudable continuation of the great work the police have been doing in recent years. I hope it will inspire more LGBTs to report hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual assaults, which is what we all want.”

Alan Quick, co-founder of Exeter Pride, also thanked ACC Jim Colwell for the apology on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police.

He said: “Historic homophobic actions by the police resulted in some terrible times for many LGBT+ people, including those who were serving police at the time.

“This apology, as Peter says, draws a line under those past actions. However, I cannot fail to mention my late Exeter Pride co-founder, the late Michael Halls, formerly Chief Executive of the South West LGBT+ charity, the Intercom Trust.

“Michael supported and advised many LGBT+ people, including Devon and Cornwall Police’s own officers, who sustained homophobia from the Devon and Cornwall Police Force itself.

“We are fortunate that times have changed and trust between the LGBT+ community and the Devon and Cornwall Police Force is at an all-time high thanks to the hard work that the force and its officers have undertaken for many years.

“I’d like to thank ACC Colwell for his support and due consideration whenever I have spoken with him.”

The Peter Tatchell Foundation continues to urge every Chief Constable in the UK to apologise for their force’s historic homophobic persecution in decades past. It continues to chase the remaining 30 police forces that have not said sorry. 

The #ApologiseNow petition can be read and signed at: .