The Bolton 7 were a group of gay and bisexual men who were convicted on 12 January 1998 before Judge Michael Lever at Bolton Crown Court of the offences of gross indecency under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and of age of consent offences under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Although gay sex was partially decriminalised by the Sexual Offences Act 1967, they were all convicted under section 13 of the 1956 Act because more than two men had sex together, which was still illegal. One of the participants (Craig Turner) was also six months under the statutory age of consent for gay sex which was 18 at the time.
Under the provisions of the 1967 Act, the age of consent for gay sex was different from that of the heterosexual age of consent of 16, and had only been reduced from 21 to 18 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Equivalent heterosexual behaviour was not a crime.
The offences only came to light after police seized videos of the men having sex, which they had filmed for their own personal use. All the men were either lovers, ex-boyfriends, or friends of friends.
During sentencing on 20 February 1998 Gary Abdie, David Godfrey, Mark Love and Jonathan Moore (all of whom were in their early 20s), and Craig Turner (17 at the time of the offences but 18 when he appeared in court) were given probation and community service orders. The Judge gave Norman Williams a two-year suspended prison sentence and Terry Connell received a nine-month suspended sentence and was ordered to pay £500 towards the cost of the prosecution. Moore (20), Williams (33) and Connell (55) were also required to sign the Sex Offenders Register for the age of consent offences committed with Turner. Estimates of the overall cost of the prosecution were in the region of £500,000.
Despite their convictions, none of them received custodial sentences possibly as a result of a high-profile campaign led by gay human rights group OutRage!. Over 400 letters were presented to the court in support of the men including those from MPs, Bishops and human rights groups. The letters urged the judge not to impose a custodial sentence, with one group, Amnesty International, pledging to declare the men prisoners of conscience should they be imprisoned.
In 2000, six of the men appealed to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that the prosecutions against them had violated their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights by interfering with 'the right to respect for a private family life' enshrined in article 8 of the Convention. They were subsequently awarded compensation. As Williams was not part of the litigation, he was not deemed eligible by the Home Office for the compensation.
Legislation subsequently introduced by the Labour Government has broadly equalised the treatment of homosexual and heterosexual behaviours in criminal law. The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 equalised the age of consent for gay sex with that of the heterosexual age of consent which is now 16 for both. The Sexual Offences Act 2003, though subject to some controversy, introduced an overhaul in the way sexual offences are dealt with by the police and courts, replacing provisions that date as far back to the 1956 legislation. The offences of gross indecency and buggery have been repealed and sexual activity between more than two men is no longer a crime in the United Kingdom.
- Dearden, Nick (October 1999). "The Queen and the 'Bolton Seven'". Feminist Legal Studies. Springer. 7 (3): 317–332. doi:10.1023/A:1009218800557.
This note examines the case of a group of gay men who, having engaged in consensual sexual acts together, became known as the `Bolton Seven’ following their conviction in 1998 for offences of buggery and/or gross indecency. More particularly the note scrutinises the implications of the ages of the participants (one of whom, at 17 , was unable to give lawful consent to sexual intercourse with a man) in the light of the enactment of Part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 which introduces a system of compulsory registration by some convicted and cautioned sex offenders with the police (including men convicted of, or cautioned for, buggery or gross indecency). The note explores the justification for inclusion of these offences within the remit of the 1997 Act together with the cultural construction of gay men as predatory and as constituting a risk to younger members of society. It also analyses some of the effects of the registration requirement in terms of it constituting a potential violation of fundamental rights such as equality and respect for private life. This discussion is located particularly within the context of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 in the U.K.