If you were gay in the 1980s a place to avoid was Manchester, a U.K. city under the control of a man dubbed "God's Cop" who orchestrated a hate campaign against LGBT people and others he viewed as "undesirables."
Years ago, I was taking a perfectly respectable leak in a public toilet when I suddenly became aware that someone was standing close behind me, looking over my shoulder. When I turned to see who the willy-watcher was I saw a member of the Greater Manchester police staring down at my business. In mid-stream, I froze.
I asked what the hell he was doing.
“I’m making sure you’re using the toilet for legitimate purposes,” he said, then added, “Not wanking.” He stood back and allowed me to finish emptying my bladder. When I left to return to my car I saw him and two other coppers, standing at my vehicle. One was writing down my license plate.
“You look like a nancy boy,” said one in a hostile tone. Another asked where I was from. When I replied “London,” I was asked what reason I had for being in Manchester. My fear turned to fury, and I barked “to see my boyfriend in Salford!”
Salford was part of the Greater Manchester area, and the boyfriend Brian was my partner for over two decades. He died of cancer in 1996.
One of the policemen snarled, “We don’t want no poofters in our city. Get in your car and drive back to London. NOW! We’ll be making sure you leave our city.” And they did just that, with blue lights flashing in front and behind me.
This was in the 1980s, and the man who ordered the police to harass LGBT people, those suspected of being homosexual or perceived to be “undesirable”, was James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester from 1975 to 1991, who was known as “God’s Cop.”
During that period, a close friend of mine, Terry Sanderson, was writing a column for Gay Times called “Media Watch”, in which he recorded the rampant homophobia of tabloid press hacks, politicians, police officers and members of the clergy.
Sanderson said that “Ayatollah Anderton has rained fire and brimstone upon us.“
A novelist and past President of the National Secular Society, Sanderson added:
He was also an evangelical Christian prone to making outrageously reactionary remarks. At a national police conference on how the police should deal with people with Aids, he said: ‘Everywhere I go I see evidence of people swirling around in the cesspool of their own making. Why do homosexuals freely engage in sodomy and other obnoxious sexual practices knowing the dangers involved?’
In a Guardian obituary, Duncan Campbell wrote:
Anderton made it clear that he felt answerable to a higher authority than the Home Office. ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ he said. ‘Given my love of God and my belief in God and Jesus Christ, I have to accept that I may well be used by God.
Thus was born ‘God’s copper’, a figure of mockery to some, a bastion of old-fashioned values to others. The nickname became enshrined in popular culture when the Salford band Happy Mondays recorded God’s Cop.
Campbell pointed out that Anderton, who received a knighthood from the detestable Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was known for praying in the back of his car as his police driver chauffeured him to work.
It was this moral zeal that was to define his career. Eccentric in many ways, he made a record of his dreams and believed that even when he was asleep, God was sending him messages. His religious path took him from a devout Church of England childhood to Methodism and then to Roman Catholicism, and he had an audience with the Pope in Manchester in 1982.
Reporting on the 89-year-old’s death, Wigan Today said that one of Sir James’s first acts was a drive against pornography and prostitution.
A special squad raided 284 bookshops, newsagents and warehouses, confiscating 160,000 magazines to a street value of £200,000. Seizures included The Sun Page Three Annual.
The crackdown received support from some feminists and anti-pornography campaigners, but was criticized by civil liberties groups as “a moral crusade.”
There was also a drive against late night drinking in Manchester city center with a particular focus against illegal drinking clubs and after-hours drinking in licensed bars and clubs. As a result, 24 nightclubs had their licenses revoked by magistrates.
Sir James was frequently criticized by gay rights activists of devoting undue attention to the policing of the area due to his hatred of the gay community.
Having had a taste of Anderton’s methods of imposing his brand of religious terrorism on Manchester, all I can say is that the world is a far better place without him. Many will will disagree. If one visits the Greater Manchester Police’s Facebook page you will find hundred of smarmy tributes, but among them, this one resonated most with me:
Well said, Jo!