Pardons for gay and bisexual men 'should have come sooner' says Northern Pride chairman

Mark Nichols, chairman of Northern Pride.
Mark Nichols, chairman of Northern Pride.

The chairman of a North East LGBT organisation has hailed pardons for thousands of gay and bisexual men as a "brilliant thing".

In a plan being discussed by the Government, posthumous pardons would be issued to thousands of men who were convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before laws were formally changed.

Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. Picture: AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Jack English.

Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. Picture: AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Jack English.

Those living who were convicted of the now abolished offences would be able to apply through the Home Office to have their names cleared through the disregard process.

Mark Nichols, chairman of Northern Pride, has hailed the move as a "brilliant thing" - and added that the world has come a long way in just his lifetime.

Mr Nichols, who turned 50 this year, said: "The year I was born it was still illegal to be gay. I think [the pardons] are a positive thing and should have come sooner."

The campaigner went on to say that the younger generation is more "accepting" of homosexuality - and that people who grew up in the millennium are statistically more likely to come out or identify as LGBT than the older generation.

Some older people may still fear persecution if they were to come out as LGBT, Mr Nichols added.

Calls for wider action to pardon homosexual men came after Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in 2014's The Imitation Game, was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013 over a conviction in 1952 for gross indecency with a 19-year-old man.

Mr Turing was chemically castrated and died two years later from cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide - though there have been suggestions his death was an accident.

Mr Nichols, of Gateshead, came out as gay when he was 37. As a teenager, he explained that homosexuality "wasn't quite as acceptable" as it is now.

He continued: "I conformed and I didn't come out. When I was 18 it was a completely different world.

"[Today] you have more confidence to come out earlier. Gay bars were more underground but now there is a vibrant gay scene which is not just for the gay community."

Justice minister Sam Gyimah said the Government would seek to implement the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill.

A new statutory pardon will be introduced for the living in cases where offences have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.

The minister said: "It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today.

"Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs."

Some campaigners have argued that "pardons do not go far enough" - with 94-year-old George Montague saying "to accept a pardon means to accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything".

The author, from Brighton, spoke about the issue on BBC's Newsnight.

Others have also urged the Government to apologise.

Mark Nichols has been with Northern Pride for six years. This is his fourth year as chairman.

For more information about Northern Pride click here.