A Tory councillor has been found guilty of public order offences after making homophobic comments with intent to cause offence.
Peter Willows, a member of Brighton and Hove City Council for 12 years, was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge at Brighton Magistrates Court today after magistrates were “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt” that he had made intentionally offensive remarks.
The prosecution stated that on the night in question on May 18 2006, Peter Willows had been present at a civil reception at Brighton Pavilion, hosted by the mayor of Brighton and Hove.
At the event, Councillor Paul Elgood was told by former Labour mayor Harry Steer, that Willows had been making offensive comments about gay people.
James Ledward, publisher of Brighton magazine G-Scene, was with Mr Elgood at the function.
The pair approached Willows towards the end of the function to ask him why he had said that all gay people are paedophiles.
Mr Ledward told the court that Paul Elgood asked Willows, ‘Why are you saying all gay men are paedophiles?’
Mr Ledward said Willows replied ‘they are.’
He then asked Willows, ‘You know Paul is gay, do you think he is a paedophile?’
Mr Ledward told the court that Willows replied, ‘I know he’s not, it’s all the other gays.’
Many prominent members of the gay community and gay media were at the function, including the leader of the local Liberal Democrats Paul Elgood, and chair of the Council’s equality committee.
Mr Elgood told the court that he was insulted by Willows’ comments and said he felt it was “malicious.”
After a total of 9 witnesses were called, the majority of which praised Willows’ good character, the verdict of the case hung on one crucial piece of evidence – the original tape recording of the police interview with Willows.
Under oath, Willows had diverted from his police statement, now refusing to accept he had said “it’s all the other gays”, insisting he had been misheard and had actually said “it’s all the other GUYS.”
Playing at high volume in the otherwise silent courtroom, it was audible to all that Willows had used the word “gays”, and repetitively. With such damning evidence, Willows could only accept that he had indeed used the word “gays” after all.
Summing up, Willows’ defence barrister Irena Ray-Crosby appealed to the hearts of the magistrates, asking them to take into account Willows’ excellent character and lack of any previous convictions. But it wasn’t enough for lead magistrate Pauline Quinton, who after just under an hour of deliberation with her team found Willows guilty. Hearing the verdict, Willows remained stone faced and showed little emotion.
Ms Ray-Crosby reacted to the verdict by saying: “My client has suffered the worst penalty of losing his good name. He now leaves his political career in disgrace.”
She pleaded with the magistrates for a fair financial penalty, taking into consideration that Willows £10,000 a year council salary would “now be lost”.
He was ordered to pay £250 costs, which was immediately settled by a handful of friends and supporters who were present in court.
“It’s grossly unfair that a man of his age should be put through this,” said Stepen Wade, friend and legal advisor to Willows.
“The case should never have made it to court, it’s been a huge waste of money.”
Leaving court, Council chiefs refused to speculate about Willows’ future.
Willows also declined to make any comment.