Police in Manchester, Northumbria, and the West Midlands, are visiting gay men convicted of consenting, victimless same-sex behaviour and demanding they provide DNA samples, according to Peter Tatchell.

The human rights campaigner spoke out after the Manchester Evening News reported how Greater Manchester Police (GMP) demanded a former soldier hand over DNA because he had a gay relationship in the army 30 years ago.

Stephen Close, 50, from Salford, was jailed for six months in Colchester Military Prison in 1983 after admitting to having consensual sex with a colleague in the Royal Fusiliers in Berlin.

Peter Tatchell said: “According to information I have received from the victims, police officers have turned up unannounced on their doorsteps and handed them letters requiring them to give DNA samples to be stored on a police data base alongside the DNA of murders, rapists and child sex abusers.

“The men have been warned that failure to comply will render them liable to arrest.

“The anti-gay sweep is supposedly part of the government’s crackdown on ‘serious’ violent and sexual offenders, using powers under the Crime and Security Act 2010.”

Mr Tatchell continued: “Given that it is sanctioned by the government and the Association of Chief Police Officers, similar witch-hunting and threats may well be happening in other police areas in other parts of Britain. They may not yet have been reported by victims and come to light.

“Men convicted of the now repealed consenting offence of ‘gross indecency’ are, in effect, being rebranded a serious criminals and treated on a par with the most vicious, violent sex fiends.

“They are being forced to go through the trauma of police abuse all over again.”

Mr Tatchell added: “The Home Secretary and Chief Constables must call an immediate halt to this homophobic witch hunt and write personal apologies to all the men affected. They must give public assurances that the DNA samples will be destroyed.

“These letters and threats have left one man in Northumbria severely traumatised. He was arrested and convicted at the age of 17 for a consenting offence. Now, nearly 30 years later, he’s being forced to relive his past homophobic persecution by the police. He was the victim of bigoted policing in the 1980s. Once again he’s being maligned as a serious sex criminal,” said Mr Tatchell.

The Northumbrian man wants to remain anonymous because he fears repercussions. He told Mr Tatchell:

“I am now 45 years old with my own business. I have been in a relationship for over 10 years. Dragging all this up from my past has made me depressed. I now can’t sleep or eat since it happened. I feel like stopping it. I am sick of it. I’ve been suicidal.”

In response to the allegations concerning Stephen Close, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of Greater Manchester Police said: “Firstly I want to strongly refute any suggestion that Greater Manchester Police is targeting the homosexual community as a whole and asking for DNA samples. That is simply not the case and this issue has nothing whatsoever to do with an individual’s sexuality.”

GMP, which has so far taken 851 DNA samples as part of Operation Harvest, said Mr Close’s profile would not be added to the national database until it had completed a review of his case.

The force stressed the profile had been sought “based on his full police record”, which includes a conviction for theft from 1995.

Mr Hopkins added: “The request for his DNA was made based on his full police record and was in compliance with the legislation.

Therefore, I would stress again in the strongest possible terms that this is not about an individual’s sexuality.”

The letter to Mr Close, asking him for a DNA sample from Greater Manchester Police read:

Through investigation of police records you have been identified as a person who has a previous conviction, which falls into one of the above categories; and from whom we now wish to obtain a DNA sample….

The sample once taken will be processed and place on the National DNA Database, where it will be retained and may be subject to speculative searching either immediately or in the future.

You will be asked to consent to provide a sample. If you do not consent at this stage I require you to attend a police station within 7 days. The time and date of your attendance can be discussed with the person delivering this letter.

At the police station the sample may be taken with the authority of a police officer of the appropriate rank. If you fail to attend the police station as required you may be liable to arrest.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 but remained an offence while serving with the armed forces until 1994.

Mr Close was jailed for gross indecency as he and his partner were under 21. The age of consent was lowered to 18 in 1994 and then to 16 in 2001.

In October last year, the law quashing historic convictions for consensual gay sex came into force, meaning that gay men previously convicted under the rules can now apply to have their police records wiped.

Plans to change the law were announced by David Cameron on PinkNews.co.uk before the 2010 general election.