Why keep tearing a strip off Sergeant Eros?
HE has become famous, or rather infamous, as the stripping policeman who keeps getting on the wrong side of the law.
Yesterday, Stuart Kennedy – or Sergeant Eros, as he is better known – was once again in court, facing a charge of impersonating a police officer.
It is a phrase the 25-year-old has become well used to hearing in the past year-and-a-half. His stripogram act has repeatedly landed him in hot water with the real police, who are thought to have arrested him seven times – often just after performing his act in local night clubs.
The Aberdeen University graduate's repeated scrapes have caused much tittering among the general public.
But they have made him a cause clbre among civil liberties campaigners, raising serious questions about whether the police are too often adopting an over-zealous approach to law enforcement.
And as the powers of the police continue to grow – with anti-terrorism legislation becoming a particularly fertile ground for those who wish to strengthen the capability of the state – those concerns are being voiced louder.
Kennedy claims to have spent more than 120 hours in police custody, having most recently been arrested by two police officers last Sunday morning when – according to his PR agent – he was spotted sending a text message from his mobile phone while standing on Aberdeen's Union Street.
He was held in custody until Monday morning during which time, he says, he suffered an asthma attack and, despite several requests to officers at the Queen Street Police station, was not provided with medication or medical assistance.
Kennedy now plans to lodge a formal complaint against Grampian Police, and is convinced that the police are harassing him.
"I always get stopped and searched when they see me. I don't know how obvious it is from the outside, but it's clear they've taken a dislike to me."
Grampian Police, bound by the tradition of not commenting on specific cases, have not explained their actions – indeed, they would say they don't have to, as their job is to uphold the law.
But North East MSP Brian Adam said the police were in dangerous of "looking ridiculous" by the Sergeant Eros saga.
"I hope that the police aren't harassing the man and have genuine reasons, but it's difficult to see exactly what they are.
"They are probably not at liberty, to share that with us. But it's got the stage where it's becoming a point of ridicule," he said.
The crime of impersonating a police officer has long been on the statute books. But recent years have seen a significant increase in police powers.
Many of these powers do not relate directly to dealing with actual criminals, but with people thought to be about to commit some wrong.
For example, police now have the ability to hold someone without charge for up to 28 days – a limit that the Labour government wants to increase to 42 days. They can also detain any group of people officers believe may be involved in public disorder for six hours – a power that was exercised during the G8 protests in Edinburgh in 2005.
Anti-terror legislation has also greatly extended the scope for carrying out stop-and-searches. The Scotsman revealed last year how police in Scotland were carrying out more than 100 stop-and-searches at transport hubs such as railway stations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the wake of the Glasgow Airport terrorist attack.
Asians have been disproportionately searched under these powers, leading to claims of unfair discrimination.
As the list of police powers lengthens, so does the likelihood those powers will be abused, according to the Scottish human rights lawyer, John Scott.
"There have been several examples recently where police have used anti-terrorism people inappropriately, lifting people who have not been doing anything at all. At a time when the police are getting more and more powers, it's important we make sure that the training of police is up to scratch so they use these powers when appropriate and necessary."
Richard Haley, secretary of the campaign group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), believes abuse of the power of the state is a growing problem.
"We are told that these extra powers will be used sensibly and with discretion, but all too often we are seeing the police use these powers to the extreme."
Recent anti-terror laws, he says, have burdened police with an unacceptable degree of discretion.
"They are expected to switch from upholding the law in a democracy to interpreting highly political laws in a way that seems reasonable."
He cites the case of Sally Cameron, the Dundee property developer who, in 2005, was detained by police anti-terror laws for walking along a cycle path skirting a harbour.
Mr Scott argues that Sergeant Eros's misdemeanours should have been dealt with by a fixed penalty notice.
"Summary justice reforms of late have been about dealing with minor crime swiftly, while allowing the courts to concentrate on more serious matters. This seems to fly in the face of that."
Bill Aitken, Conservative justice spokesman, highlighted a recent Court of Session ruling that a baton kept by Kennedy as part of his outfit was not an offensive weapon – a legal victory for Sergeant Eros that led the Crown to drop a number of charges against him.
"The courts have already determined, entirely sensibly, the legal position and clearly we do not wish the police to have powers which are used excessively or oppressively.
"I am, however, left with the growing impression that Sergeant Eros is becoming just a little bit of a pest and I respectfully suggest he might consider impersonating somebody else for a change."
Last night Kennedy – whose trial for impersonating a police officer and breaching the peace was yesterday adjourned until January – insisted his decision to enlist a publicist does not mean he is courting controversy.
Rather, he wants to highlight what he believes is police wrong-doing. Grampian Police declined to comment last night.
OTHER people who have become civil liberty "cause celebres" include Stephen Gough, aka the Naked Rambler.
Legal experts and politicians have voiced disbelief at the extent to which police, the prosecution, and the courts have pursued the 49-year-old.
The former Royal Marine has spent the past two years almost continuously behind bars for more than a dozen breaches of the peace.
Steve Gough is serving time in Glasgow's Barlinnie jail in a special segregation unit as he refuses to cover up.
Gough refuses to wear clothes at any time – either in prison or in court – and locking him up is estimated to have cost the taxpayer more than 200,000.
In 2005, Sally Cameron found herself detained under anti-terror laws for walking – rather than cycling – past the port area in Dundee. "One day, I was told by a guard on the gate that I couldn't use the route any more because it was solely a cycle path. He said if I was caught doing it again, I'd be arrested," she explained.
Police officers later arrived and told Ms Cameron she was being arrested under the Terrorism Act.
The 2000 Terrorism Act was used to detain peace protester Walter Wolfgang, then aged 82, after he was ejected from last year's Labour Party conference.