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the Spanner Trust
Norvin House
45-55 Commercial St
London E1 6BD
UK

the Spanner Trust Web Site Home Page

‘Spanner’ case
[Regina v Brown and others (1990)]
In the UK in December 1990, a number of gay men were given prison sentences, some suspended, and others fined for engaging in consensual SM activity. This followed a police investigation called ‘Operation Spanner’ prompted by the chance finding of a videotape of SM activities. The videotape showed a number of identifiable men engaging in heavy SM activities including beatings, genital abrasions and lacerations, although none of the men suffered injuries requiring medical attention.

The evidence against the men comprised the videotape and their own statements. When questioned by the police, the men were so confident that their activities were lawful (because they had consented to them) that they freely admitted to taking part in the activities on the video. Without these statements and the videotape, the police would have had no evidence to present against the men and would have found it impossible to bring any prosecutions.

For the most part, the men were convicted of the standard offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Their defence, that they had all consented to the activities, was denied. Some of the defendants appealed their convictions both to the Court of Appeal and Law Lords in UK and to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but their convictions were upheld.


The Spanner Trust always tries to ensure that all information provided is accurate and up-to-date. However, the law can change and is open to interpretation. Before relying upon any statement made by the Spanner Trust you should take your own independent legal advice and the Spanner Trust cannot accept any liability whatsoever.