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Is Public Nudity Legal in the UK? Can I Be Arrested for Nude Sunbathing?


The naked rambler

Naked ramblers Stephen Gough and Melanie Roberts set off on their walk from Lands End to John O'Groats.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Question: Is Public Nudity Legal in the UK? Can I Be Arrested for Nude Sunbathing?

I've heard that public nudity is legal in the UK and that I can't be arrested for nude sunbathing on an unofficial nudist beach. Is that true?

Answer: Well yes and no. Technically, there is no law against being nude in public in the United Kingdom. Simple nudity is not illegal. However,using nudity to "harass, alarm or distress" others is an offence against the Public Order Act of 1986.

In practice, this means that if you are nude, minding your own business and practicing good nude beach etiquette on a beach that is unofficial but, by common consent, considered to be a nude beach, you are unlikely to have any problem. In England and Wales, if someone - a policeman or a member of the public - asks you to cover up, you should do so or you could be arrested. To be charged, someone would have to prove that you were deliberately trying to cause offence. But in practice, refusing to cover up when asked could cause you a great deal of inconvenience. In Scotland, where they are less tolerant of public nudity, you are much more likely to end up in the slammer.

Tolerance of unofficial nude beaches tends to be very local and rather changeable. It's a good idea to check the latest information with a naturist website like NUFF, the Naturist UK Fact File, and, at the very least, to have some kind of cover-up within easy reach.


Testing the Law

During 2003-2004, a Hampshire man named Stephen Gough, who became known as The Naked Rambler, put the UK law to the test by attempting to walk nude from Land's End, Cornwall, to John O'Groats, in Scotland. It took him seven months to complete the 900-mile walk - much of that time spent in jail. He was arrested 14 times and served two short jail sentences. He tried to repeat the walk with a companion in 2005, was arrested for a breach of the peace and spent two weeks in jail in Scotland. The local sheriff said, as Gough appeared in court naked, "I have no doubt in my mind that walking naked through a Scottish town and along a busy road is not something which the Scottish public should be expected to deal with."

So what do you think? Would you bare all at the beach in Britain?
Vote in the Nude Beach poll and tell us:

  1. Yes, why not?
  2. Yes, but only at an official nude beach
  3. Yes, if I thought I could do it discretely
  4. Not in a million years!
See how other people voted.


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