Skip to content

Well, sorta

David Bonney realised his employer, the Royal Air Force, was investigating his sexuality within minutes of entering the guard room at RAF Mount Batten, a military base near Plymouth. It was 1991 and Bonney, then a 21-year-old medical assistant, had just been escorted from his post at the medical centre by military police. He sat down in the guard room, opposite the duty staff, and the interrogation began.

“Questions about my sex life,” says Bonney, now 55. “Questions about witnessing me with other gay people. Questions about things I said on the phone to my mother.” He says there was shouting, swearing, banging on the desk. “Threats to me, threats to my career, threats to my family.” Bonney hadn’t told anyone in the military that he was gay. Before 2000, it was illegal for gay people to serve in the British armed forces and he knew a confession would cost him his career. “They wanted to get rid of me,” he says. “Anything they could to just manipulate me into confessing, to frighten the hell out of me.”

The initial interrogation took two hours. The RAF’s investigation into Bonney’s sexuality lasted two years. He says he was questioned more than a dozen times, spied on, threatened and intimidated.

When Bonney did confess, in October 1993, he was court martialled. He received a dishonourable discharge, a criminal record, multiple fines and was sentenced to six months in detention – one month of which was in solitary confinement. They would have taken his medals, too, had he not hidden them. The solitary confinement was, he says, a vindictive decision, he says, because “I made them work for two years to try to get rid of me” before he confessed.

Bonney served four months in prison, before being let out early for good behaviour. He is believed to be the last person in the UK to be imprisoned for being gay.

You can describe that as being imprisoned for being gay, sure. But that’s not quite right either.

He was imprisoned for lying while being in the RAF. Which is a slightly different thing.

If he hadn’t been in the RAF then he wouldn’t have served time. Thus the serving time was about the RAF, not about being gay.

It is somewhat impolite to be as logical as this these days but there we are.

19 thoughts on “Well, sorta”

  1. I’m almost, almost, tempted to report this to Police Scotland as a hate crime, just to see what happens.

  2. He must have made an arse of himself. Been blatant rather than latent. In my time there were discreet gays in the army but little fuss was made about it. Somewhat different among the WRAC where there did seem to be a problem, not least with predatory NCOs.

    One of my staff sergeants was caught cottaging in a toilet in Andover, went to civvy court and was fined. The army did nothing. about it.

  3. Before 2000, it was illegal for gay people to serve in the British armed forces

    Now it is compulsory.

  4. ’I meet Bonney at his home near Euston station in central London, where he lives with his cockapoo, Scuba.’

    No chortling at the back!


  5. “You just accept it when you’re in the military. You don’t have a right to a private life.”’

    Says the man writing thousands of words showing he didn’t accept it at all.

    I read the article because I was intrigued by the
    subtext that he was still somehow suffering persecution by the RAF (how? Flying Tornadoes over his back garden?). Turns out he’s just paranoid and finds it hard to form relationships though how that’s the fault of the RAF and not entirely self-inflicted I can’t really fathom….

  6. Bloke in North Dorset

    We had a case in Germany in the early ’80s when one of the guys woke up to find one of his room mates kneeling by his bed begging to give the guy a blow job. After a bit of kerfuffle the gay guy was quietly discharged.

    The RAF was a bit sensitive to these sorts of things in the ’90s though as they did have a few scandals. Just before I arrived in Cyprus after I left Germany there had a been a case of a bunch of RAF guys from Olympus going to “Pool Parties”. It turned out they were organised in some Russian owned property and there was lots of drugs and sex going on, at it wasn’t always with hookers.

  7. Did he lie? Was he asked “Are you gay?” and then replied “No”? Or did he refuse to answer? Or say “none of your business”?

  8. One was under the impression from what one had learned from the other two services, that being a shirt lifter was obligatory to join the RAF. This no longer true?

  9. “it was illegal for gay people to serve in the British armed forces”

    Bet it wasn’t, if by “gay” he means attracted to your own sex. But I expect he meant sodomites and the like i.e. he’s not talking about attraction but about action.

  10. If he was 21 in 1991, how on earth had he been awarded medals? I’m guessing that he would have made more of them if they had been for gallantry.

  11. derieme – it may not have been illegal by the law of the land, but it was certainly contrary to Queen’s Regulations. Not only did I have to affirm that I wasn’t, I was also informed that if discovered anyone who was and failed to report it I would be committing an offence myself.

  12. He is believed to be the last person in the UK to be imprisoned for being gay.

    Polls keep showing a majority of British Muslims want homosexuality to be illegal, and they’ve got all the major political parties terrified to upset them. So it’s probably more accurate to say he’s the most recent person to be imprisoned for being a gay.

    Enjoy your Diversity, lads.

  13. Steve,

    you think they will demand imprisonment for gaying?

    I thought Islam had different penalties.

  14. Bloke in Hong Kong

    Tim, he was clearly sacked for being gay.

    He would be discharged for admitting being gay, so has to lie. If being gay was allowed, he wouldn’t have to lie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *