EastEnders character to be pardoned for historic gay sex conviction

© BBC

The storyline culminated in tonight’s episode.

Thirty years since EastEnders blazed trails by screening the first-ever gay kiss on a UK soap and the flagship BBC show is at it again. 

Last night’s episode saw Derek Harkinson – played by Ian Lavender – reveal that a historical conviction for gross indecency scuppered his youthful dreams of becoming a teacher and that he’s carried the shame of how the law regarded his sexuality for decades. 

With the ghosts of the past threatening his new workplace stability, tonight’s episode saw young law graduate Johnny Carter informing Derek of the government’s Disregard process so he can wipe his conviction from his record and effectively receive a pardon.

EastEnders has been working with the Home Office on developing the storyline surrounding the Disregard scheme, which was set up so men with historical convictions for gay sex could apply to have their convictions removed from their criminal record. Those successful are then also pardoned by the government. 

Sarah Newton, minister for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism, said:

2017 is a major year for LGBT rights because it marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. I welcome EastEnders focusing, not the government’s Disregard scheme, which allows people to apply to have their convictions for historical sexual offences disregarded and pardoned. We are proud of the government’s record in improving equality and I hope the EastEnders storyline promote this scheme to a wider audience.

Ted Reilly added: 

I’m so so proud to be part of this extremely necessary storyline, which aims to illustrate the life experiences of two gay men – Derek and Johnny – born a generation either side of the 1967 decriminalisation act. The story, which the fantastic Ian Lavender and I are showing, is how prejudice used to destroy innocent people’s lives for the simple crime of being in love. We’re also hoping to offer hope that those individuals affected may be able to engage in the Disregard process to right the wrongs of the past.

The convictions the Disregard scheme applies to are mainly sections 12 (buggery) and 13 (gross indecency) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 as well as corresponding offences under earlier legislation and equivalent military offences. The activity must have been consensual, with a person 16 or over, and must not be an offence today. 

The process is free of charge. To apply, complete the application form which can be found here.

Fair to say, we’ve come a long way since the 80s when gay characters on TV was being debated by MPs in Parliament!

Words Ryan Butcher

Related: GERMANY TO OFFICIALLY PARDON OVER 50,000 GAY MEN WHO WERE CONVICTED UNDER NAZI-ERA LAW