About this Archive
Operation Spanner was a police investigation into same-sex male Sadomasochism across the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. The investigation, led by the Obscene Publications Squad of the Metropolitan Police, began in 1987 and ran for three years, during which approximately 100 gay and bisexual men were questioned by police.
The investigation culminated in a report naming 43 individuals, of whom the Director of Public Prosecutions chose to prosecute 16 men for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding and other offences related to consensual, private sadomasochistic sex sessions held in various locations between 1978 and 1987. A resulting House of Lords judgement, R v Brown, ruled that consent was not a valid legal defence for actual bodily harm in Britain.
The case sparked a national conversation about the limits of consent and the role of government in sexual encounters between consenting adults. It also spawned two activist organisations dedicated to promoting the rights of sadomasochists: Countdown on Spanner and The Sexual Freedom Coalition and an annual SM Pride March through Central London.
Countdown on Spanner was formed in August 1992 in an effort to reverse the Court of Appeal ruling, and "demand the recognition that sadomasochism is a valid, sensual and legitimate part of human sexuality". The following month, it began publishing the newsletter Spanner People, and staged a public demonstration calling on Detective Superintendent Michael Hames, Head of the Obscene Publications Squad, to resign. On 28 November, the inaugural SM Pride parade was held, with more than 700 people marching through Central London.
In 1995, the Spanner Trust was established to provide assistance to the Spanner defendants, lobby for a change in British law to legalise sadomasochism, and provide assistance to any person subjected to discrimination because of their consensual sexual behaviour.
Scope and Content
Papers, photographs, press cuttings, correspondence, press releases, and publications regarding Countdown on Spanner, fetish and kink, and SM Pride, [1984-1998].