At around 1.15pm on Sunday (November 18) a 20-year-old female student was out walking alone in York when she saw a naked male ‘performing a sex act on himself.’
He was, as it turns out, between the age of 35 and 45, white, pale, and around 5ft 10 with a ‘fat build.’
North Yorkshire Police, however, had it down a bit differently. In their initial appeal, the flasher had been described as having ‘very little chest or pubic hair, no obvious tattoos or scars, and he has what was described as a small penis with testicles that hang noticeably low.’
The force subsequently apologised after it felt the brawn of some disgruntled social media types who thought the latter note unnecessary, if not a bit cruel (notwithstanding his alleged crime).
North Yorkshire Police said, as per the Mirror:
We posted an appeal on Facebook to help identify a suspect in the York area who performed a sexual act in public.
The appeal included a description of the naked man, which we accept went into too much detail.
This has caused upset to a number of people who read the appeal and we unreservedly apologise for any offence caused.
The appeal was quickly removed and a more appropriately worded version posted on the force website.
We have spoken to the member of staff. The appeal was made with good intent and was a momentary lapse of judgement.
We use social media every day to appeal for information, and to warn and inform members of the public. As always, we thank all our followers for their support in sharing our appeals, it is very much appreciated.
On first impression, it seems ludicrous that police should suggest a person’s genitals be taken seriously in a description.
Tick off anything, they’ll say. Sex, height, race, weight, age, hat, glasses, hair, facial hair, coat, shirt, pants, shoes and of course, weapon.
If there’s a vehicle involved, make a note of activity, direction of travel, number plate, colour, make, quirky characteristics (stickers, tinted windows, decked-out wheels) and number of people inside.
But, for whatever reason, we don’t usually see people’s privates on the reg. Surely then, it shouldn’t matter in suspect tip-offs? I’m not so sure.
The nature of this case necessitates such a description, jarring or not. Thanks to pretty much every coming-of-age comedy, playground (if not workplace) insults and how society generally treats them this side of the Renaissance, it’s hard for us to to see or hear the words ‘small penis’ and not shamefully think, ‘Ha! What a loser!’
Though if a suspect’s privates play a part in an incident, and if they bare a particular appearance that might separate it from your average Joe, it might as well go into a full-bodied e-fit.
If a thief was reported as having a missing finger it wouldn’t be excluded from the appeal.
These descriptions aren’t exactly scripture, they’re often vague and generic, and recalled by people who are still trying to piece together a potentially traumatic event. A witness does not have to testify about a report, only what they did, heard or saw.
When you tell a court what you saw, they cannot testify to those facts, only that you said it to them.
‘Their information should be thoroughly documented in their own written statements,’ Police One writes. ‘Each witness, victim or suspect will testify to their own part in the case. Crime scene technicians and experts will testify to the evidence and how it relates to the case.’
Maybe North Yorkshire Police could have put it more delicately (though I don’t know how more to the point you can get). Maybe they could have left that bit out. Maybe we need to learn not to laugh at penises and testicles in the way we don’t at arms or feet. You know, for the sake of law and order.
Anyone with information that could assist the investigation is being urged to call North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 1, and speak to the Force Control Room. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
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