The naked gardener fights to defend his privacy

WITH its huge hedges and high fences, naturist Leslie Howard thought he had the perfect garden in which to sunbathe and tend his flowers in the nude without fear of shocking his neighbours.

But the 70-year-old naked gardener is now claiming a council is breaching his human rights after they granted permission for three homes to be built behind his garden, all of which will have a view on to his land.

Mr Howard has arranged his home so no-one can see him privately basking in the nude and has been wandering around his garden naked for 17 years.

The retired firefighter has spent thousands of pounds on high sides fencing at his home in Steeton, near Keighley, in West Yorkshire but now he believes occupants of the planned new houses will be able to see him from their second-floor windows.

He has been told by Bradford Council his new neighbours may call the police if they are offended by his nudity but Mr Howard, a committed naturist for 50 years, has already approached a solicitor to help him fight this threat and said he is willing to be arrested to protect his hobby.

Mr Howard is also turning to the Human Rights Act, believing the housing will infringe his right to a private life.

Unmarried Mr Howard said: "The garden was the only reason why I bought the house. I had a hedge between the next-door neighbour's and mine and when I moved in I spent thousands on more fencing and hedging so nobody could be offended.

"The land is currently occupied by garages but when the homes are there they will be able to see into a few gardens.

"I asked what would happen and was told people could call the police and report me for indecency.

"But I've been doing this for 17 years causing no offence to anybody because of how I've arranged it – so I'm willing to be arrested and let a magistrate decide.

"My human rights say I am entitled to privacy and to my own beliefs without interference."

Nudism in public is generally legal in the United Kingdom, provided it does not result in any harassment, alarm or distress to other people.

Mr Howard believes the decision breaches several sections of article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Alleged contraventions include respect for his private life, freedom of thought and belief, living the life he chooses, being safe and protected from harm and enjoying his property without unnecessary interference.

"This Act sets out certain principles which I consider the planners have ignored," he said. "And if allowed to go ahead it could have a detrimental impact on my private life."

He has also approached his solicitor about suing the council but was told that action could cost up to 100,000.

"I don't want to pay that sort of money," said Mr Howard. "The solicitor said it was a very grey area. It would have to go to the High Court."

Mr Howard has been a naturist since he got hooked aged about 20. "I enjoy the freedom of it," he said. "You were born naked, why do we need to wear clothes when nobody can see us?

"Naturists don't want to offend people. We're law-abiding citizens. Now at 70 years old I'm being made to look like a criminal. Everyone around here knows and I've never had any problems.

"I'd never think of walking down the street with nothing on – I just like tending to my garden or sunbathing with a book.

"I haven't been out as much this year though due to the weather so I'm not as tanned as I usually am."

Ian Wilson, Bradford Council's planning casework manager, said: "As with all applications, we took into account the privacy of residents surrounding the site, including Mr Howard, and the high degree of screening around Mr Howard's own garden was noted.

"The application for housing next to Mr Howard's property will see homes being built 30 metres from his boundary so it was considered there would be no loss of privacy within habitable rooms.

"The council's planning process and procedures are compatible and balanced with the Human Rights Act and we are confident this application complies with these standards."

Sign of trouble on Yorkshire beach

Naturists in Yorkshire have had their fair share of troubles in the past couple of years.

In 2008 nudists were furious that East Riding Council had put up signs on Fraisthorpe beach, near Bridlington, warning that anyone stripping off in public would face prosecution.

The crackdown displeased the Fraisthorpe United Naturists (Fun) organisation who said the sands were far enough away from holidaymakers to avoid any complaints.

The British Naturism organisation lists Fraisthorpe and Scarborough's Cayton Bay as being two of Yorkshire's nudist beaches on its official website.