The head of Devon and Cornwall police has given a formal apology to the LGBT+ community, acknowledging past homophobic witch-hunts and discriminatory law enforcement.

In a letter to campaigner Peter Tatchell, acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell expresses regret for the harm caused by the often-abusive way the police enforced historic anti-LGBT+ laws:

“We know that the police have to uphold the laws of the day. Of course, it also matters how the law is upheld. I know that, at the time, the way the laws were enforced was often disrespectful and inappropriate, and caused long-running damage to trust in policing amongst LGBT+ communities,” he wrote.

“This includes impacting adversely on our own LGBT+ officers and staff. I have of course heard this directly from ex-officers.

“I want to apologise for the way those laws were enforced in the past and for any harm caused to LGBT+ communities in Devon & Cornwall as a result,” he added.

Colwell is the fifteenth UK police chief to apologise, following similar apologies by the heads of the Metropolitan, City of London, Sussex, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Gwent, Avon & Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset, West Mercia, North Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Nottinghamshire forces.

His apology is in response to the #ApologiseNow campaign initiated by the Peter Tatchell Foundation. The campaign was backed by comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady before his untimely death.

Peter Tatchell expressed gratitude for the apology.

“My immense gratitude to Jim Colwell for his forthright apology to the LGBT+ community on behalf of Devon & Cornwall police – and for the positive, supportive and inclusive LGBT+ policies he set out in his letter to me,” he said.

“Some people in power find it hard to say sorry for past wrongs. Jim Colwell didn’t hesitate or evade the need for a clear apology. That marks him out as a commendable police chief. We thank him and his officers. “

The Peter Tatchell Foundation continues to urge the remaining 30 police forces that have not said sorry to apologise for their force’s record on homophobia.