Remembering The Cradle Of Filth “Jesus Is A C**t” T‑Shirt Controversy
21 years ago almost to the day, Kerrang! ran a news story about a young Cradle Of Filth fan who was arrested and charged with wearing an ‘obscene and offensive’ T‑shirt.
17-year old Matthew Manley from Gloucester was wearing Cradle Of Filth’s now infamous ‘Vestal Masturbation’ shirt, which featured an image of a nun masturbating on the front. The back-print, meanwhile, boldly proclaimed the legend: ‘Jesus Is A C**t’.
Manley was sent to court but the case was reportedly thrown out when the Crown Prosecutor deemed it ‘not in the public interest’.
The teenager told the Gloucester Citizen: “When I saw Cradle at the London Astoria, I must have seen at least 15 people wearing the same T‑shirt and they were walking past the police who did nothing. This case should never have gone to court. If someone was saying something offensive, you wouldn’t confiscate their voice!”
While that case came to nothing, others have resulted in fines and criminal records.
In that 1999 report, Kerrang! consulted criminal lawyer Gary Summers of Magrath & Co.
He told us: “You can be charged under obscenity legislation, if a T‑shirt is capable of being grossly offensive to a certain minority, or even special interest group. You can also be charged with wearing something that’s considered to cause harassment, alarm and distress, or encourage an altercation.”
Asked specifically about the ‘Vestal Masturbation’ shirt, he added: “Blasphemy laws still exist in this country, so you can be arrested. The Cradle Of Filth shirt seems a bit more near the knuckle.”
In 1997, Filth fan Rob Kenyon was reportedly arrested in London and later fined £150 for ‘Profane Representation under the 1839 Act’.
Cradle Of Filth’s drummer Nicholas Barker was also arrested at Dover for wearing the shirt in the same year and ended up spending a night in the cells. He was detained for ‘creating public disorder’ but no further action was brought.
Dale Wilson from Norwich was reportedly arrested by two police officers as he walked to the newsagents on Halloween 2004 wearing the shirt. He pleaded guilty to ‘religiously aggravated offensive conduct’.
In 2005 Adam Shepherd, who was 19 at the time, was reportedly convicted under then recently introduced anti-hate laws, which ban people from displaying religiously insulting signs.
In New Zealand a retailer was fined $500 for selling the shirts, with an accompanying order for remaining stock to be destroyed. Tower Records in Glasgow was subject to a police raid in 2001 and were initially forced to remove the shirts.
The Lord Provost of Glasgow got involved, saying: “I have written to the head of Tower Records to convey my disgust and to underline that material like this must not be put on sale again.”
The store contested that it was not breaking the law however and, according to a report in the NME, the resulting media coverage led to them selling out of the shirts.
While police in the UK and elsewhere were getting hot under the collar over the T‑shirts however, the Vatican seemed more relaxed about the design — if less so about former keyboardist Les ‘Lecter’ Smith’s propensity for dressing like a priest.
“I don’t think we’ve ever upset people, have we?” grinned Dani Filth while talking to K! in 2014. “Not unless you count the Provost of Glasgow deeming us ‘irresponsible and deeply offensive’, the Pope talking about us or getting arrested at the Vatican. That was Kerrang!’s fault actually, because we were doing a feature and we were scooting around looking for a location for the photo-shoot.
“Out of nowhere came loads of armed guards jabbing their guns at us. They held us for quite a few hours and gave us a bit of grief. Strangely enough it wasn’t because I was wearing a tacky ‘I love Satan’ T‑shirt that I’d just been given, or that our guitarist had a ‘Jesus is a C**t’ shirt. That didn’t bother them at all. It was that Lecter was dressed as a priest and apparently that’s illegal there. They’re a law unto themselves and they could have held us for the rest of our lives if they’d wanted to. Translators told us that because we were due to play a big concert and there were about 3,000 concert-goers about to riot, they’d overlook it and let us go.”
More recently the frontman and father told us that he wouldn’t have been happy with his own daughter wearing the shirt as a child.
“The sentiment, absolutely; the words, no,” he told us last year. “I’ve never changed my position in life. I like upsetting a lot of people but I don’t like upsetting children. Most people tell me I haven’t grown up, ‘You spend all your money on this weird shit, you live in a fairyland.’ That’s me. So adults, fuck ‘em. They’ve already made their decisions and gone down the wrong path half the time. Children are confused enough and don’t need to be talked to like that. They should be left to make their own minds up about things.”
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