Now although you may never have heard of Conegate this company has a lot to do with what you are allowed to buy today off your newsagents ‘top shelf’. Conegate is part of the UK Private Group and in 1986 they imported into Heathrow airport a consignment of ‘blow up dolls’ from Germany. HM Customs & Excise seized the dolls under the Customs Consolidation Act that included a test of indecency.
Conegate refused to accept the seizure and mounted a defence which went right through the UK courts and ended up at the European Court of Justice. The European Court accepted that the UK had a moral right to protect their citizens from indecent articles but only if similar goods were banned from being produced in the UK. In other words what the European Court were saying was that if you could produce and sell indecent goods in the UK then it was wrong under Article 30 and Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome to stop importation of such articles from member states of the European Community. The Court sided with Conegate and the blow up dolls entered the country.
The decision by the Court didn’t just affect blow up dolls but any article that could be considered as indecent such as a magazine, and the law was that indecent articles could be sold in the UK, subject only to controls on how they were displayed. This is why you see a warning sign outside UK sex shops, so that you are made aware that you may see articles considered to be indecent.
The result of the case meant that if for example a magazine was legally published in the UK, such as Mayfair and that was no more upsetting than a blow up doll then a definition could be drawn that the magazine was likely to be indecent and not obscene. If that assumption was correct then that would mean that it would be difficult for them to be seized and destroyed on a Sec 3 warrant under the Obscene Publications Act.
This of course would only apply to magazines such as Mayfair that had a legal circulation in hundreds of thousands of copies every month because the logical question is, how can titles such as Mayfair, Men Only, Club International, Fiesta etc which between them printed a million plus copies of magazines every month be contrary to the Obscene Publications Act, they could only be indecent.
Make no mistake this victory by Conegate was a huge result but the problem still lay with the OPA in that when magazines were seized they were taken using a Sec 3 warrant which meant that the penalty was destruction. The police only used the Sec 2 piece of the OPA, which meant a jail term, when they could more or less guarantee a successful guilty verdict.
The final piece of the jigsaw that finally brought about the relaxation of the OPA was figured out by Alec Bancroft the owner of this website and the jobbydealer online magazine websites.