Corrupters of public morals

IT and Oz were both monitored by the Obscene Publications Squad. IT was first raided by police in March 1967 when 8000 copies of the magazine were seized on grounds of obscenity. The charges were eventually dropped and the property returned. In 1970 it was targeted again, this time charged with conspiracy to corrupt public morals by printing gay contact ads in the back pages of the paper. IT was convicted in 1972 and the publication temporarily closed down.

However, the underground press's most notorious run-in with the law was the Oz 'School Kids Issue' trial of 1971. In May 1970 Oz printed an advert in issue 26: 'Some of us at Oz are feeling old and boring, so we invite any readers who are under eighteen to come and edit the newspaper. You will enjoy almost complete editorial freedom. Oz belongs to you'.

Twenty young people between ages 14 and 18 were selected to edit the School Kids issue (issue 28). They were given editorial freedom as promised and the result was a mixture of articles and cartoon strips which communicated the teenage view on music, sexual freedom, hypocrisy, drug use, corporal punishment and education.

The following year Oz was unexpectedly raided by the Obscene Publications Squad. Issue 28 was seized and Oz's three editors were charged with obscenity and 'conspiring to produce a magazine containing divers lewd, indecent and sexually perverted articles, cartoons, drawings and illustrations with intent thereby to debauch and corrupt the morals of young children and young persons within the Realm and to arouse and implant in their minds lustful and perverted desires' . This second charge revealed a misunderstanding at the heart of the case against the editors of Oz: police thought that it was created for children not by them.

The Friends of Oz campaign group was formed and a publicity campaign launched in support of the editors. Posters, flyers and stickers were produced for the press and supporters; the Elastic Oz Band was formed and released 'God Bless Oz' featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono; celebrities agreed to give evidence at trial and an Independence Day Carnival was staged to support the defendants in the Oz Obscenity Trial and to protest against the Misuse of Drugs Bill, censorship laws and the growing climate of government repression.

At trial some of the young people who had contributed to issue 28 gave evidence, including a 15-year-old boy who had caused most scandal with a cartoon that 'sexualised' Rupert Bear. He argued that this type of drawing goes around every classroom, every day in every school.

Oz lost its case. The editors were cleared of the corruption charge but were found guilty under the Obscene Publications Act. In August 1971, having been refused bail and kept in prison for 7 days (where their long hair was cut off) the three editors received fines and prison sentences. There was outcry amongst supporters and anti-censorship campaigners who declared the sentences an act of revenge against dissenting voices. The verdict was overturned at appeal.