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“I disagreed with what they were doing so I would have liked to have argued, but I [felt] I was going to get arrested if I did.” The history and context to such police interventions sits uneasily with many officers today and many members of the LGBT community, making straightforward decisions about how to manage such activity in 2017 a fiendishly difficult balance.

The fear expressed by Tim and Andrew, and the wider anxiety among many, especially older gay and bisexual men, is informed by extraordinary behaviour by some officers throughout decades of targeted crackdowns and entrapment of men in public lavatories, drawing accusations of brutality and homophobia.

(Former prime minister Edward Heath, by contrast, was also allegedly warned about cottaging in the 1950s, but this was concealed until after his death.) That day in Hackney, Michael unknowingly approached an officer.“This guy stood next to me and started getting his dick out and getting it hard and wanking and waving it.” This might sound extreme, not least because by doing so the officer himself committed an offence, but such practices were not uncommon for undercover officers.

Afterwards, when they were let go after an almost identical process to the one Tim had described, Andrew was left anxiously wondering if the cameras were turned on, and whether they had filmed him in the toilets. He says the police told him they would not press charges if he admitted what he had been doing.

(In the USA, toilets where men meet for sex are sometimes called “tearooms” rather than cottages – and in Australia, they are called “beats”.)What emerged was a parallel world much deeper, more secretive and more complex than first appears – one of both the liberated and the closeted; of politicians and celebrities mixing with the most private of people; where self-discovery and escapism intermingle with addiction, abuse, and sexual violence.

Some started going to toilets for sex when they were still children.

Judgment and shame, meanwhile, encircle the practice, and from parts of all communities. Are you aware you could go on the sex offenders list for doing what you’ve done?

’ He was trying to scare us.”One of the policemen took their names and addresses and asked about previous convictions before leaving them with another officer to check their details.

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