A LANCASHIRE police chief has been slammed for saying officers should sometimes turn a blind eye to people having sex in public.

Deputy Chief Constable Mike Cunningham said people engaging in 'dogging' or 'cottaging' should be ignored unless members of the public complained.

He said officers should only arrest people caught having sex in parks and public toilets as a last resort as their role is not that of “moral arbiter”.

Mr Cunningham leads on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

His comments were made in a report he has produced entitled Police Public Sex Environments which could become national policy.

But councillors and residents in areas blighted by dogging and cottaging said that Mr Cunningham was out of touch.

Dozens of Lancashire beauty spots had become 'no-go' areas in recent years after being taken over by gay men meeting for casual sex in public toilets or couples inviting strangers to take part in lewd acts in car parks and lay-bys.

Valentines Road, off the A666 in Darwen, had to be closed off in 2006 after perverts started to use it as a cut-through to park up and meet random people for sex.

Coun Jean Rigby, North Turton and Tockholes ward, said: "I have been driving down there and seen wagon drivers standing by their cabs with next to nothing on, or two people huddled up in the front of a car.

“They are quite blatant in what they are doing.

"Mr Cunningham's comments make me very angry. He has obviously never spoken to a woman who has had to go past this kind of thing.

"It is intimidating and frightening. Police presence should be at these sites permanently to reclaim them for families."

The public toilets in Laneshawbridge, near Colne, have faced closure after being used as a meeting place for gay men.

A hole had even been cut into one of the toilet doors so that people could engage in anonymous sex acts.

Roger Bucknell, chair of Laneshawbridge Parish Council, said: "Allowing this kind of activity to take place would be unacceptable."

A ranger had to be introduced in Wycoller Country Park after parts of the site became plagued by people hunting cheap sexual thrills after it was listed on a dogging website.

The nightly patrols led to the majority of the park being reclaimed for family use.

Barry Hodgson, chair of Trawden Parish Council, said: "Policing the park is important but officers probably feel they are banging their heads against a brick wall because few cases ever go to court."

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said of Mr Cunningham’s comments: “This is unacceptable. The law is the law and there should be no exceptions.”

The Dean of Blackburn Cathedral Chris Armstrong said that police could only act if a law was being broken: "It is very sad and inappropriate behaviour from these people, which causes acute embarrassment to anyone who is unfortunate to stumble across it.

"But it is a question of immorality rather than illegality.”

People having sex in public can be arrested for outraging public decency, voyeurism or exposure in public toilets under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Mr Cunningham said previous policing of such sites had alienated the gay community and that officers should respond in context to the situation.

He said punishing those involved rarely solved the problem and could cause ‘humiliation, breakdown of relationships and the outing of men”.

Mr Cunningham said in the report: "In any event it is not for the police to take the role of moral arbiter, the police role is to ensure that any complaints are dealt with fairly and professionally and that where individuals are engaged in lawful activity they may do so safely.”

Mr Cunningham's guidance report will now go forward to a committee of senior police officers who will decided if it should be put in place across England and Wales.

An Acpo spokeswoman said: “This document has been put forward as a developing proposal.”