Is It’s A Sin episode three based on real life? The true story of the It’s A Sin lawyer

And were people with AIDS really detained?


Warning: This is the true story of It’s A Sin episode three, so obviously contains spoilers 

It’s A Sin is about five friends living and exploring their sexuality in 1980s London – the height of the AIDS crisis. Over 32 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses since the start of this epidemic, and in It’s A Sin the shadow of AIDS draws nearer and nearer to the main character Ritchie, and his best mates and fellow Pink Palace residents Jill, Roscoe, Colin and Ash. (I really cannot stress enough how much this article contains spoilers from here on in so please stop reading if you haven’t watched.) In tonight’s episode three of It’s A Sin, we see one of the group contract the devastating illness and then detained – but is this the true story? Were people with AIDS really arrested and imprisoned, and was the lawyer in the episode a real person?

In It’s A Sin episode three, Colin begins having fits and is taken to hospital. His mum is told these are caused by an infection, because he has AIDS – “associated with the homosexual male population,” a doctor tells her. His mum has never heard of it, and her only concern is whether her son will be alright. Colin gets locked in a hospital ward, alone. His mum is told he’s been “detained”, and Jill and Ash work with a lawyer to get him help.

Here’s everything we know about the true story behind the lawyer and the rest of It’s A Sin episode three:

Were people detained and imprisoned for having AIDS like in It’s A Sin?

it's a sin, lawyer, colin, episode three, true story

We see a nurse put Colin in a hospital bed, alone on a large ward, and lock the door on her way out. Colin gets up and tries to leave to go to the toilet, but is unable to open the door. Through the window, a policeman says Colin isn’t allowed out. He asks when he can leave, and is given no answer.

Another policeman tells Colin’s mother her son is “infectious”, saying: “We’ve been granted a court order for his detention, under the Public Health Act of 1984. No one is allowed in, and he’s certainly not allowed out.” Colin’s mum asks if he’s “under arrest”, and is told Colin is a “public menace” who is “dangerous to others”.

Shockingly, this did happen to people. Writing for The Guardian, creator of It’s A Sin Russell T Davies said in 1985, “a man with AIDS was actually imprisoned within British hospital” – Monsall Hospital, near Manchester. ”

At the request of the man’s consultant, a court order was granted to lock the door and refuse him the right to leave” , just as we see happen to Colin in It’s A Sin.

Was the It’s A Sin lawyer a real person: The true story

it's a sin, lawyer, colin, episode three, true story

The It’s A Sin lawyer who appears in episode three

In It’s A Sin, a lawyer (Lizbeth Farooqi, played by Seyan Sarvan) works with the AIDS charity Jill and Ash volunteer for to help get Colin out of imprisonment. She tells the policemen: “There is a precedent for your actions,” describing the man who was detained at Monsall Hospital. “Upon appeal he was released immediately. Your court order is a mess,” she says, calling their application for Colin’s detainment “incorrect” and saying “this is null and void”. They release Colin.

Russell T Davies said “back in the 80s, amazing work was being done by unsung and unfunded crusaders” – just like the It’s A Sin lawyer.

The case of the man at Monsall Hospital “became one of the first activist uprisings”, he says. “Gay groups organised and campaigned. Ten days later, the order was withdrawn. The fightback was just beginning.”

Whilst we may not know if the It’s A Sin lawyer was a real person, we know the true story behind her character – there were lawyers, activists and campaigners just like her, doing incredible work.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Meet Callum Scott Howells, the 21-year-old Welsh grad who stars as Colin in It’s A Sin

The real Jill from It’s a Sin has spoken about the ‘fear and shame’ of the AIDS crisis

It’s A Sin shows the importance of queer people telling LGBT stories