Jack Burkman Announces US “Cocktail Fundraiser” With Tommy Robinson Associate

At Zelo Street, my friend Tim Fenton receives an email announcement:

Event for Tommy Robinson, jailed British reporter, announced by D.C lobbyist and attorney, Jack Burkman

Official Robinson spokesman coming from London to join Burkman at press conference and fundraising event

Burkman also assembling lobbying coalition to obtain a US Congressional resolution demanding the British government release Robinson at once

WASHINGTON D.C. – Jack Burkman, prolific D.C.-based lawyer and lobbyist, has announced plans for an event benefitting the recently imprisoned Rbel Media reporter Tommy Robinson. A joint press conference with Robinson’s spokesperson Caolan Robertson will be followed by a cocktail fundraiser.

Burkman and Robertson believe this case is an example of poor freedom of speech laws and they hope holding an event will draw attention and support from fellow conservatives in America.

Robertson assists with making Robinson’s videos; it seems that they met through Rebel Media, and that the association continues despite Robertson having fallen out with Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant. The claim that Robertson is Robinson’s “official spokesperson”, though, is disputed, despite the former providing “updates” for Alex Jones; as Tim notes, a Twitter account apparently controlled by Robinson’s sometime PA Hel Gower has said that “The team don’t talk to Caolan and I regularly talk to the family as well as Tommy ringing me”.

Burkman, meanwhile, was profiled in Mother Jones last July; he had previously been attached to Seth Rich’s parents, but by that time they had parted company and Rich’s parents were increasingly critical of his “investigation”, which included a stunt in which he had re-enacted Rich’s killing. The Daily Beast later described Burkman as “notorious for running gags that do little more than insert him into random news cycles” – and further media attention came earlier this year, when a disgruntled co-investigator apparently shot and wounded him.

Burkman is flexible in his principles: in 2016 he organised a fundraiser for Donald Trump which then became an anti-Trump event after the Trump campaign disavowed him. This ability to reverse ferret may come in handy when he meets Robertson, who is openly gay; in 2014 Burkman created a lobby group called American Decency and “as a private citizen, proposed legislation to ban gay players” from American football.

However, given that tolerance for homosexuality is frequently cited by alt-right figures as evidence that the movement is not far-right, why would Robertson want to be holding a “fundraiser” with someone who has promoted homophobia?

A Note on Arron Banks’s Report to Police

A grave allegation reaches Avon and Somerset Police:

11,000 emails were stolen from journalist Isabel Oaksuott [sic], which we believe were obtained by Byline media , Chris Wylie and then passed to Carole Cadwalladr and the Guardian Media Group.

The claim was submitted via the force’s “Report a Crime Online” page, and a screenshot has been posted online by Andy Wigmore on behalf of the businessman Arron Banks; the emails pertain to Banks’s campaigning on behalf of Brexit, and they are of interest due to references to contact with Russian officials. The same Tweet from Wigmore also has a screenshot of the automated response Banks received:

This email is confirm your successful submission of a crime/incident report to Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

The reference number is 1462018/B/1069. Please note – this is not a crime reference number.

We recognise that being a victim of crime can be upsetting and you may feel that you require some support…

Wigmore’s commentary on this is that

…today @Arron_banks reported the theft of his 11,000 emails from @IsabelOakeshott to @ASPolice that have conveniently and illegally been passed onto various people in the anti Brexit media.

Reporting a crime online is a preliminary procedure that in itself requires very little effort or investment – Banks has not yet spoken to an officer, or given a proper formal statement, and he and Wigmore do not know if any investigation will proceed. If I were an officer dealing with this I would be sceptical as to the motives of the complainant: trumpeting the online submission in this way leaves an impression that the two men wish to involve the police primarily for dramatic effect and as an intimidatory tactic, rather than because they seriously expect to see a criminal investigation go forward leading to prosecution.

One question is why Isabel Oakeshott is not the complainant rather than Banks, since the complaint alleges that the emails were “stolen” from her. Banks says that it is because “Its my property that was stolen”, but there are two problems with this.

First, Banks still has the emails, so he has not been deprived of his property. We may in common parlance talk about someone “stealing ideas” or “stealing data”, but the crime of theft has not occurred. The Secret Barrister has referred Banks to Oxford v Moss on this point.

Second, Banks in effect gifted a copy of his emails to Oakeshott, to assist her in ghostwriting his book The Bad Boys of Brexit – some were provided on paper, while others were apparently sent via Dropbox. According to Oakeshott, “no conditions were put” on her use of the emails, and she says she that she has made further use of them in a forthcoming book about challenges faced by the British armed forces. It appears that she has done so without complaint from Banks, even though he did not provide them for this purpose and the context will be uncongenial to him. When you give away emails to a journalist without conditions, then it seems to me you have relinquished ownership and even any expectation of privacy.

Meanwhile, Oakeshott says that she was “hacked” at the end of March. In a Tweet, she has posted a screenshot of an email from Dropbox which says that her account was accessed from “a public IP address”; confusingly, she describes this as proof that her computer was hacked, although of course a hacked account does not imply a hacked computer. The screenshot does not indicate that files pertaining to Banks were sought out; she has redacted some of the email, but one folder that was “likely viewed or downloaded” related to “family photos”. Apparently Dropbox provided other “IP information”, but Oakeshott has not disclosed what this is.

Carole Cadwalladr has stated that she received the emails late last week, shortly after they were passed to Peter Jukes of Byline Media; Peter in turn says that “a third party” received the emails legitimately last November. A further difficulty is that Oakeshott has confirmed that the relevant material is among the documents that she received on paper, rather than electronically, and that she was storing in her attic. Both details mean that whatever happened with Oakeshott’s account in March is irrelevant: the documents were leaked months before, and they were never in her Dropbox anyway. Byline has stated that it is prepared to defend itself against allegations of involvement in hacking via a libel action.

It should also be noted that that Banks’s online submission closes off the possibility of anything untoward having happened earlier. Oddly, Wigmore has stated that “we… know who stole them”, but no-one is clearly named as the primary culprit in the online submission; instead, we have the ambiguous expression “obtained by Byline media , Chris Wylie”, which leaves open the question of how they were obtained and from whom. If Wigmore and Banks are confident they know who committed the alleged “theft”, why is the submission to police not more precise on this point?

UPDATE (16 June): Banks now says that he spoken with police (who obligingly came to his house rather than asking him to give a statement at the station), and that “They will be talking to the police force that @IsabelOakeshott reported the theft to”. As far as I am aware, this is the first confirmation that Oakeshott had made a complaint to police herself. Presumably this happened in early April.

Note

The significance of the emails as regards the Brexit referendum result is a separate issue from the above discussion.

My concern here is primarily with the fact that a story Oakeshott says she thinks is “in the public interest” – and which the Sunday Times judged was important enough to be front-page news – had been hidden from view for months, and only came to light because of Carole Cadwalladr and Peter Jukes; and that the story’s subjects now appear to be attempting to discourage further investigation by involving the police.

A Note on Isabel Oakeshott, White Flag? and the Arron Banks Emails

A blurb on the website of Biteback Publishing:

White Flag? An Examination of Britain’s Modern-Day Defence Capability

By Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott

…[D]efence spending is no longer a public priority. Politicians know that there are more votes in schools and hospitals, even while they are deploy our troops onto the streets after suicide bombings or, more recently,  a nerve agent attack. In what feels like peacetime, no wonder top brass have to justify big budgets.

Yet this country faces an array of new and escalating threats, while Brexit and Donald Trump raise difficult questions over the future of our most important alliances. Have we become dangerously complacent?

The blurb was posted on Ashcroft’s website in July last year, when it was announced as a “new project”; according to Biteback, it is due to be published in mid-September. (1)

The topic is interesting, but it is not immediately obvious that such a book would contain sensational revelations about Arron Banks’s dealings with Russia, based on emails provided by Banks to Oakeshott when she was employed to ghostwrite his book The Bad Boys of Brexit.

Yet this is what are are to infer from a statement made by Oakeshott yesterday, after the emails formed the formed the basis for two front-page splashes: an article by Carole Cadwalladr and Peter Jukes in the Observer, after a source provided them to Peter on Thursday, (2) and a group effort in the Sunday Times, after Oakeshott took her material to them as a spoiler a couple of days later. Both papers thus claimed an “exclusive” that covered similar ground.

By her own account, Oakeshott first realised the significance of the emails while researching White Flag?:

For more than a year the files I had been given gathered dust in my attic. It was not until I embarked on this investigation into the state of the British armed forces in 2017 – and public interest in Russian links with Brexit began mounting – that I decided to revisit the material.

Oakeshott says that she had missed this previously because although she had access “to about 11,000 emails” while writing Bad Boys of Brexit she “was not particularly looking for material about Russia at this point”:

I was very surprised by what I found, which conflicted with the public accounts of the relationship with the Russian embassy that Banks and [Andy] Wigmore had given.

The difficulty here is that these “public accounts” were written by by Oakeshott herself. Surely the very point of giving her the emails was so that she could flesh out their account with details such as those that later “very surprised” her? On a post on her website, she refers to having read “correspondence with politicians, journalists, the BBC, and everyone else from Posh Spice to NASA”, and that this “hilarious reading” made it possible for her and Banks “to piece together what is effectively a contemporaneous account of the referendum” (H/T Jim AK) .

Having stumbled on this scoop sitting in her own attic, the next question is why she did not immediately write it up for a newspaper. She could perhaps have argued that it would have been unethical for her to use material provided to her by a ghostwriting client for some other purpose, but that would have been in conflict with her role as a journalist and she has anyway confirmed her intention to publish:

It was always my intention to publish this information. I believe it is in the national interest… I believe it was a grave mistake on [the part of Banks and Wigmore] to forge these links [with Russia].

There is no doubt that Oakeshott is a strong critic of Putin’s Russia, but if it is in “the national interest” to publish, what was the counter-balancing interest that necessitated such a long delay before doing so?

Producing the material for the first time in a book would certainly have provided a bonanza of free publicity for the volume, but the postponement seems disproportionate. Its relevance to a book about “Britain’s Modern-Day Defence Capability” is apparently as part of a discussion of “the Kremlin’s ‘hybrid warfare’ capabilities”, but in this context it’s difficult to see how it would be anything more than a brief illustrative anecdote (and it is not a theme mentioned in the book blurb).

This, together with the story’s “hot news” value (both as regards Banks and Brexit, and Banks and Trump), and the current electoral commission investigation into Banks’s donations, suggest to me that the decision to hold back was a strange one.

Footnotes

(1) Ashcroft is the majority owner of Biteback. He and Oakeshott previously wrote Call Me Dave, a biography of David Cameron that is remembered primarily for containing scurrilous gossip about a pig’s head.

(2) Oakeshott says that her “computer was hacked” at the end of March, and that this was how the material reached Peter. As evidence, she has posted an email from Dropbox confirming that her Dropbox account had been accessed from “a public IP address”, which of course does not have implications for her actual computer.

However, Peter says that “a third party” received the emails in November, and Banks’s associate Andy Wigmore has stated that “we… know who stole them”. This implies a leak from someone inside Banks’s camp, but although that means the hacking explanation is superfluous, Wigmore refers to “hacking and theft”.

There is some confusion has about how this relates to files in Oakeshott’s attic anyway. She says in the Sunday Times that “the majority of the messages were stored electronically, but some were delivered to me in paper files”.

Irish Magazine Carries New Enoch Powell “VIP Sex Abuse” Claim

From Ireland’s Village magazine:

In 2015, [Enoch] Powell was named in a Church of England review into historical child sex abuse concerning the 1980s. One of its spokespersons told the press that: “The name Enoch Powell was passed to Operation Fernbridge on the instruction of Bishop Paul Butler”. The information originally came from a cleric who has counselled child abuse victims in the 1980s. Last April Village gave Powell the benefit of the doubt insofar as these claims were concerned. In light of [Richard] Kerr’s account of his encounters with Powell – revealed here for the first time – that benefit must now be replaced with outright condemnation.

The “revelation” forms part of a longer article that supposedly links sex abuse in children’s homes in Northern Ireland with VIP paedophile conspiracies involving the British secret services. This was the context in which Powell was thus able to commit abuse in Northern Ireland with impunity, despite his status as a political pariah and many journalists, activists and other enemies highly motivated to look for discrediting scandals.

I discussed the allegation against Powell that was raised in 2015 here. Powell was not in fact named during a “Church of England review”; Butler contacted police after the Bishop of Monmouth, Dominic Walker, was asked to expand on an old quote that had appeared in 1991 book, when he was a vicar in Brighton. This old quote in turn related to claims about a VIP Satanic cult that were raised in court during the trial of a fraudster in the 1980s (1).

Meanwhile, I discussed Kerr here, in relation to the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that Kerr is a damaged and vulnerable adult whose early years were blighted by sex abuse, but the inquiry found that his account contained inconsistencies and that he was actually in custody in Northern Ireland during a period in which he now claims to have been trafficked to London. The Village article, by one Joseph de Búrca, does not address or even acknowledge this problem. (2)

It is also difficult to understand why Powell’s alleged abuse of Kerr (“Powell began to beat him with a leather belt and buckle. The abuse involved a variety of other acts of degradation including oral sex and masturbation…”) is now being “revealed here for the first time”. In 2015, Kerr appeared on the UK’s Channel 4 News and Australia’s 60 Minutes programme on Channel 9. On 60 Minutes, Kerr identified the late Peter Hayman (a known paedophile who was likely the Deputy Director for MI5) as having been one of his abusers; according to Exaro News, he also referred to Lord Mountbatten, the former head of MI6 Sir Maurice Oldfield, Anthony Blunt, and the MPs Knox Cunningham, Nicholas Fairbairn and Cyril Smith. (3)

Kerr made some of these identifications after being shown photographs; it’s not clear to what extent this was a genuine test rather than theatre, but even if he were not shown a photo of Powell, one would still have expected Kerr to have mentioned his name long before now. Powell is probably the most famous person Kerr has now publicly named, looming larger in British collective memory today than even Lord Mountbatten.

In lieu of providing supporting evidence, the Village instead draws attention to Powell’s racism, and to details of a homosexual affair while he was at university. The article also quotes a letter Powell wrote at the age of 25, in which he admits (unconventionally, to his parents) to an “instinctive affection” for 17-year-old boys to whom he was teaching classics in Australia. Readers are also shown photos of Powell apparently appearing on a television chat show with Jimmy Savile and smiling alongside Ted Heath, who is also described as “another paedophile with a taste for young boys” (presumably the author’s odd take on the Operation Conifer fiasco).

Notes

1. At the time, Walker was associated with the Churches Exorcism Study Group, and he had a media profile Anglican authority on “occult” matters. I remember seeing him on TV from time to time.

2. Village magazine describes itself as “Ireland’s political and cultural magazine”. It was relaunched following bankruptcy by an Irish journalist named Michael Smith in 2009. It leans left, although a rival left-wing magazine called The Phoenix doesn’t think much of it.

3. This segment was not used by 60 Minutes, and it has been claimed that Exaro published the article against Kerr’s wishes. The Exaro website closed down in 2016; it has recently been revived as an online archive.

On Douglas Murray on Tommy Robinson

At the National Review, Douglas Murray laments how Tommy Robinson has brought his latest imprisonment on himself:

Robinson would not now be in jail if he had not once again accosted defendants in an ongoing trial outside the courthouse. He had been told by a judge last May not to do this and yet he did this again. It isn’t the worst thing in the world (it isn’t child rape, for instance), but it is an offense to which Robinson understandably pleaded guilty. More important, the trial that was coming to a close last Friday is just one part of a trial involving multiple other defendants. It is certainly possible that Robinson’s breaking of reporting restrictions at the Leeds trial could have prejudiced those trials. To have caused the collapse of such a trial would have been more than a blunder; it would have been an additional blow to victims who deserve justice.

I wrote about the livestream that got Robinson into trouble here. Murray’s explanation on this point is a welcome corrective to the sensationalist narrative popular among US conservatives (who have been lapping up commentary from Katie Hopkins), which is that Robinson has been silenced by a police and judiciary that wants to suppress public knowledge about certain trials for the benefit of defendants, despite having chosen to investigate and prosecute these same defendants in the first place. We can add that although Robinson’s antics may not be “the worst thing in the world”, contempt of court punishments are often harsh, as a matter of deterrence.

However, while conceding that Robinson has at times acted unwisely, Murray’s main theme is that Robinson has been “persecuted” for having drawn attention to “grooming gangs”, a term Murray dislikes as euphemistic but that seems to me to be reasonable shorthand for the specific circumstances by which predatory men acting together engineer situations by which underage girls are made vulnerable to forcible rape or persuaded to acquiesce in their own violation. He writes:

Some years ago, after crawling over all of his personal affairs and the affairs of all his immediate family, the police found an irregularity on a mortgage application, prosecuted Robinson, convicted him, and sent him to prison on that charge. In prison he was assaulted and almost killed by Muslim inmates.

…If even one mullah or sheikh had been treated with the presumption of guilt that Robinson has received, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the rest of them would be all over the U.K. authorities. But different standards apply to Robinson.

Robinson’s account of the mortgage application is that he lent some money to a relative, who thus inflated his income declaration in order to secure a mortgage. Normally, this is the sort of thing that would only ever come to light if the lendee were to fall behind with making their repayments – but in this instance, the mortgage was apparently repaid following a subsequent sale with no harm done. It is difficult not to suspect that here the police were indeed seeking out something they could get Robinson for, rather than having stumbled onto a matter on which they had no choice but to act.

There is no reason to suppose from this that the motive was to have Robinson attacked in prison, or to suppress information about “grooming gangs”; as Murray writes, EDL protests “often descended into hooliganism and low-level violence”. This is sufficient to explain – but not justify – political policing, and it is a troubling detail that ought to be a matter of concern to anyone involved with political activism, of whatever stripe.

However, the incident does cast a shadow over Robinson’s honesty, and this is something that Murray underplays as he acknowledges Robinson’s tendency to violence when provoked. Robinson’s decision to travel to New York on someone else’s passport was another example of gratuitous criminal conduct that led to imprisonment, and not enough has been made of the way that he presented his Canterbury court case last year as a “win” and a “victory” for free speech when he had actually pleaded guilty. His involvement with Rebel Media places him within a milieu that regularly deploys smears and conspiracy theories to fearmonger and to whip up hate (it has also provided him with the means to harass critics under a veneer of journalism).

As an aside, Murray is also critical of the Secret Barrister website, whose author published a celebrated post explaining why exactly Robinson’s appearance at Leeds led to prison:

On Sunday there was a protest in London in support of him. The legal blogger “The Secret Barrister” might have spoken for a whole nose-holding class when he dismissed this protest as “a Nazi-themed march.” Look at the video he links to and you will see a lot of people with their arms in the air chanting “Oh Tommy Robinson.” If our eminent legal correspondent thinks this is Nazi-themed, he can never have been to a football match or, come to that, a Jeremy Corbyn rally.

In this instance, it’s clear to me – even though I have never been to either a football match or a Corbyn rally – that Secret Barrister has indeed mistaken a pointing gesture made by football supporters as part of their terrace banter for the stiff-armed Nazi salute.

Excursus

Back in 2009 – before Robinson’s identity was known – Murray declined to talk to EDL activists who had shown up at a dinner he was having in London with Robert Spencer. He later made contact with Robinson after his departure from the EDL under the auspices of the Quilliam Foundation in 2013. One early post-EDL appearance was as a “surprise guest” at the showing of film which was followed by a debate involving Murray, Anne Marie Waters, and the journalist Nick Cohen. Cohen described Robinson in his write-up as “shrunken” – an assessment that has proven unprophetic, but which was made at a time when the prospect of Robinson gaining international prominence was as remote as a dodgy businessman with a history of corporate bankruptcies, sexual license and crude conspiracy mongering becoming President of the USA.

Tommy Robinson’s New Contempt of Court Conviction

From Leeds Live:

The founder of the English Defence League has been jailed over comments which had the potential to cause a retrial at Leeds Crown Court, it can now be reported.

Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, streamed an hour-long Facebook Live outside the court last Friday and within hours it had been watched more than 250,000 times.

A judge who locked the far right activist up for 13 months for contempt of court told him his actions may cause a long-running trial to be retried which would cost taxpayers ‘hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds’.

…He pleaded guilty to contempt of court and breach of a suspended sentence.

Matthew Harding, mitigating, said his client felt “deep regret” after realising the potential consequences of his actions.

The story (previously partially blogged here) has been widely reported (and misreported); however, I give Leeds Live precedence because the site successfully challenged a reporting ban yesterday, and one of its journalists, Stephanie Finnegan, was present when Robinson was outside the court and when he was brought before the judge. She has an account here.

The legal issues involved have been explained in a definitive commentary on the Secret Barrister blog, but despite Robinson’s guilty plea and apparent acceptance that he was in the wrong, his supporters are crying foul. In particular, Breitbart UK‘s Raheem Kassam claims that Robinson”was refused basic and normal access to a good lawyer who knows contempt law”, and that his “public defender” (a deliberate Americanism) had “urged him under the duress of arrest, to plead guilty”. Secret Barrister has offered sceptical responses to these claims, prompting Kassam to call him a “fake barrister” and then to block him on Twitter (1). I don’t know whether Kassam’s inference that Robinson was insincere in his “deep regret” may cause Robinson difficulties when it comes to parole time, but it seems to me to have lacked circumspection.

I have watched Robinson’s livestream, which lasts for 1 hour and 15 minutes; however, no link is provided, as the reporting restrictions relating to the trial he was filming outside remain in place until other linked trials are completed (this was also why Robinson’s own proceedings could not be reported until now). Discussion must therefore be cautious.

The livestream begins with Robinson goading several defendants as they arrive at the court, asking them about how they feel about the verdict to come and about the things they have with them. He then offers commentary on their responses and demeanour. These defendants had apparently arrived early – when Robinson is arrested an hour later for breach of the peace, all seems to be quiet at that moment, but after such an intro the judge had good reason to foresee disorder as other people involved with the case arrived.

For most of the livestream, Robinson talks about crimes similar to the allegations at Leeds Crown Court. He expounds on the supposed prevalence of this sort of crime; on its disgusting nature, and the injustice of perpetrators going unpunished; and on what he believes its perpetrators have in common, and the reasons for their offending. He does remind viewers that this does not mean that the defendants arriving at Leeds Crown Court are therefore guilty, but this is a fig-leaf when weighed against such obviously prejudicial commentary. He also uses the word “alleged” a lot, but he does not do so consistently, and on one occasion he refers to the defendants simply as “perpetrators”. He also makes further observations about the defendants, and according to  Finnegan, there were inaccuracies in statements he made about the case.

Throughout the livestream, Robinson shows an awareness of treading a fine line as regards the law, but he seems to have genuinely believed that he was keeping within it, and within the terms of the suspended sentence handed to him in Canterbury a year ago. However, treading a fine line is hardly sensible when it comes to court reporting, particularly when you have no training in the subject and you know there are special reporting restrictions in place. Perhaps he could have taken legal advice before attending: but the Canterbury judge was clear enough about what would happen if he repeated his behaviour, and Robinson’s view of that case as expressed in the livestream is that it was “bullshit” and an attempt to “deter” him (in fact, the suspended sentence was a leniency which allowed him to keep the liberty he has now thrown away). One wonders if the Leeds judge was aware of this “bullshit” assessment when Robinson assured him of his “deep regret”.

Since Robinson’s detainment, a couple of messages have been relayed the outside world. Over the weekend, Mark Collett said that he had been asked by a third party to convey Robinson’s wish “for people not to attempt to contact him in prison or send him anything”, as he doesn’t want “to jeopardise his case or give the state an excuse to move him to a different prison”. Collett, a former BNP activist best known for having once told an undercover journalist that “Hitler will live forever”, is perhaps an unfortunate conduit. Meanwhile, Alex Jones’s Infowars has a segment called “Infowars Reporter Relays Message From Tommy Robinson In Prison”, featuring Alex Jones in conversation with the site’s reporter Harrison Smith.

UPDATE: On 29 May, Robinson’s regular lawyer Alison Gurden took to Twitter:

I am TR lawyer but was not in court on Friday. Sadly virtually everyone passing comment on TR, including lawyers are unaware of the full facts & are in danger of creating fake news. I won’t make any statement or give the actual facts until TR requests that I do so.

Footnote

1. Kassam is on a bit of a roll when it comes to identifying “fakes”: a few days ago, he suggested that Mamoudou Gassama’s dramatic rescue of a baby hanging from a balcony in Paris had been staged (“This doesn’t smell like bullshit at all!!”). But will he ever spot the fake who looks at him every day in the mirror? This is the man who sees no contradiction between addressing a free speech rally and using a spurious complaint to have someone locked out of their Twitter feed for a week.

Protest in London after Tommy Robinson Arrest

From the Evening Standard:

Hundreds of far-right protesters have descended on Whitehall to demonstrate against Tommy Robinson’s arrest for ‘breaching the peace’ outside a courthouse.

Whitehall had to be closed to traffic as a huge group gathered outside Downing Street on Saturday afternoon, chanting Mr Robinson’s name.

It’s not clear how much can be said about this in the UK – there is apparently a court order that imposes reporting restrictions, and some earlier newspaper stories about the arrest have been removed from the internet. There is nothing sinister about this: there are trials taking place at the courthouse concerned, and the temporary ban would have been imposed to protect the integrity of those proceedings. I assume the Evening Standard knows what it is doing, but out of an abundance of caution I provide no link or go into further details.

However, the information void on social media has of course been filled with the ramblings of blowhards and conspiracy theorists, who claim that an authoritarian state has detained Robinson because he is a high-profile critic of Islam. Those making inflammatory comments along these lines include public figures, such as Geert Wilders (in a piece published by the Gatestone Institute) and the UKIP leader Gerald Batten, who recently appeared with Robinson at others at a supposed “Day for Freedom” rally in London.

Without speculating about the specific grounds for the new arrest, Robinson’s apparent decision to show up outside a court building is surprising, given that he was specifically warned a year ago at Canterbury Crown Court not to do this. This was a condition for having a prison sentence suspended (I discussed the circumstances here); the judge at the time cautioned him that

In short, Mr. Yaxley-Lennon [Robinson’s real name], turn up at another court, refer to people as “Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists” and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand?

There may be some pedantic ambiguity here over whether Robinson must adhere to all of these restrictions together, or might be allowed to “show up at another court” so long as he behaved himself, but any sensible person would surely assume the broadest interpretation and act accordingly. Such a general ban was quite reasonable – it should be remembered that judge was balancing leniency with risk management.

Many of Robinson’s supporters may not be aware of the Canterbury outcome; at the time, he made a short video in which he declared “victory” and a “court win”, but added that he was unable to go into detail. This was because he had raised funds on the promise that he would mount a free-speech defence, but had then pleaded guilty and thrown himself on the court’s mercy.

Esther Baker and the “Perversion of Justice” Claim

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Baker has informed me that this post contains “at least 8 factual errors”, and that I am ” talking bollocks again”. Unfortunately, however, no further details are provided.

From the Daily Mail, last week:

Four months after the Daily Mail raised questions about Esther Baker’s account of supposed VIP abuse, it has been announced that her allegations will not be investigated by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Inquiry chairman Professor Alexis Jay described Miss Baker’s allegations as ‘highly contentious’ and added that she is the subject of a complaint to police that she had perverted the course of justice.

As per my previous post on this, Baker says that she was abused for an extended period as a child by VIPs in a woodland setting while police stood guard; she also claims to have been taken by night to a location in London that she says may have been Dolphin Square (1), and that the abuse had an international dimension, involving orphanages in a foreign country (unspecified, but from old Tweets likely to have been the Philippines). Three MPs – John Mann, Jess Phillips and Sarah Champion – have expressed confidence in her allegations, but the CPS decided in September 2017 that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

Not much is known about which public figures Baker has accused, apart from the former MP John Hemming, who went public after the case against him was dropped in September. Baker says that she remembered Hemming as an abuser after seeing him at a meeting in parliament in late 2014 – this meeting apparently saw conflict between Hemming and Baker’s close associate Graham Wilmer over proposed arrangements for the IICSA.

It was reported that Hemming wanted Baker pursued for an alleged attempt to pervert of justice, but that Staffordshire Police had rejected the possibility, on the rationale that “It would not benefit her or the wider community”. Hemming has since taken his complaint directly to the CPS.

It seems that Alexis Jay was not fully appraised of these distinctions, and her statement about her initially included the detail that:

Ms Baker’s allegations… are the subject of both a police investigation (I understand that the police enquiries are now focused on whether Ms Baker should be charged with perverting the course of justice) and also contested civil proceedings.

This was then withdrawn and reissued in a softened form:

Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious. They are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation. I am also aware that Mr Hemming is reported to have made a complaint to the CPS that the allegations that Ms Baker has made about him amount to perverting the course of justice.

Some background to the amendment has been provided by the journalist David Hencke, who continues to support Baker’s claims:

I am told [the first version] was withdrawn after Staffordshire Police contacted them to tell them it was untrue and defamatory and it is now deleted from the website. The inquiry confirmed they had deleted it. Instead there is a reference to a complaint by Mr Hemming to the CPS.

There is NO investigation into Esther Baker about her perverting the course of justice. It is itself a fantasy. Staffordshire Police in a carefully crafted statement said she was a ” victim of crime ” and they are still supporting her. When I asked the police force whether there were further investigations into Esther Baker – after Mr Hemming is said to have complained about the ” false accusations” against him – they made it clear there are none.

This is remarkable. Police forces are seldom so proactive when it comes to correcting claims made on their behalf, nor do they usually venture into providing advice about the civil matter of defamation.

Hencke’s account, though, fails to put Staffordshire Police’s stance in full context. We know that forces have been instructed to believe complainants as a matter of procedure (a directive criticised by the Henriques Review into Operation Midland), and that when a police force has set about building a case it is reluctant to later look for evidence that it may have been credulous or misled. We also know that Baker has made other allegations, such as having had underage sex with an employer – the reference to her as a “victim of crime” may thus be reasonable without amounting to a strong endorsement of sensational VIP claims.

Further, it seems unlikely that there is any forensic evidence or third-party testimony that could either prove or debunk Baker’s VIP claims, given the length of time that has passed and the extended period over which the woodland abuse supposedly occurred. The case against Hemming was apparently dropped due to the possibility of a mistaken identification; but this works both ways, and could also be used by Baker as a possible defence against having made a false claim. This is important, as Hencke’s article might give the impression that the police decision not to investigate Baker indicates the strength of her claims, despite the CPS decision.

Meanwhile, Baker has confirmed that an appeal lodged by her against the CPS decision under the Victims’ Right to Review scheme has been rejected. Apparently the result has come earlier than expected, from which she infers improper “pressure” by Hemming over the process.

Footnote

(1) Exaro reported in 2013 that Baker

has also told police that she was sexually abused at a flat in London, which she now believes was in Dolphin Square, the apartment complex where many MPs have homes, near Westminster.

She said that she recognised what one abuse survivor, known as “Darren”, described as the “medical room” at a large apartment in Dolphin Square.

However, she later clarified in December 2015 (here and here) that

Darren and I have described the same room. Independently of each other. He says that room is in DSQ – I was too young to know where it was. It may be DSQ it may not. That is for the police to determine.

The Exaro account, though, does not refer to two independent descriptions, just Baker agreeing with Darren.

Darren’s various allegations came under critical scrutiny in September 2015; some were found to be unsubstantiated, while others were impossible. He eventually withdrew an allegation against the late politician Leon Brittan, and was found to have a long history of dishonesty.

 

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Reveals New Esther Baker “Westminster” Allegation

Baker says document “misrepresents” her, and was published “against the requests of both myself & a police force”

The website of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published a “Note of Determination” regarding the scope of its investigations into allegations relating to Westminster. The note confirms the approach announced at the preliminary hearing at the end of January, that it will be considering issues of public concern “relating to the way in which Westminster institutions have historically addressed or responded to issues of child sexual abuse.”

As such, the inquiry will not be investigating allegations of sex abuse made by Esther Baker, who has “core participant” status; this is because

…they are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation… such an investigation would be extremely resource intensive… the Inquiry’s function, which, as Counsel to the Inquiry submitted, is to investigate institutional failings, and not to determine disputed facts on individual cases.

The Note summarises Baker’s allegations, and for the first time it is explicitly recognised that her allegation of abuse in woodland amounts to a “ritualistic” abuse claim. We are also now told that that Baker says that the abuse was filmed, which is (I think) a new element, and the Note further reveals a completely new claim:

In summary, Ms Baker says that as a child she visited a foreign country and stayed at the house of a relative of a person of public prominence associated with Westminster where she was shown a room full of young girls and was sexually assaulted by her host. She alleges that her parents worked with orphanages in the country concerned, in conjunction with her host, and she assumes that visits by politicians and others in a position of power both in the past and to the present day have involved the abuse of young children. On behalf of Ms Baker it is submitted that investigation of the links between Westminster and the foreign country can be conducted if her allegations are considered as part of the scope of the investigation.

Unsurprisingly, this is also rejected as being outside the scope of the IICSA’s inquiry, but the disclosure is a sensational expansion on her earlier claims, which have developed since January 2015. At that time, as “Becky”, she gave an interview to  Channel 4 News in which she said that she had been abused “in a church setting”, and that some of the abusers had been police officers who attended the church. These police officers were later described as guards at woodland orgies involving “VIPs”. At the end of the month she privately accused the then-MP John Hemming as having been an abuser (the date of her allegation apparently confirmed by a screenshot); this was three months after Hemming had criticised the decision to make Fiona Woolf the head of the IICSA, whereas Woolf was supported by an activist with close links to Baker.

Hemming’s name was bandied about by self-styled “anti-CSA activists” for several months until he went public himself – and he is now pursuing legal action. Baker also at one time claimed have been taken by night to be abused by VIPs at Dolphin Square in London, although this is not mentioned in the Note and it did not come up at the preliminary hearing.

In response to the new publication, Baker has posted a statement on Twitter:

I am aware that tonight the @InquiryCSA have published a decision (V2) on scope in the Westminster Strand against the requests of both myself & a police force. The document is both a misrepresentation of what I submitted to the inquiry & of current ongoing events [here]. This document releases details that were not in the public domain and that were not intended to become so, certainly not before the CPS decision. Yet it omits details that were crucial to give context – only those that were private to me, not others. There is much more to be said [here] But I will leave that for the appropriate time and arena. It is safe to say that interference by “persons of public prominence associated with Westminster” has played a part which shall be detailed soon. [here] It needs to be made VERY clear that I have NEVER asked the @InquiryCSA to investigate my allegations. That is outside of scope & they are certainly not qualified to do so. I will be publishing my actual scope submission as soon as circumstances allow. [here]

Baker has previously chided those who have expressed incredulity or doubt about her allegations with the explanation that there is confirmatory material that is outside of the public domain, but that will be revealed in due course. Baker has in the past been vocally supported by the MPs Jess Phillips (who defeated Hemming in the 2015 General Election), Sarah Champion and John Mann.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, “V2” in Baker’s response refers to a variation in the IICSA statement in relation to John Hemming’s complaint against her.

V1 had:

Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious and are the subject of both a police investigation (I understand that the police enquiries are now focused on whether Ms Baker should be charged with perverting the course of justice) and also contested civil proceedings.

This gives the impression that police primarily now regard Baker as a suspect rather than a complainant – a bold and apparently careless claim that is backed away from in V2:

Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious. They are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation. I am also aware that Mr Hemming is reported to have made a complaint to the CPS that the allegations that Ms Baker has made about him amount to perverting the course of justice.

Excursus

The IICSA’s statement that does not intend “to determine disputed facts on individual cases” is a retreat from its position in 2015, when it announced that it would undertake an “objective fact-finding inquiry into allegations of abuse by people of public prominence associated w. Westminster”.

There has previously been some public confusion on this point arising from Wiltshire Police’s  farcical £2 million investigation into the former Prime Minister Edward Heath, more than a decade after his death. The force attempted to save face by announcing that it would be passing its “findings” to the IICSA, which generated a compliant Mail on Sunday headline that the inquiry intended to “probe” Heath. However, the new Note confirms that Wiltshire Police accepts that the IICSA will not be making findings of fact, in that the force “do[es] not wish to make submissions on the scope of the investigation”.

It is difficult to imagine how the distinction between “institutional responses to allegations” and the veracity of the allegations themselves will be applied in relation to the IICSA strand devoted to Greville Janner (previously discussed here – scroll down).

A Note on the 1986 “Tory Student Leader in ‘Racist’ Party Link” Guardian Article

Last month saw a moment of renewed interest in a 1986 Guardian news report headlined “Tory Student Leader in ‘Racist’ Party Link”, and a new implicit libel action threat by the article’s subject, the supposed libertarian Paul Staines, better known these days as “Guido Fawkes”.

Staines “gave notice” on Twitter after the article was referenced by the Labour MP Laura Pidcock:

This is Paul – I am in Hong Kong on holiday. Have been alerted to this tweet. The author of this article retracted the allegations in writing decades ago. Am assuming you [Pidcock] and @owenjones84, @paulmasonnews et al are unaware. You are now on notice.

Those with long memories of online disputes will recall that this matter previously came up in 2007, at which time it was initially suggested that the newspaper had itself issued a retraction. It transpired that this was not the case, but that in 1990 the article’s author, David Rose, had written a letter to Staines on Observer letterhead in a private capacity, in which he had conceded that the article “plagues my conscience”. He explained:

I wrote the article after speaking to you but did not did not then accept your explanation of what you had done: to wit, a letter to the local BNP proposing ‘possible joint future activities’ on the the basis of your sharing the BNP’s objectives. You told me then that you wrote this letter as an attempt to trick the BNP, in the hope perhaps of gaining intelligence of its activities and that your motive was only to damage this extreme right-wing organisation.

At the time I regarded this as absurd, but as our acquaintanceship has developed I believe you were telling the truth… [W]ith hindsight, I think I should have accepted your explanation.

The difficulty here is that this does not explain why Rose did not include Staines’s explanation in his article. When someone is approached by a newspaper to provide a comment for a story about themselves, what they have to say in reply is usually included as a matter of course. The journalist’s personal incredulity is irrelevant – indeed, when an article purports to “expose” something, an “absurd” explanation is grist for the mill.

Further, the 1986 article contains a quote that is completely at odds with the above:

Mr Delaire-Staines told the Guardian that… he had tried to forge links with thr BNP because “we share their anti-Communist view”. He added: “They’re not far-right. They’re just racists, they believe in one colour.”

There is no suggestion that Rose concocted this quote, and Staines has not claimed that it is inaccurate. On what basis, then, could Staines threaten legal action? If Staines was willing to present himself in such a light (even though it apparently did not reflect his true views), then he has no basis for complaint if others later take him at what was his public word. It is also difficult to see why this would have “plagued” Rose’s conscience.

The fact that Rose later became friendly with Staines after writing about him in 1986 suggests that Staines had mutually beneficial relationships with certain journalists long before the appearance of the modern internet and social media.