As has been widely reported, the UK Conservative blogger Iain Dale has announced his retirement from blogging to concentrate on other interests. Dale’s decision has provoked a good deal of media interest, including a piece on the BBC where he is quoted:
…The former Tory election candidate insists he is not being over-sensitive, and that everyone in politics has to accept a certain amount of rough and tumble, particularly if they are operating on the internet, but, he adds: “When you have people effectively stalking you or just writing the most libellous things about you it is not very pleasant.”
This is an obvious reference to the blogger Tim Ireland, whom Dale has accused of stalking him on numerous occasions. And while he only hints at this on the BBC, on Twitter he complains that Tim is
a raving nutter who lies about everything and has made my life a living hell at times. He can go to hell.
I reported him to Police for harrassment in April 2009 and others have done so since, yet he alleges we’ve made it up. We didn’t.
By “we”, he means Nadine Dorries MP, who shares Dale’s penchant of using “nutter” as a taunt.
The curious thing, though, is that Tim tells us that he has never been contacted by the police, and neither Dale nor Dorries have been willing to produce the reference numbers that they would have been given by the police. As Dale explains:
If someone burgled u and then kept harrassing u for a police incident number, what would you make of them? Wouldn’t you tell them to F off?
This does not redound to Dale’s credit. He claims to have reported Tim to the police, then uses Tim’s request for the evidence of this as proof of harassment. In Dorries’ case, one excuse she has given – after a lot of pushing – is that the “House of Commons Police” do not give reference numbers, and from a recent Tweet here we can infer that she has tried (and failed) to get a backdated number from the police in her constituency. By contrast, Tim presents evidence in his favour here.
But what of the substantive accusation? How is Tim supposed to have “stalked” either Dorries or Dale? Has he ever invaded their private lives, which is what “stalking” entails? No instances are given, although Dale tells us this:
I’d say 40 phonecalls, vicious voicemails and a threat 2 visit me would tend to back up the allegation of harrassment, wouldn’t u?
What this does not make clear is that this refers to one incident: Tim was being smeared on-line as a paedophile by a man with mental health problems, and this man had previously been endorsed by Patrick Mercer MP as an expert on on-line terrorism. Tim asked Dale to intervene with Mercer, which Dale agreed to do, but it transpired that what Dale did fell short of what Tim felt had been promised. Different people will have different opinions about who was at fault here, but it’s clear that the “40 phonecalls” refer to one man’s desperate attempts to get through to another on a matter of some urgency, rather than a campaign of harassment that made someone’s “life a living hell”.
However, Dale’s and Dorries’ exaggerated allegations have had unhappy repercussions; here’s the EDL-linked cyberthug Charlie Flowers boasting about why he and his friends decided to publish Tim’s home address on-line last year, along with direct threats of violence and an expression of malice against Tim’s family:
Flowers was in fact motivated by completely different reasons (Tim had exposed as a sham some on-line “terror-tracking” in which Flowers had invested his sense of self-worth), but Dale’s accusation (and that of Dorries) provided cover and perhaps some self-justification and inspiration. The entry on Dale’s blog that Flowers cites has now gone.
Both Tim and a blogging associate of Dale’s named Phil Hendren have today alluded to a discussion that took place a few months ago involving several bloggers; the discussion was suggested by Phil Hendren after anonymous Tweets started appearing that attacked Tim’s family and which included details about Tim’s house. The discussion – which was private – floundered on what Tim felt that Dale needed to do; Dale has said that he was willing to help, but Tim has dismissed what was on offer as a counter-offer “to save face”. There is now much bitter invective on all sides, most of which is probably either baffling, amusing, or boring to outside observers.
It’s obvious to anyone who might be interested that my blog takes a broadly progressive perspective. However, I have no particular agenda of opposition to the UK conservative blogosphere; I’ve written a number of posts attacking Dorries, but that’s because I’ve been shocked and appalled by her conduct, not for reasons of political partisanship. I have no particular dislike of Dale (although I’ve been unimpressed by a couple of things he’s done), and I believe that Phil began – and conducted – the private discussion we all had in good faith. However, the central point remains this: Dale continues to throw around the accusation of “stalking” in way he really shouldn’t, and despite knowing about how the likes of Flowers are using the accusation. This is unjust, and although I have a higher opinion of face-saving compromises than Tim, he is well within his rights to continue to press the point.
UPDATE: Tim reports a comment by Dale:
I visited Tonbridge Police Station on the evening of 15 April 2008. That is all you need to know., I asked their advice, Their advice was to take out a harrassment [sic] order on you. I proceeded to take legal advice and you then received several warning letters.
Quite why you think you are entitled to any information from me after your behaviour towards me one can but wonder.
So, that’s why there’s no reference number: it seems that Dale went to the police not to make a complaint, but for “advice”; and it’s still not clear whether Dale even named Tim specifically or whether he merely sought general guidance. And we have to wonder why Dale did not in fact take out a harassment order, but instead merely sent “warning letters”. It looks very much like Dale understood that there was no criminal case to answer, and so just got a lawyer to fire off some intimidatory letters.
all he sent was two (not several) deeply flawed letters (that read like he wrote them before having a two-bit lawyer sign them off) containing accusations that he could not substantiate then and cannot substantiate now. The first relied heavily on a claim of repeated libel (not harassment) that, when challenged, was never mentioned again! Tellingly, he even feels the need to exaggerate the number of letters.
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