Nadine Dorries: False Accusations of Stalking and the Media

UPDATE (30 July): This blog entry did not give the name of the person who was  – and still is – the subject of Dorries’ various libels. This was because Dorries was not naming him during this period, and to give the name would have risked making it easier for Dorries to spread her lies with less liability. She did eventually give the name in a newspaper article ahead of the election. Subsequent events have made it very clear who she is getting at, and the background context is given here.

***

Note: I am a friend of the person who has been accused by Dorries. However, I am solely responsible for the content below and for the decision to publish.

Last September, the Mail on Sunday ran a feature with a dramatic headline:

This man’s stalked me for seven years… so why can’t the police stop him? A horrifying account of a life lived in fear and a savage indictment of UK justice by NADINE DORRIES MP

“This man” is not named; according to the report, this was “for legal reasons”. The phrase “for legal reasons” often implies that a newspaper is constrained due to some police or court action, but here it simply means that the newspaper would not accept the libel risk of disseminating Dorries’ false allegations.

Not naming “this man” was also useful as it obscured the fact that her false accusations of stalking actually go back to 2010, when she needed to explain away discrepancies between her movements as reported on her blog and her expenses claims. Dorries famously said that her blog was “70 percent fiction”, and that she had pretended to be in her constituency on her blog to “reassure” constituents of her commitment. This was met with howls of derision, at which point she said the real reason was that she needed to avoid a stalker.

At times, her claims were made in a mocking and jocular style; however, in the the Daily Mail feature (“as told to Amy Oliver”) she presented herself as the victim of a terrifying ordeal:

Last July my office received a shocking email from a constituent. It warned that this man had held a meeting to organise an attack campaign against me. It said, chillingly, that this man had rented a house close to mine and had copies of my bank statements. I went home, packed a bag and fled.

Dorries first mentioned the presence of “this man” in her constituency in November 2013, and she announced it as if it were something she had just discovered, rather than a detail she had been told four months previously. Her Tweet was posted on the same day that she made a “jokey” threat of violence against a journalist who was looking into large payments made to her daughter for “secretarial support”.

It is also worth noting that Dorries has a partner who lives in Surrey, and another interview with her, from February 2015, says in the intro that “she lives in Surrey with her partner”. The story is thus useful as an explanation for absences from her constituency (although, by her own account, she does also live locally).

The article contains many shocking and lurid accusations, and we are invited to believe that the answer to the question “why can’t police stop him?” is CPS failure, rather than because she’s making stuff up. I won’t go into much detail here at this time, although I can confirm that her accusations are a mass of fictions and distortions. One particularly egregious element concerned a Tweet and an image that purported to show that “the man” had threatened to shoot her: both elements had been taken out of context and combined in a way that no reasonable person would regard as honest.

As an example of her semi-detached relationship with reality, though, let us return to that first claim. A  somewhat different account of the same story was published a few weeks later, at a site (since deleted) called Blink Box Books:

I received an anonymous email informing me that he had moved across England and rented a house close to me. The police traced the sender of the email and verified that the content was correct. I moved out of my home that day.

These two versions can perhaps be partially reconciled, but it is clear that the second version of the story has a sinister air that is absent from her original account. She wants us to infer, falsely, that the email was sent as a goading message in order to cause distress. This should send out alarm bells as to her reliability.

Shortly after the publication of her Mail on Sunday article, a follow-up piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph, by Radhika Sanghani. Here, Dorries pushed the boat out even further, with the claim that the man she is accusing “moved house to live on her road.” This was something Sanghani could have checked for herself – but the way that Dorries has avoided proper scrutiny for so long is by making herself constantly available for interviews: it seems that for many journalists, transcribing the utterances of a celeb is a substitute for research.

Sanghani specialises in features, and she placed Dorries’ story within a broader narrative, headlined as “Stalkers: Why career women are their new targets“.  Sanghani spoke to an apparent expert (1) on the subject:

She is not the only woman to be stalked because of her profession. Laura Richards, founder and chief executive of national stalking advocacy service Paladin, tells me that workplace-related stalking is common.

…She explains that often a professional, successful woman can be a target for a stalker, especially if they – or their work – appears in the public domain. It means that the stalker can criticise them, perhaps through a blog like Dorries’ does, and appear to have legitimate concerns.

Diagnosis takes the place of evidence: something may look “legitimate”, but Richards can pronounce that the author is a stalker based on her expertise. Of course, most people will assume that a famous woman claiming to be stalked by a non-famous man will be telling the truth (at least, as she perceives it), given that this is a commonplace dynamic, but Richards is here ignoring a particular context: the false accusation deployed as a political smear.

Once Dorries was established in the media as a “victim” (also helped by a radio interview with a self-parodyingly splenetic Nick Ferrari), the progression to “expert” took just a few days. Following the suicide of Brenda Leyland (a woman accused of publishing many abusive and hurtful Tweets about the McCanns), Dorries appeared on ITV breakfast television to address the nation on the subject of trolling:

There are different types of trolls. There are those who just become very compulsive and very obsessive, and you become the focus of their life. That is actually terribly frightening, and terrifying frankly, when people do nothing but write about you all day long. That’s very scary. And what we are seeing is that a lot of people who start trolling on the internet move into physical stalking, and then that’s a real danger. And that is why the authorities really do need to be more aware of this and more responsive to the new legislation which came out last year, which actually gives the police the authority to deal with this. What they need to be done [sic] is to be trained and understand it and respond quickly.

The nature of the material being Tweeted is no longer relevant: it’s quantity rather than quality. Can anyone imagine an American politician getting away with this? There was a time when an MP demanding police intervention to censor criticism would have provoked some sceptical and critical comment; the sofa-bound presenters, though, merely nodded along.

One man did venture a modest dissent; Andy McSmith, a senior reporter at the Independent:

…This is very unpleasant for Dorries, though whether it constitutes stalking in a legal sense is doubtful. She is annoyed with the Crown Prosecution Service for not prosecuting him, but a CPS spokesman defended its decision by saying that they “must consider an individual’s right to free speech”.

The harsh truth is that Dorries is not an entirely reliable witness…

Dorries reacted with typical bile and abuse:

back on Twitter you inadequate misogynistic bully? I’m delighted to provide you with an opportunity vent your woman hating bile

Dorries also accused McSmith of working with the man she is accusing, and she called on him to be fired. Inevitably, she later progressed to calling McSmith a stalker, too. These are not the words of a victim seeking justice, but of a spiteful bully who believes the undeserved sympathy she has received for her story means that she can vilify anyone who dares to challenge her.

Epilogue

There is a reasonable likelihood that Dorries will react badly to what I have written above. In the past, she has accused me of being a “Twitter Troll”, in revenge for various occasions in which I have shown her to have misled Parliament or the public (I invite anyone to use the search box of this blog to find any evidence of trolling – there is none).

She has also promoted and worked with on-line stalkers with grudges against me: in 2013 she gleefully re-tweeted an obviously unhinged attack site aimed not just at me but at members of my family, and she was later triumphant when its author made a vexatious police complaint against me (see background, including the outcome, here). On Twitter, she can sometimes be seen interacting with abusive sockpuppet accounts controlled by on-line stalkers who support her agenda of vilification (2).

UPDATE (30 March 2016)

Nadine Dorries has now announced that she is leaving Twitter, supposedly due to “faux outrage and vitriolic abuse”. The immediate cause seems to have been hostile comments that followed a recent vote to introduce a cut in disability benefit allowance. Dorries here followed the Tory whip, but she claimed that she had only agreed to do so after “a personal one to one with Secretary of State first to seek assurances”. These “assurances”, she says, were “enhanced easy access benefits for the chronically disabled and mentally ill” (it seems likely that “chronically” here means “severely”).

However, after Iain Duncan Smith subsequently resigned his position Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the grounds that he disagreed with the cuts, Dorries presented a new version of the story, in which IDS had sought her out, rather than the other way round. IDS “told me he was angry I was rebelling because it was his bill and reflected on him”, and she is now “angry that he made me vote for something I did not want to vote for, bribing me with a promise”. This word “bribe” in particular wasn’t received well by readers.

In January, Dorries announced that she had changed her Twitter settings so that she would only receive notifications from people she follows, although in fact she continued to interact with hostile commentators after this time. Some comments were uncivil, although she’s more than ready to dish out crude abuse herself, as Tim Fenton has documented at Zelo Street (there’s also her association with two online stalkers, as discussed above).

Leaving Twitter has thus given Dorries an excuse to rehearse her bogus “victim of stalking” narrative, and her account, published on her blog, has been picked up by the Sun, under the typically lurid and bombastic headline “Nadine Dorries MP quits Twitter to stop sickening trolls from destroying her” (“sickening” at some point was used to replace the word “frightening”, which had been given in quote marks). The article is by Amanda Devlin, a faithful scribe who over the past few years has dutifully regurgitated Dorries’ utterances for local media in Bedfordshire. Luton on Sunday, meanwhile, in an unbylined article, has run with “Nadine Dorries MP quits Twitter after 10 years over online trolls” (actually more like 8 years at most) and, compounding Dorries’ exaggerations and lies even further, tells readers that she has left “saying violent threats against herself and her family forced her off the social media network”.

In fact, Dorries’ post rakes over a truly malicious comment that she received from an unnamed Oxford student some years ago, and she makes a claim that there was an attempt to track her daughter’s movements at school, “to make me fear for her safety”. Two points in response to this latter claim: (a) her youngest daughter’s school location was an issue when Dorries was being investigated over her expenses in 2009;  (b) her youngest daughter was reported as being 20 years old in November 2012, meaning that she must have left school by 2011 at the latest, and more probably 2010. Asking someone some time after this date if they can remember whether Dorries’ daughter was indeed present at a particular school several years previously, as was claimed in relation to expenses (which I’m told is the kernel to Dorries’ story), hardly amounts to seeking to monitor a child’s movements – and Dorries’ wilful misrepresentation here is one of her more barefaced and repellent lies.

Notes

(1) Richards’ professional integrity is contested. She has accused another anti-stalking specialist, Harry Fletcher, of stalking her, and comments from peers that appeared in a Daily Mail article about the matter were scathing:

Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd, who was the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on stalking and worked with Ms Richards on legislation, said: ‘I found her difficult to work with. She was making some rather strange allegations against Harry. I found her accusations to be utterly incredible.’

Senior forensic psychiatrist Dr David James, who was on the board of PAS [Protection Against Stalking], described Ms Richards as ‘reacting extravagantly when crossed’.

He added: ‘I resigned from the board of PAS because I feared that any form of association with her would be harmful to my professional reputation.

‘I was aware she has made complaints of harassment against others in the past.’

Mr Fletcher is now a director of Digital-Trust, which advises on cyber stalking.

Fellow director Jennifer Perry said: ‘Harry has been given advice and emotional support as a stalking victim himself. Spreading malicious allegations about someone is one of the stalker’s weapons.’

This all sounds strangely familiar. [UPDATE: Richards’ complaint against Fletcher has now been dismissed – more here].

(2) I am here making a very serious allegation as to Dorries’ fitness for office. She is welcome to test it in court if she thinks she has a case under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act.

2 Responses

  1. Note to two recent commentators: thank you for your feedback, but for legal and ethical reasons I can’t allow semi-anonymous allegations to be published here. Please email me privately if you have information you would like share.

  2. Much of the attraction for the press to give ink to people like Ms. Dorries stems from the Little Red Riding Hood meme.. the ancient story of the innocent female threatened by the feral male. So it’s an easy, attention getting smear to cry “wolf” if you are a woman uncomfortable with public airings of your less than honest behavior.
    There’s another recent case that fits the model out of Georgia in the US. http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2015/03/27/3640018_georgia-supreme-court-overturns.html?rh=1
    In this case, a male blogger took a female poet (who aggressively extorted money from anyone who crossed her copyright) to task for the practice.

    In my own case, researching for an article about modern, fake explorers got me smeared as a cyberstalker when the subjects couldn’t explain the many fabrications and embellishments in their resumes. What’s needed is better education for the police and judiciary, so they quickly sort the protected speech cases (with no lurid threats associated or sexual innuendo) from the real ones. And penalties for falsely using cyberstalker as a smear would be a good idea too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *