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.

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