Christian Bookshop Row over “Anti-Catholic” Claim

From the religious news desk of the Daily Express:

AN UNHOLY row has broken out after the Protestant owner of a Christian bookshop refused to sell a bible to a woman – because she is CATHOLIC.

Muriel Swan, 61, was told she should “get the Pope to open a few bookshops for her” after she was turned away from The Mustard Seed Christian Bookshop.

She went to the shop to look for a gift for her eight-year-old grandson Cameron for his first Holy Communion.

But she was left cross when, she claims, staff told her they didn’t stock Catholic literature and goods – despite advertising themselves as a Christian bookshop.

…Defiant owner Chris Stala defended her store and said Muriel should “get the Pope to open a few bookshops for her”.

The story has trickled up to the national media from the Nottingham Post, which has posted a short video of Swan making her complaint outside the shop. According to Swan, the shop’s owner specifically stated that the Mustard Seed is “anti-Catholic”. However, Post also carries Stala’s response:

“We are not anti-Catholic in anyway. I am a Christian and she is too but we are part of different sects. You would not get Jehovah’s Witnesses coming here either.

…”She should get the Pope to open a few bookshops for her because he has plenty of money.”

The Express appears to have introduced a couple of distortions into the story. First, the shop did not “refuse to sell a Bible” to Swan: clearly, Swan was looking for a Catholic Bible, and probably one with a special decorative features relating to First Communion. In other words, she asked for a particular edition of the Bible that the shop did not stock. The Times, in what appears to be a further exaggeration, has headlined its own article “‘No Catholics’ in Christian bookshop”, and stated that “A woman has claimed that the Protestant owner of a Christian bookshop refused to serve her because she was a Catholic.”

Second, the Express seems undecided as to whether Swan was indeed told to “get the Pope to open a few bookshops”, or if this was a comment Stala made to the media afterwards; but the earlier Nottingham Post story makes it clear that the comment came later. However, for some reason the Express has edited out the “because he has plenty of money” part of her quote, which appears to be a jibe and is suggestive of a hostile perspective on Catholicism.

Journalistic interest in the “unholy row” (one of the most annoying clichés in journalism) does not appear to have extended to anyone actually entering the shop to browse the shelves (I haven’t been able to read the full Times article, but it seems to be derivative). It would have been fairly easy to determine if the shop has an anti-Catholic perspective; in particular, such shops tend to have a section on “cults”, and any anti-Catholic polemic will probably be found there.

The Express also quotes Swan as saying

“I’ve since found out although they are a Protestant shop but they also stock Jewish things too.”

That is not as odd as it may sound. First, there are at least two Messianic congregations in the Nottingham area; Messianic Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah and are accepted as Christians, but their style of worship retains elements of their Jewish heritage. Second, there is a trend by which some evangelicals appropriate Jewish cultural items, as an expression of philo-Semitism and in the belief that it brings their devotional practices closer to the religious world of Jesus.

Police U-Turn on PIN Issued to Journalist Highlights the Problem of “Harassment Warnings”

From the Croydon Advertiser:

THE Metropolitan Police has revoked a harassment warning given to a Croydon Advertiser journalist for questioning a convicted fraudster.

Chief reporter Gareth Davies was issued with a Police Information Notice (PIN) in March 2014 while investigating Neelam Desai’s alleged involvement in a dating website scam in which men were conned out of tens of thousands of pounds.

The Met said his attempts to question Desai – calling at her house once and sending her a politely-worded email – “went beyond what was reasonable” and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) later upheld that decision.

Mr Davies, backed by publisher Local World then new owner Trinity Mirror, challenged the ruling and, earlier this year, a High Court judge granted permission for a judicial review.

…A Trinity Mirror spokesperson said: …”The Police and IPCC will also pay most of the legal costs of the proceedings and will write to the College of Policing to request a review of the guidance on using PINs with journalists.”

The police u-turn here came just days before the judicial review was due to take place. It seems to me that the police invoking the College of Policing at this late date is opportunistic: it is an attempt to suggest that the problem due to unclear guidance rather than obviously flawed decision-making. Why didn’t the Met seek clarification back in 2014?

The decision also looks bad for the IPCC: they confirmed that the police had acted properly in issuing the PIN, only to now see the original decision that they approved being repudiated by those who made it. That hardly inspires confidence in the IPCC’s competence and true independence.

One small consolation from this wretched affair is that the Metropolitan Police were able to clarify a common misconception about PINs:

Scotland Yard said: “When a harassment warning letter is issued, there is also no implication that the alleged harassment has taken place.”

As I wrote previously, that was met with some surprise; many people are under the impression that such “warnings” at the very least reflect the considered opinion of professional law-enforcement officers that criminal conduct has occurred, and at worst that they amount to the same thing as a police caution, in which an offence is admitted. But in fact, PINs merely warn individuals that alleged conduct may amount to an offence if it continues. It is shockingly easy for a vexatious complainant to get an PIN issued to someone, and then to wave it around like some kind of trophy (see below for my experience of this).

Part of the problem is that police themselves often don’t understand how PINs are supposed to work: last year, I got Wiltshire Police to delete a highly misleading website on the subject, and police are known to talk of a PIN being “breached” despite such documents being informal and having no legal force. The issue thus goes much deeper than “using PINs with journalists”.

This is what the UK Parliament website has to say on the subject:

Constituents sometimes ask about the status of Police Information Notices (PINs) which the police may issue where there are allegations of harassment. These notices (sometimes called Harassment Warning Notices) are not covered by legislation, and don’t themselves constitute any kind of formal legal action.

…Because signing a Police Information Notice does not mean admitting any wrongdoing, there is no right of appeal. If a person is unhappy about the fact that the warning was issued, he or she could complain to the police force concerned.

This was why I was unsure whether Davies’s judicial review would succeed: the Met could have argued that the PIN cannot be revoked because there is nothing to revoke.

My interest: Dennis Rice aka Tabloid Troll

This is of some concern to me, having received a PIN myself in 2014 (from Thames Valley Police) following a malicious complaint by online troll Dennis Rice, who had been subjecting me to unpleasantness as “TabloidTroll” over an extended period from 2012-14 (he’s recently started up again, this time under his own name). Rice is actually a professional journalist himself, but his behaviour had nothing to do with how he makes his living: he was pursuing a private vendetta after I agreed with evidence that unmasked his sockpuppeting and trolling.

Rice actually received two warnings himself from police about his conduct towards me, in 2013 and 2014 – I didn’t make a big deal about this, as my goal was to get him to change his behaviour, and I did not want to misrepresent police intervention as confirming criminality (just as lack of police action would not have amounted to an exoneration). It was shortly after the second of these warning that he closed down his @tabloidtroll Twitter account.

A few weeks later, Rice retaliated by making his own complaint, claiming to have received an anonymous threatening message sent by me. Of course, I had not done this – that sort of thing is beneath me, and such a course of action would have been against my own best interests, given that the police were starting to take complaints against Rice seriously. Further, Rice has a history of claiming to have received an anonymous threat after online alteractions.

Yet a PIN was issued to me – and it didn’t even explain what I was supposed to have done (the specific allegation was only put to me weeks later). Rice now of course boasts that I have “a police warning for trolling and harassment”,  even though he must know what a PIN really is. All of this is discussed in full here.

I later made a complaint to Thames Valley Police, and initially ran up against the problem discussed above, that a PIN supposedly cannot be rescinded because it has no legal basis. I then patiently explained that it can still be the case that a PIN was issued incorrectly, and that this was the pertinent point. This elicited the obtuse police response that no officer had committed a disciplinary offence, which is where matters have been left.

Rice just a few weeks ago attempted a new complaint, against both myself and the author Peter Jukes, after Peter drew attention to new goading comments that Rice had emailed to him. However, this has now been dropped; according to the officer assigned to the case “Mr Rice has failed to return my emails or provide me any evidence of an offence”. More on that here.

(Footnote: To anticipate one objection to the above from Rice: After he received his second police warning, he wrote to me boasting that the police had apologised to him for acting on “false information” from me. I followed this up with police, who explained that the address I had given them for Rice had been out of date. Presumably this error caused some embarrassment to Rice when police showed up there, but the “apology” had nothing to do with the substance of my complaint.)

New Claim of Organised Abuse at Dolphin Square in the 1980s – General Synod Mentioned

From BuzzFeed:

David was groggy when he woke up, he says. As he looked around, he knew where he was, because he had been there before: an apartment in Dolphin Square, central London…

He was 15. His eyes flicker up to the right, reliving those moments in 1982 as if he were back there.

…Memories from the night before would intrude in flashes – being taken to a restaurant, to a table of men, and being told who they were: politicians, businessmen, senior members of the Church of England. Sometimes other boys his age were there too.

…The blood would be his, but the semen was not. He did not know then that it would take more than 30 years to try to find out whose it was.

Thus begins a lengthy article by Patrick Strudwick about the case of David, the latest person to say he was sexually abused by VIPs at Dolphin Square in Pimlico in the 1980s. According to Strudwick:

When BuzzFeed News began investigating this story, the details, which pointed to a clutch of paedophiles operating across some of our most powerful institutions, seemed at first too grim and too outrageous to hold up. That was until we started examining the evidence, until the files began to surface, forced into the open through the Data Protection Act and the coroner’s court. These files not only corroborated David’s story, but expanded on it.

In the wake of the Operation Midland fiasco, can it be that, at last, we have a story about Dolphin Square that might hold up?

Alas, there’s some sleight of hand here – the documents do not “corroborate” what David says happened to him at Dolphin Square in 1982. Instead, they are mostly concerned with police complaints made by David in 2007 and 2015 concerning Gordon Dawson, a landowner who lived at Dalby Hall in Lincolnshire, and the inquest into Dawson’s death in 2007. David maintains that these documents show how his complaints were mishandled – perhaps to the extent of a cover-up – but that’s a different kind of “corroboration” than Strudwick’s intro leads us to expect.

According to David’s account (the first name is his own, although no surname is provided), Dawson befriended his family, and then began regularly raping David. He also convinced the family to allow him to take David to London at weekends to “go to the theatre” – instead, he was taken to General Synod meetings, to a restaurant, and then to Dolphin Square.

(1) Gordon Dawson

In December 2006, according to Strudwick, Dawson was arrested after five individuals made complaints against him; David made his own complaint two months later, after hearing about this. Police told David that Dawson would be re-arrested, but after police made contact with Dawson to arrange a date for an interview, he killed himself with a shotgun. The article includes photos of David as he is now and as a teenager at Dalby House.

Some of this can be confirmed by a news report that appeared in the Skegness Standard in 2007, along with the detail that Dawson had reportedly admitted to something:

At an inquest into the death of Gordon Harry Dawson, it emerged that, since October [2006], no fewer than six individuals had made complaints to police about past.

…Evidence was heard from Pc Geoff Harrison, an officer with the police’s Skegness-based public protection unit who had interviewed Dawson, of Dalby House, Dalby, about the claims.

“He accepted some of what was being said but made a full denial of the specific allegations,” said the officer.

Pc Harrison said that in a subsequent telephone conversation, Dawson told him: “Oh dear, I can’t think who would make these things up.”

Strudwick suggests that the complaint was mishandled by the police in several respects: first, that Dawson was told in advance he would be re-arrested; second, that the police ignored warnings from David about Dawson’s firearms collection; and third, that David’s name was disclosed to Dawson.

On the first point, the article includes an image of an extract from a formal statement made by Harrison in relation to the earlier complainants:

I explained that there had been a number of allegations made against him and we needed to formally interview him about them. I arranged for him to attend Skegness Police Station on Tuesday 19th December 2006 and explained that we could arrange legal representation for him…

Unfortunately, this extract does not feature the word “arrest” anywhere. It proves that the police wanted to interview Dawson under caution, but not that they intended to arrest to him. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t in fact arrested – but to present this extract as evidence when it’s not raises the concern that “arrested” and “interviewed under caution” have been conflated, especially given that “arrest” doesn’t appear in the Skegness Standard article either. This is not nit-picking: Strudwick has a narrative that is critical of the police, but there is nothing untoward about arranging a so-called “voluntary” interview in advance by mutual agreement.

On the second point, the article says that Chief Inspector Tom Bell told David that he may have “had a case” about the firearms – but it is difficult to see what difference it would have made, given that Dawson could just have easily killed himself without access to firearms.

Police documents acquired by David also include details of other complaints against Dawson:

Some of the allegations against Dawson, which stretch back to 1964, included the sexual abuse of boys as young as 5.

The few lines in the files that are still discernible – the odd quote from the police interview with Dawson in December 2006, for example – are all familiar: boys in his car, country lanes, shooting rabbits, trousers undone. Two capitalised words jump out in the police notes: MODUS OPERANDI.

All very disturbing – but not the promised corroboration of organised abuse by VIPs at Dolphin Square.

(2) Dolphin Square

According to Strudwick’s article, Harrison

…came to David’s house to conduct a full interview. The interview would form the basis of David’s police statement, seen by BuzzFeed News, in which he describes, among other things, being raped by Dawson in Dolphin Square. At the time the flats were not publicly linked with sexual abuse, and Harrison, says David, was more concerned with the events in Lincolnshire.

“I said, ‘Am I the only one?’ He [Harrison] almost laughed. He said, ‘No, this is huge. It’ll be the biggest case this country has ever seen.” David says the sergeant informed him the police had been investigating Dawson for nine years; that “over 20 people had come forward”.

Strudwick acknowledges that David mistakenly described the London location as a “hotel”, but explains that this was because he was “unused to such a venue”. It’s a shame that BuzzFeed doesn’t include an image of the the police statement – to see the words “Dolphin Square” on a 2007 statement would have some evidential value, although it’s not quite true that the location had not been linked to abuse allegations at this time; articles on the subject had been published in Scallywag magazine in the 1990s, and from there had eventually made their way online. BuzzFeed also saw a police statement from a neighbour who said that David had disclosed to her in 1996, although it’s not made absolutely clear whether this statement specifically mentions Dolphin Square.

In 2015, David made contact with Operation Fairbank (blogged here), the Metropolitan Police investigation into allegations of sex abuse by politicians:

David attended an interview with two officers… Many questions remained for David: Why was Dawson forewarned of his arrest? Why were firearms not removed from his house first? Why did the case close immediately after Dawson’s death? And why was he not shown the report from the internal investigation [into his warning about the firearms*]?

But there were other questions, too: Why was the information about Dolphin Square David had given to Lincolnshire police in 2007 seemingly not investigated nor passed to the Metropolitan police? Why were many of Dawson’s friends, including two men who, David had been told, co-owned the flat with Dawson in Dolphin Square, not interviewed? Why has there never been any attempt to find out who sat with him at those restaurants?

[*UPDATE: Bandini notes in the comments that the routine destruction of this report after a period of time is being reported on social media as “documents relating to child abuse inquiries going missing”. This is sensationalising: (a) there is no reason to suppose that a review into whether Dawson should have been deprived of his firearms would have revealed anything about the allegations against him; (b) the fact that David was able to get hold of police statements etc. via the Data Protection Act shows that the relevant documents in fact remain available.]

It was a “family friend” who told David that Dawson co-owned the property at Dolphin Square. Again, it’s unfortunate that Strudwick did not apparently seek to verify that Dawson had indeed been the co-owner of a Dolphin Square flat; paperwork to this effect would be strong corroboration, it seems to me.

It should be stressed that David’s claims are not like those of “Nick” – he does not claim to have witnessed parties where others were abused, or to have seen murders or bizarre forms of torture. Indeed, he was unconscious during the abuse, perhaps after being drugged in the restaurant, and it was the after-effects that showed he had been abused by someone other than Dawson.

The results of the renewed contact with police in 2015 were not satisfactory:

…on 25 March 2015, Detective Sergeant James Townly, a senior officer from Operation Fairbank, responded to David’s questions. We read the email together in the hotel room.

Because David does not know exactly who the men at the restaurants were, “this is not sufficient for a crime report”, writes Townly.

(3) The General Synod and the VIPs

David’s story also includes the claim that

“We would go to church meetings at the [General] Synod.” David would sit in, bored and unaware of Dawson’s precise role there. But as they walked round Dolphin Square, says David, Dawson would tell him that people from the Synod also had flats there.

While at the restaurant:

“He would tell me there were people there [at the table] who had big military careers, people from the church ­– he would say that some are from the Synod – and then [also] MPs. There always seemed to be a parliament connection. They’d always be talking about something that had come up that day in the House [of Commons].” David would be introduced to them but, still only 15, would never be told their names.

The article adds that David “rarely” watched television or read newspapers, so that he didn’t recognise anyone.

Once more, Strudwick could have looked for some corroborating evidence here. The General Synod only meets for a few days in London each year (and mostly on week days rather than weekends), and it could perhaps have been possible to firm up some dates – and to clarify Dawson’s involvement – by asking the Church of England or consulting sources such as the Church of England Year Book. It is difficult to envisage some sort of “abuse network” developing within the General Synod, given its occasional nature.

Concluding note

The above is not meant to pour cold water on David’s claims about what happened to him in London. Just because “Nick” was a fantasist, it does not mean that the inside of Dolphin Square has never seen child abuse, or that abusers have never worked in concert there. Each allegation should be examined on its own merits.

David’s story about Dolphin Square may have merit – but it is not yet substantiated. Strudwick  has chased up some leads, but it seems to me that a number of assertions in the article could have been looked into in more detail. Also, given the decision to include scanned excerpts from police statements, it would be helpful to have seen more about what exactly was said to the neighbour in 1996 and to police in 2007.  Perhaps Strudwick’s view is that the main point is to galvanize the police into renewed evidence gathering activity themselves; at the moment, all we have is a frustrating mix of sensational disclosures and vagueness.

UPDATE: David has now given an articulate and at times emotional account of his story to Victoria Derbyshire on BBC 2. The interview lasts for about 20 minutes, and covers the same ground as the BuzzFeed article; he specifically recalls sitting in the gallery at General Synod meetings (this is consistent with the layout of the Assembly Hall in Church House). The BBC also approached Lincolnshire Police and Dawson’s surviving family, but they declined to comment.

Blackburn Muslim Association Condemned Over 2006 Instruction Restricting Travel for Women

From the Telegraph:

Women should not be allowed to go on long journeys without a male chaperone a British Muslim group has advised followers.

Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, condemned the advice from Blackburn Muslim Association as “disgraceful” and said such views had “no place” in modern Britain.

…Ms Greening’s intervention came following a question from David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, during development questions in the Commons… He asked if efforts to improve sexual equality “would be made easier if organisations like the Blackburn Muslim Association were not putting out information to people that women should not be allowed to travel more than 48 miles without a chaperone?”

The “information” was posted online in 2006, and the above was Davies’ second attempt to generate publicity around this particular example of a successful hunt for “something unreasonable on an Islamic website”. A few days previously, he had mentioned the same thing during a Westminster Hall discussion on face veils. According to his press release:

…Mr Davies, who made his comments during a Westminster Hall debate on violence against women and girls, (Wednesday 27 April) was also highly critical of publicly funded bodies giving what he described as “medieval-style” advice to Muslim women.

“The Muslim Council of Britain is often viewed as a moderate organisation and is in receipt of public funds, yet looking at some of the groups affiliated to it sets alarm bells ringing,” he said.

“For example, Blackburn Muslim Association – which has received public money in the past for an education project – advises Muslims that it is not permissible for a women to travel a distance exceeding 48 miles without a husband or close male relative chaperone.

“Apparently, 48 miles is the distance a women would have been able to travel in three days on a camel in a desert in 7th-century Saudi Arabia. It is now being applied to 21st-century Britain.

That earlier quote made Davies’s local Monmouth Today, but it took the later exchange with Greening to make the Blackburn Muslim Association into a public “issue”, with the Sun following up on the “DISGRACEFUL” news. The Telegraph rang round for some quotes: Howjat Ramzy, “former head of the MCB’s education committee”, denounced the instruction as “offensive in this day and age”, while the head of the National Secular Society stated that “women are entitled to their own autonomy and freedom of movement; any attempt to limit this must be condemned roundly”.

I’m all for shining a light on and challenging regressive statements by groups and public figures, but I wish these sorts of controversies could be aired in a way that doesn’t depend on self-promoting politicians contriving to hook the media with haphazard “gotchas” – both in principle, and because it is a method that can easily go horribly wrong.

Eliciting predictable comments from groups such as the NSS is easy work, but it would have been more useful to have had some sort of profile of the Blackburn Muslim Association and the the man who posted the instruction, a certain Yusuf Shabbir.

Shabbir’s 2006 post appears on a site called Nawadir – the main Blackburn Muslim Association website (currently empty) described the site as its “Department of Theology” and provided a click-through. Until a few days ago, Nawadir‘s “About” page stated that

This website has been created to share the knowledge and writings of various scholars on a range of topics. We hope you benefit and feel free to share.

The sentence “We will be launching a new website soon” was added at some point, and the statement has now been further amended :

This website has been created to share the knowledge and writings of various scholars on a range of topics. We are an independent website without any affiliation with any other organisation. The website is run by a group of scholars and professionals. We hope you benefit and feel free to share. We will be launching a new website soon.

Although fairly anonymous, the site carries a prominent link to Shabbir’s Facebook profile, and his Twitter feed (since disabled) linked to the Nawadir website rather than the main Blackburn Muslim Association website. An old report lists him as the Vice Chair of the Blackburn Muslim Association.

 

Some Notes on John Whittingdale, Byline, and Eric Li

(expanded 22 April 2016)

Whittingdale and the media
Byline Media
Note on Eric Li and The 4th Media
Li’s views
Conclusion
Excursus

Whittingdale and the media

Much has been written about whether it was right for the crowdfunding publishing platform Byline to have carried a piece at the start of April that revealed that the Minister for Culture, John Whittingdale, had previously been in a relationship with a woman who at the time was involved in the sex industry as a dominatrix. Whittingdale was and is a divorcé, and by his own account he was unaware of her profession; and it is not alleged that Whittingdale paid for her companionship.

The justification given for running the story was that several newspapers had devoted resources into researching Whittingdale’s relationship, but had then chosen not to run the story. Was this because the relationship was an intrusive “non-story”, or because newspapers preferred to keep the story in reserve as leverage over a man whose brief includes press regulation?

Follow-up articles on Byline by John Cusick, formerly of the Independent, include information that may be relevant here. Apparently, Geordie Greig, the editor of the Mail on Sunday, had shown great enthusiasm for the story, and it was only dropped at the very last minute; meanwhile Amol Rajan, editor of the Independent, changed his mind on running the story the day after attending a Society of Editors conference alongside Whittingdale. At the time, he promised Cusick an explanation, which was not forthcoming.

It is also perhaps noteworthy that after the story broke, the Mail on Sunday then published five pages about Whittingdale’s love life, including an account by another girlfriend, described by the paper as a former “porn star” (“glamour model” would probably have been a better term), and details of “an intimate relationship with the daughter of a USSR military officer”. It is reasonable to suspect that the paper already had at least some of this material before Byline published, and that there was some reason for holding it back that no longer existed once the Byline articles had appeared.

Thus it does look like Whittingale was perhaps afforded a courtesy, for whatever reason, although I’m sceptical that the dynamic was as crude as a “Sword of Damocles over James Whittingdale” (as suggested by Chris Bryant) or that the non-reporting was a “cover-up”.

Byline Media

Byline has now in turn come under scrutiny. The site is run by two young entrepreneurs, who I met in London last year, and its senior advisor is Peter Jukes, who crowd-funded his reporting on Twitter of the phone-hacking trials. I have had friendly exchanges with Peter since that time, in large part because we were both trolled at various times by Dennis Rice, the former Investigations Editor at the Mail on Sunday who was attempting to intimidate various people via his aptly named and industry approved @tabloidtroll sockpuppet account (see below for more on this).

Peter is not a member of the press reform campaigning group Hacked Off, but the organisation has been supportive of his efforts and Peter shares Hacked Off’s concerns about the UK press. It is no secret that there is an overlap of interest: for instance, Peter’s latest book is published by Martin Hickman’s Canbury Press, and Martin co-wrote Dial M for Murdoch with Tom Watson.

Hacked Off has found the Byline Whittingdale articles to be of interest (“vital questions must be answered”), taking the view that they show that Whittingdale was “potentially exposed to improper pressure from newspaper companies which had it in their power to embarrass him or worse” . From this has grown the suggestion that Hacked Off and/or Watson were somehow behind the Byline articles.

Certainly, Watson knew the story back in 2013; according to Robert Peston (who rejects the cover-up suggestion as “nuts”):

The Sunday People was the first newspaper to be offered the story at the end of 2013.

It approached Tom Watson – the Labour MP, now deputy leader of the Labour party, then a colleague of Mr Whittingdale on the Culture committee – for his advice on whether it should publish.

He told them he did not see there was a public-interest reason to run the story on Mr Whittingdale’s affair, since he was a single man, this was his private life, and the People had no evidence that Mr Whittingdale had paid for sex.

That was before Whittingdale became Culture Minister; however, Byline‘s first article, by Nick Mutch, is clearly derived from his own sources, and there is no need to postulate Watson passing it along surreptitiously more than two years later. The Guido Fawkes smear site – famous for honeytrapping an MP into texting an image of his penis – tried to make the best of it, referring vaguely to “Watson’s fingerprints” on the story.

Then came a piece in the Telegraph by Andrew Gilligan; it included the following:

Mr Jukes says that Byline.com is liberating journalism from being a “tool” of “wealthy, tax-shy billionaires” to becoming an agent of “democracy.” He claims the site is “crowdfunded” by small donations from readers.

…However, Companies House records show that almost all the site’s £540,000 funding in fact comes from three billionaires, including £160,000 from Eric Li, a Shanghai businessman who has said dictatorship works better than democracy and has called for more constraints on journalists in China.

Until 2014 Mr Li wrote regularly for The 4th Media,* a website promoting anti-Western conspiracy theories and supporting authoritarian regimes. He has said that the West “seems incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift.”

Byline.com has promoted and defended a number of other conspiracy theories for which there is little evidence. These include the now discredited claims of a “Westminster child sex abuse ring” involving prominent establishment figures.

The site shares a number of journalists, including Mr Jukes, with Exaro, the “investigative website” that first published false sex abuse claims against the late Lord Brittan, the former defence chief Lord Bramall and the former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

[*This phrase has since been amended to “Articles by Mr Li are published on 4th Media” – see next section for more on this]

Overlap with Exaro, it seems to me, is regrettable: I’ve written plenty about how and why Exaro got it wrong on “Westminster VIP paedos”, and I believe the site in its reporting of “Nick’s” fantastical allegations was not just flawed but also at times dishonest. But the subject hardly looms large on the Byline website; there are just a few commentary articles by David Hencke, who also writes for Exaro. When Gilligan was writing about Exaro’s Westminster claims in 2014, his own view was that “the conspiracy element cannot be wholly dismissed”, and the mainstream media were happy to refer to “investigative website Exaro” and “campaigning MP Tom Watson” until mid-2015.

Note on Eric Li and The 4th Media

Following the Telegraph article, the Paul Staines crew followed up with a short article headlined “Byline Funder on Anti-Semitic Conspiracy site”. Guido Fawkes took Gilligan’s claim that Li writes for the site (an assertion from which the Telegraph has now retreated) at face value, and highlighted material (by other authors) on the site about “Jewish banksters” and 9/11 as a “false flag” as such.

As noted above, the Telegraph has now retreated from the assertion that “Mr Li wrote regularly for The 4th Media”, instead merely stating that “Articles by Mr Li are published on 4th Media”. This is because it has been shown that The 4th Media consists largely (perhaps totally) of items cut-and-pasted from other websites. The items by Li – who usually styles himself as Eric X. Li – in fact all come from mainstream media sources, such as the Huffington Post and the Washington Post.

The Guido Fawkes site states that “Eric Li’s articles and lectures were published and cross-posted by The 4th Media ‘with permission'”, although no link is provided to prove this. The site carries 12 items by Li, published between 2012 and 2014. Only one of these has a “reprinted by permission” notice, stating “Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online”. However, that particular notification has simply been pasted wholesale from an earlier reprint of the same article in the South China Morning Post.

Similarly, an article by Arundhati Roy that was reprinted by Alternet with a “Reprinted here with permission” notice has been cut and pasted by The 4th Media, complete with the exact same notice. Perhaps Roy is now also a scandalous association for anyone to have.

There are around 100 people listed as The 4th Media‘s supposed “columnists” alongside Li, including Roy, Antonio Negri, Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Fidel Castro, Chris Hedges and Glenn Greenwald. The site also carries material ripped off from the Daily Mail, the Spectator (an article by Peter Hitchens), and… erm… the Daily Telegraph. Clearly, The 4th Media pirates whatever material takes its fancy, including any copyright notice that may have been in the source.

Here’s Li’s Huffington Post profile:

Eric X. Li is a venture capitalist in Shanghai. He serves on the board of directors of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and is vice chairman of its publishing arm CEIBS Publishing Group. Mr. Li is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute.

Further, the photo of Li used by Guido Fawkes shows Li giving a talk. This was actually a TED Talk, although the author is careful not to mention it. Perhaps this means Byline, through Li, is also linked to… erm, one of best-known and respected global ideas brands?

Given that Li has a respectable mainstream profile that Gilligan and Fawkes have avoided mentioning, and that The 4th Media engages in widespread bootlegging from many high-profile authors, it seems to me very likely that The 4th Media has simply re-used his content at its own initiative and without in fact asking for permission – despite the “with permission” notice that appears on one article, which was simply carried across from a reprint elsewhere.

A further note: The 4th Media website is published by the China April Media Group (sometimes misspelt as the China April Meida Group), based in Beijing. I can’t find any references linking Li, who is based in Shanghai, to this organisation. Further, Li does not feature on a critical profile of the site by Kremlin Trolls (which shows that the site is actually run by a certain Rev. Kiyul Chung).

Li’s views

Meanwhile, the quote from Li on democracy that Gilligan uses can be seen in context here, from a 2012 op-ed in the New York Times provocatively titled “Why China’s Political Model is Superior”. He writes:

China is on a different path. Its leaders are prepared to allow greater popular participation in political decisions if and when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to the country’s national interests, as they have done in the past 10 years.

However, China’s leaders would not hesitate to curtail those freedoms if the conditions and the needs of the nation changed. The 1980s were a time of expanding popular participation in the country’s politics that helped loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.

That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that violent event, but the alternatives would have been far worse.

The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed him in January, introducing him as a “provocateur”. He doesn’t sound like someone I would warm to, and his description of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests as having gone “too far” is obnoxious. Many countries have transitioned from authoritarianism to democracy without strife, including the Chinese example of Taiwan. And real threats to civil order have been neutralised without resorting to the kind of carnage and repression that was seen at Tiananmen Square.

However, it should also be remembered that civil wars and revolutions brought great suffering to China during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and Li is hardly the only person to regard China’s continuing stability as being the most important priority. I suspect his views are commonplace among successful businessmen living in mainland China.

Should Byline be concerned? Perhaps, but let he who has never done business with mainland China cast the first stone. Li is a tech investor – he has no editorial role at Byline. By contrast, the Telegraph has a sponsorship deal with the China Daily, described by the Atlantic as “the state-controlled English-language voice of the Chinese government to the outside world”. There has also been some controversy over the years in relation to News International’s extensive Chinese interests.

And as for his views on what Gilligan describes as “more constraints on journalists in China”, here’s a quote from an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs:

Complementing the party’s own antigraft efforts is the increasing independence of media outlets, both state- and privately owned. News organizations have already exposed cases of official corruption and disseminated their findings on the Internet. The CCP has responded by pursuing some of the cases that the media have brought to light. Of course, this system is not perfect, and some media outlets are themselves corrupt. Illicit payments to journalists and fabricated stories are commonplace. If these problems are not corrected quickly, Chinese media will lose what little credibility they have gained.

Accordingly, the next administration might develop more sophisticated political regulations and legal constraints on journalists to provide space for the sector to mature. Officials have already discussed instituting a press law that would protect legitimate, factual reporting and penalize acts of libel and misrepresentation. Some might view the initiative as the government reining in journalists, but the larger impact would be to make the media more credible in the eyes of the Chinese public. Journalists who take bribes or invent rumors to attract readers can hardly check government corruption.

Make of that what you will, but it clearly is not what Gilligan wishes readers to infer when he plucked out the word “constraints”.

[UPDATE (24 April): In a late intervention, Louise Mensch has highlighted Gilligan’s “dictatorship works better than democracy” summary of Li’s position, and presented it as if it were a direct quote from Li. She has also extrapolated wildly from the Guido Fawkes post to accuse Li of being an “anti Semite”; when it came to her attention that this false claim may be actionable, her response was merely that “you can’t defame a man who says dictatorship beats democracy”.]

Conclusion

The line being pushed by Guido Fawkes is that Byline is a “conspiracy website”. The articles proposing that Whittingdale may have been given special consideration by the press may prove to be a misjudgment (although Private Eye magazine thinks there may be something to it), but this is hardly David Icke territory. The fact Guido Fawkes has to find material on another site and make a tenuous link to bolster its claim speaks for itself.

But the wider point is that Byline is a publishing platform: articles are not commissioned, and a quick survey shows that the site showcases the work of career journalists, who are crowdfunded to produce material that otherwise might not get published.

As with any other news source, it will be as good as the material it presents, and I’d be surprised if it never publishes a dud. Gilligan’s attack piece wants to paint Byline as being something akin to Infowars, but the fact he resorts to a bogus funding/investment controversy rather than a rounded assessment of the site’s content shows bad faith.

There are also other errors in Gillian’s article, discussed by Zelo Street.

***
Excursus

Dennis Rice has in the last day or so emailed Peter, hinting that he may have been contacted by journalists. He wrote:

Dear Mr Jukes,

I do hope you haven’t been injured in the self irony overload from your whining about the Sunday Telegraph not asking you to comment prior to publication.

I had the same experience when you made up a story about how I was part of a Fleet Street Conspiracy of two (I had last worked on Fleet St eight in 2008 and the other person you named was Louise Mensch, an author and then MP who has at that point never written for Fleet Street)

In order to do this you moved a tweet I had posted in January 2014 – in response to your attacking my family’s hacking and privacy – forward four months to pretend it had been made in response to a book which I had zero interest in, and everyone I knew had zero interest in (a situation which continues to this day).

When this became clear to the UK Press Gazette they pulled the excerpt and unsurprisingly IPSO found in my favour.

…Meantime rest assured that if anyone contacts me about you I will (a) provide any and all information I have on your rank hypocrisy and distortions; and (b) do it for free.

Dennis Rice

At the risk of raking over old ground: yes, an aggressive Tweet that Rice published in January 2014 was mistakenly moved forward by several months, due to a late RT by someone else; but Rice was making exactly the same threats during the summer of 2014 as he was in January, albeit under his sockpuppet account name. In fact, IPSO rejected most of Rice’s complaint, and all it did was confirm that the publisher, Press Gazette, had been right to run a correction.

Second, Peter did not attack  Rice’s “family’s hacking and privacy” – a particularly obnoxious element to Rice’s bullying is the way he comes up with these bogus self-justifications.

Full details on all this here.

Meanwhile, it should be recalled that Rice had previously attempted to smear Peter by claiming he had lied about his financial circumstances in order to get crowd-funding, but Peter was able to show that the allegation was false. Even the Fawkes team – who had been contacted about it – conceded that the claim had been “a mistake”. Full details here.

In any event, there does not seem to be much evidence that journalists have used anything Rice may have told them; perhaps this is because of some genuine information on this website pertaining to Rice and the subjects of “rank hypocrisy and distortions”.

UPDATE: Following publication of the above, Rice went on to rake over his old attacks on Peter via a post to Storify, where he also ludicrously claimed to be a victim of Peter’s “bullying”; his post was gleefully promoted by Paul Staines and also by Neil Wallis. Rice also made a new complaint about me and Peter to the police, which he conveyed in boastful terms to a third party. More on that here.

The CPS, The Police, and the Dead

From The Brief (a legal newsletter helpfully extracted here by @BarristerSecret):

Senior prosecutors have invoked new policy in rejecting a request from police that they consider charging a dead suspect with the 40-year-old murder of a teenage girl.

…A senior police source told the BBC: “We would like a clear statement that it [the Crown Prosecution Service] would have charged [Robert] Black with Genette [Tate]‘s murder. It’s the closest we can now get to justice and might offer some comfort to her family and the community”

…However, a spokesman for the CPS told The Brief yesterday that “in accordance with our policy on deceased suspects, we will not be making a charging decision in this case.”

Police were close to charging Black with Tate’s 1978 murder in January of this year, when Black died in prison. He was already serving life sentences for killing other children.

The specific wording of current CPS guidance may indeed be “new”, but it is has always been CPS policy not to charge dead suspects, for the obvious reason that dead people cannot be put on trial. The police may have had good pastoral intentions in asking the CPS to make a hypothetical charging decision, but it was a very bad idea that, if indulged, would have had a tendency to undermine a principle of justice.

In this particular instance, we can probably be reasonably confident that the police had the right man, but if a positive charging decision would have taken us “the closest we can now get to justice”, that implies that positive charging decisions in general tend to demonstrate guilt: in other words, “no smoke without fire”. But the CPS only ever has a partial view of a case, and the evidence or testimony presented before it has not been tested.

It is therefore wrong and prejudicial to regard the CPS as some sort of police peer-reviewer, who independently confirm that the police have got it right. As the CPS guidance itself notes:

In some cases the CPS may make a charging decision, which is communicated to the police, but the suspect subsequently dies before he/she has been charged by the police.

…Any public disclosure of a decision to charge should be accompanied with an explanation of the status of a charging decision, in particular that it does not mean that the deceased suspect was guilty of the alleged offence, as that would be a matter for a jury to decide.

It does not follow that a positive charging decision always means a move closer to justice – indeed, it can mean quite the opposite. (1)

This is second time in recent months that the CPS has been asked to consider a dead suspect. As Dan Hodges noted in December, in relation to Greville Janner:

Yesterday, Lord Macdonald appeared on the Today programme, and was asked what he thought about putting a dead man on trial. The former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) thought about it for a second, then gave the following response. “It’s quite finely balanced. It’s a difficult decision again for the DPP, and I don’t envy her.” Finally he concluded that there may be something “unseemly” about the whole thing.

Finely balanced? A difficult decision? We are talking here about the proposition that we should be sending our legal system off in pursuit of the dead.

In the case of Robert Black, the request was rather more modest than a posthumous trial, but it represents different degrees of the same new attitude towards what the legal system is supposed to be for: not just punishing the guilty, but providing “closure” by making authoritative pronouncements about matters of history.

It looks to me that the CPS created a rod for its own back when it u-turned on its decision not to prosecute Janner for child sex offences due to ill-health, and announced there would be a “trial of the facts”. This was the result of public pressure, as well as a statement from an alleged victim conveyed by Leicestershire Police, that described Janner as an “animal” and argued that a trial of the facts would be “in the public interest”  because we would then all “know what his victims have gone through at the hands of this man”.

Matthew Scott explained at the time why this wasn’t appropriate:

There are, of course, circumstances in which the justice system has to wrestle with defendants who are too ill to participate in a normal trial, but too dangerous to be ignored. When that is necessary the law has no choice but to adopt an uneasy compromise between the defendant’s rights and the public need for protection.

Janner’s mind had already been destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease when the decision was made to go ahead; he was not dangerous, and, if found guilty, he would have been beyond any earthly punishment. But given the new and unprecedented rationale for the “trial of the facts”, it is difficult to see why it should have made any difference whether or not his body was continuing to draw breath.

Following Janner’s death, the CPS issued a statement:

When a defendant dies during criminal proceedings, it is usual that the case no longer goes ahead following formal confirmation of the defendant’s death at a hearing before the court. However, we are considering the procedural implications of this specific case. As the High Court will close today until January 11 2016, there can be no hearing before that date.

Joshua Rozenburg asked the pertinent questions:

What is the point of perpetuating the misconception in some people’s minds that it might still be possible to continue these proceedings in some arcane way? Why can’t the CPS simply say that the prosecution is over? Who is the director of public prosecutions scared of offending?

In the end, it was left to the judge to formally confirm that the matter had been wrapped up.

Footnote

(1) Of course, in some people’s minds, the simple act of the police passing a file to the CPS is itself evidence of guilt, particularly if the CPS takes some time before coming to a negative decision (I discussed an example of this mentality recently). Indeed, even an arrest can be seen in such a light – just few months ago Sussex Police chose to confirm that posthumous allegations against Bishop George Bell would have resulted in his arrest, were it not for the fact that he had died in 1958, and this was itself cited as evidence of Bell’s probable guilt.

Daily Mail Attempts to Whip Up Controversy over Oxford Theology Degrees

From the Daily Mail:

Oxford theology students won’t have to study Christianity throughout their degree – but dons deny it’s being ‘marginalised’

  • Students and lecturers have overturned 800-year-old university tradition
  • The changing way religion is seen and practised in UK has driven change
  • Students will study Christianity in first year but have more choice later on

The authors have extracted some details from an essay in the Times Higher about humanities teaching (alluded to in the article), and added a rent-a-quote from evangelical Christian Right activist Andrea Minichiello Williams to try to generate a controversy:

Andrea Minichiello Williams, of Christian Concern, said: ‘I think it’s sad … The founding fathers of Oxford believed that truth was noble and it was found in the pursuit of theology which we understood to be the study of Christianity’.

Here’s how the Times Higher article explained it:

It is 1916. You are an undergraduate at the University of Oxford studying theology in the hope that the ministry will be a good career choice. Your timetable says that you will be studying doctrine, biblical studies, the history of Christianity and Hebrew. In year three there is a single module given over to “other religions”.

…After seven years of consultation, a new course will be arriving in September 2017 under the name “theology and religion” for the first time.

Johannes Zachhuber, professor of historical and systematic theology and the theology faculty’s board chairman, said that the name change “was the moment we chose to recognise things really have become different”. While options to study “other” religions are certainly not new, compulsory Christianity papers will be gone by the second year so students can avoid studying the religion altogether and take papers such as “feminist approaches to theology and religion”, or “Buddhism in space and time”, should they so wish…

The news also reached The Times, which tried to make a link with the recent protests against the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College.

This seems to me to be something of a non-story. The Faculty of Theology at Oxford officially became the Faculty of Theology and Religion in 2012; at the time, the website explained that:

Oxford has the largest department for the study of Theology and Religion in the UK, and is a leading international centre for teaching and research.

While the Faculty maintains its historic strengths in the study of the Bible, the history of Christianity, Theology, and Philosophy, it is now also a major centre for the study of world religions, the relation between religion and science, and the place of religion in public life.

Also, some world religions – including ancient Near Eastern traditions essential for those specializing in the Hebrew Bible – have been provided by the Faculty of Oriental Studies for some time, while “Courses for Ministry” remain available for those seeking religious ordination. As Zachhuber himself says, the (overdue) amendment to the syllabus is recognition of a change that has already happened.

Meanwhile, the “800-year-old tradition” element is a bit of a stretch, although the detail is taken from the Faculty’s website. Of course, virtually all intellectual speculation 800 years ago was (medieval Roman Catholic) “theology”. The Faculty actually traces back to a School of Theology introduced in 1869. The Spectator observed at the time that:

…the conception of allowing men whose chief interest lies in Theology, to go out in Theology at their final examination rather than in Logic and Philosophy, or Mathematics, or Natural Science, or Law and Modern History, or Modern Languages and Literature, was quite appropriate… 

It is a matter of no common importance that the University of Oxford should open honours to men who, whatever their future profession may be likely to be, prefer to acquire the necessary clearness and sureness in dealing with great and subtle questions, from theology rather than directly from logic and ethics.

No opportunistic bleating there about “tradition”. However, the magazine did worry about whether the examination would be one of opinion rather than of knowledge:

Mr. [John William] Burgon thinks, for instance, that the Messianic character of prophecy is demonstrated as completely as the equivalence of 2 and 2 to 4 can be demonstrated by our Lord’s statement “Oh fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,—ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory I”. But this only shows how utterly incompetent Mr. Burgon is to discuss the question on which he lays down so positive an opinion. Would it involve an intellectual slur on any man’s learning and reasoning powers,—and these are what a University examination properly tests,—to believe, as so many learned men, English and German, believe, that the text of our Gospels is of very uncertain authenticity,—or that Luke, especially, was an editor of comparatively late date? Again, should any candidate be told that he was simply an ignoramus, because he had arrived at the Unitarian inference about Christ, and believed Him to be not God, but man ? … And yet, as far as we can see, the new theological statute gives no guarantee whatever that Mr. Burgon’s definition of ” ignorance ” shall not be adopted, and a candidate refused his testamur, or his proper class, for differing in opinion from the examiner.

Compare the level of discussion in the above with Williams’s barely intelligible platitude about how “truth was noble”, and with the shallowness for what passes for the supposed “controversy” that the Daily Mail wants to whip up.

In 2011, the Mail‘s sister paper attacked the BBC for using “BCE” and “CE” rather than “BC” and “AD”.

Plan to Display Digital Recreations of Palmyra Arch in London and New York Prompts End-Times Fears

From Charisma News:

A Gateway Could Be Opened When the Temple of Baal Is Erected in Times Square

In April, part of the Temple of Baal that stood in Palmyra, Syria, will be reconstructed in Times Square in New York City and in Trafalgar Square in London.

…The Institute of Digital Archaeology is the organization behind this effort, and the display of these two arches is intended to be the highlight of UNESCO’s World Heritage Week late next month.

…So could it be possible that we will be unknowingly setting up a gate or a portal of some sort in Times Square?

The author, a certain Michael Snyder, makes a link between Marduk – the deity worshipped at Palmyra as “Baal” – the Hebrew Bible’s Nimrod, and the New Testament’s Antichrist, and he suggests that the arch may be “opening up gateways and portals that are extremely dangerous and that we simply do not understand”. Snyder’s take on the arch owes more to science fiction than to evangelicalism (he even mentions Stargate), but, as I’ve noted before, there is a certain amount of overlap on the fringes.

Meanwhile, the project has been noted darkly by Jonathan Cahn, whose purported ability to discern signs of the “end times” has taken him to the top of the best-seller lists in the USA, and there is also a petition to “EVICT Baal from NYC“. Its author or authors (“Concerned Americans”) object on principle, rather than because of a specific belief that a supernatural irruption will follow:

We, the undersigned, appeal to the honorable Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City to immediately disallow the erection of the tower of Baal replica to be erected in Times Sqaure during the month of April, 2016 as part of “World Heritage Week”.

We recognize that this monument represents past a past culture of child sacrifice and sexual perversion and that creating a replica in our nation’s greatest city is in direct conflict with the values and morals of our great nation…

In fact, evidence of child sacrifice in ancient Ugaritic culture is scant (despite Biblical polemics), and it is doubtful that it ever occurred at the structure in Palmyra, which was built late during the classical period. Someone on Facebook has suggested a petition to send to Boris Johnson, but they don’t seem to got very far with it.

According to the Institute of Digital Archaeology, the project

…seeks to provide an optimistic and constructive response to the ongoing threats to history and heritage that have captured headlines over the past year  Our aim is to highlight the potential for the triumph of human ingenuity over violence by offering innovative, technology-driven options for the stewardship of objects and architecture from our shared past.

Nice sentiment – but apparently ISIS aren’t the only group to find cultural heritage an objectionable concept.

This reaction is not a big surprise, though: a few years ago an announcement of US funding to protect the archaeological site at Babylon prompted a similar hysteria, while evangelical antipathy to the existence of the seventh-century Dome of the Rock is well-documented.

World Congress of Families Heading For Georgia

From Christian Newswire:

Patriarch Ilia II, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who has been called “the most trusted man in Georgia,” gave his blessing to World Congress of Families and will give the keynote address at World Congress of Families X – Civilization at The Crossroads: The Natural Family as the Bulwark of Freedom and Human Values— in Tbilisi (May 15-18, 2016, www.worldcongress.ge).

…Tbilisi 2016 will be the first World Congress of Families in the Eurasian and Caucasus region (on the Old Silk Road to China) and the first in an Orthodox country.  WCF X conferences and concerts will be held in multiple venues in Tbilisi including the opening ceremony in Tbilisi’s State Philharmonic Concert Hall and the closing ceremony in the historic Rustaveli National Theatre. 

Further details about the event are available on the World Congress of Families website, including a quote from one of the local organizers:

…Levan Vasadze, Chairman of the Georgian Committee for WCF X commented, “We Georgians are honored and humbled by this great opportunity and privilege to host World Congress of Families X. As one of the oldest Christian nations on earth, we think this will be a refreshing opportunity for me and my fellow Georgians to meet Westerners (unlike those sent to Tbilisi by George Soros) who affirm human rights for all persons from conception to natural death but also defend the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness found in the Natural Family as the fundamental and only sustainable unit of society.”

The WCF Local Organizing Committee for WCF Georgia 2016 includes Levan Vasadze (Georgian business owner, rugby player, education leader, and philanthropist), Tinatin Khorbaladze, and other leaders from the Georgian Demographic Society.

The World Congress of Families, based in Rockford, Illinois, has been a focus of controversy for some time, due to its anti-gay stance and its links with Russia – issues I looked at in 2014.

Vasadze is close to Georgia’s president, Giorgi Margvelashvili. Several of Vasadze’s quotes appear in a report from the Media Diversity Institute, which describes his rhetoric as “ethno-centric and clearly anti-Western”:

“This war, the burning of the center of Kiev – was not it done by Americans?! Victoria Nuland was distributing sweet loafs to the opposition in the center of Kiev… Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine is the result of the coup d’etat staged by the Americans in Kiev.” ( Reaktsia, 13 February, Interpressnews and Geworld.ge, Reportiori, 14 February, 2015)

“The hurry and undemocratic nature of the adoption of anti-discrimination law has finalized the dictatorship of the Western liberalism in Georgia… The West has made the fatal mistake by proclaiming immorality to be a norm.” (Kviris Palitra, 20 January, 2015)

“Is our country independent or is it an insignificant republic which is still run by ambassadors and non-governmental organizations financed by the West? The West needs Georgia in this region very much, perhaps to no lesser degree than Georgia needs the West.” (Kviris Palitra, 7-13 April, 2014)

“By the way, I absolutely agree with the statements of Irakli Garibashvili many of the foreign-financed NGOs are enemies of the country.” (Kviris Palitra, 20 January, 2015)

A profile in a magazine called Tabula has more of the same:

Central to Vasadze’s rhetoric is the criticism of the West and Georgia’s pro-Western orientation. In his rhetoric the West is perverted; Americans believe in Masons and money instead of god; Catholics are enemies of Orthodox Christians, whilst Protestants do not deserve to be called Christians at all. The recognition of our territorial integrity by the West, in Vasadze’s rhetoric, is prompted only by the West’s desire to “capture” Georgia, whilst Georgia’s pro-Western policy is tantamount to the reflex of a Pavlovian dog. At the same time, for some unknown reason, Vasadze’s does not vent his ire towards Russia – a country which, by its social and cultural features, can hardly be regarded as more traditional than Western countries in any way. Even more, in his opinion the “co-religionist Russians are our allies both culturally and spiritually, not enemies.” Vasadze disapproves of excessive criticism of the absolutely anti-Christian Soviet Union too. True, he admits that the communists were bad guys, but then hails the greatest achievements of that totalitarian regime and is happy that Georgians were “viewed as a respected nation” on the vast Eurasian space in Soviet times.

At the same time, Levan Vasadze dislikes liberal democracy and is quite eloquent when describing the uselessness and evils of this political system. This is compounded by his xenophobic reasoning about the ethnic origins of certain politicians and his demands that the “regime” of the United National Movement be “brought to justice.”

However, he is critical of the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and Samachablo.

The  Georgian Demographic Society appears to be the same body as the Demographic Renaissance Foundation of Georgia; the Georgian Journal reported in 2013:

Businessman Levan Vasadze will lead the Supervising Board of the Demographic Renaissance Foundation of Georgia, founders Dimitri Khundadze and Tamar Chiburdanidze announced at a presentation of board members at Tbilisi Marriott Hotel on July 16.

…Khundadze said the United Nations forecast had indicated Georgia’s population would decrease by 28 per cent by 2050, placing the Georgian gene pool under threat. The Foundation announced it wished to provide financial support for families for their third child – the determining factor for the population’s size – and planned to carry out a regional policy on the matter as well as open anti-abortion and pregnancy centers.

Operation Midland Finally Closes Down

From the Metropolitan Police:

A man in his 60s who was previously interviewed under caution has today, Monday 21 March, been advised by officers working on Operation Midland that he will face no further action.

Operation Midland has now closed.

In October 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) received allegations of a serious nature involving murder and sexual assault made by a single individual. The allegations concerned non-recent matters over a 10 year period (1975-1984) at a number of locations.

The credibility of the allegations was assessed after a process involving extended questioning of the complainant by specialist child protection detectives.

…The allegations included the potential homicide of three boys. The complainant identified one of these as resembling a boy called Martin Allen who disappeared in November 1979.

In the course of the investigation, officers have not found evidence to prove that they were knowingly misled by a complainant. The MPS does not investigate complainants simply on the basis that their allegations have not been corroborated…

This understates the extravagance of the complainant’s allegations: “Nick”, as he is known to the media, accused Harvey Proctor of being part of a murderous VIP paedophile ring that also included former Prime Minister Ted Heath, and he accused the former head of the British Army, Lord Bramall, of presiding over Remembrance Day paedophilic orgies at which Remembrance poppies were pinned into Nick’s skin as a form of torture (an obvious “secular” variant on Satanic Ritual Abuse). It also glosses over how Nick’s story grew over the years, also incorporating Jimmy Savile, Greville Janner, and Leon Brittan.

In this context, the decision to emphasize the continuing tragic mystery of Martin Allen looks like a cynical attempt to make the investigation look more grounded in reality than it ever was. It should also be remembered that police were particularly impressed by Nick’s apparent ability to recall details of a military base – a location that he had actually visited as a tourist in 2013. That looks like reasonable evidence of the police being “knowingly misled by a complainant.”

The police has been very slow to back down from its initial assessment that Nick’s claims were “credible and true”: Operation Midland was folded into Operation Fairbank (a more general investigation into claims of VIP abuse) in October 2015; the case against Lord Bramall was dropped in mid-January; and reports predicting the investigation’s imminent demise appeared during February. Details of today’s announcement were leaked the media on Friday. Today’s outcome has been inevitable for months.

The news will of course be met with scepticism by those who have invested in “Nick’s” story as irrefutable evidence of the establishment’s complete and utter moral turpitude – oddly putting aside any critical thinking about the police and the legal system while attempting to strike an anti-establishment pose. In a world where David Icke fill halls, it requires little cognitive adjustment to see a failed investigation as simply further evidence of the establishment’s supposed power.

Thus Exaro News, which accompanied Nick to the police in 2014, has announced that the investigation “has been halted”, a form of expression obviously meant to imply a countervailing force – Exaro‘s Mark Watts previously denounced criticism of Operation Midland as an “unprecedented campaign, in plain sight, to halt a police investigation that the establishment fears.”

I’m all for “holding power to account”, to use Exaro‘s masthead slogan; but power is not a monopoly and there is more than one “establishment”. In this instance, we’ve seen the power of the false accuser – and it should worry everyone.

***
UPDATE: It is worth adding something about the Martin Allen disappearance. The Met Statement has the detail that:

In the course of seeking evidence which could corroborate or indeed disprove the initial allegations, more individuals came forward to provide additional information to Operation Midland. They were interviewed in September 2015. The allegations included further information relating to the disappearance of Martin Allen. This generated new lines of inquiry which have had to be thoroughly investigated.

Martin Allen’s disappearance in London in 1979 is one of those cases that has remained in the public consciousness ever since. A book was published in 1984, and articles about the subject have appeared periodically over the years. In particular, there was renewed press interest in 2009, the 30th anniversary. Many of these reports included photographs of Martin Allen; Nick’s ability to describe him, therefore, is not evidence that he ever met him.

Martin Allen was linked to Nick’s claims at an early stage; the Independent reported in November 2014:

His brother Kevin, 51, has said he was called by Detective Chief Inspector Diane Tudway of the Metropolitan Police on Friday, who told him she was investigating whether Martin’s disappearance is linked to an alleged ring made up of MPs and senior figures of authority.

Operation Midland, the investigation into the deaths, was set up this month and officers said that Operation Fairbank intelligence has led them to look into whether high-profile officials were involved in organised child sex abuse and murder in the 1970s and 1980s at locations including the Elm Guest House in Barnes, southwest London…

The case of Martin Allen’s disappearance was closed in the 1980s, but reopened in 2009 and shut again last year.

Kevin Allen said he had been told first that files relating to the case had been destroyed in a flood, and then that a retired police officer had taken them to Spain. However, these files were apparently recovered in April 2015.

The Evening Standard had further details in May 2015:

The police phoned [Kevin Allen] after the Daily Telegraph ran a story about Nick’s account last November [2014]. “They said, ‘Your brother is 80 per cent one of the three kids who were murdered’, and I said, ‘’What are you talking about?’ I didn’t hear anything else from them for 70 days then we had a meeting.’

However, ITV News now reports a statement by Kevin Allen:

“…The team only spoke to me once back in February when they informed me my brother’s case was part of the inquiry and asked for a photograph of him. I have not heard from them since…”

Presumably he means February 2015 rather than February 2016, by which time Lord Bramall had been cleared and the operation was on its last legs. February 2015 also fits better with the “70 days” timeframe after initial contact in November 2014.

Kevin Allen maintains that Operation Midland “was closed by the highest order”, obviously implying corruption. He has also alleged that a police officer warned him some time ago that he might get “hurt” if he kept alleging a cover up.