• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Brit Blog Wars: Police Contacted

(Minor correction added: see comments)

Oliver Kamm reports that Neil Clark has complained about him to the police:

Yesterday morning I got a telephone call from a bewildered gentleman at Abingdon Police Station saying he had received a complaint from a Mr Neil Clark. Mr Clark…is the author of such essays as “Milosevic, Prisoner of Conscience” and (regarding the Iraqi interpreters in fear of their lives) “Keep these Quislings Out”. He is also an imaginative theorist of global conspiracy…I learned from my interlocutor at Abingdon Police Station that Mr Clark was upset about disobliging references to him on the World Wide Web.

The police, who are obliged to investigate these kinds of complaints (Kamm stresses that there is nothing sinister in the police phoning him), appear to have concluded that there isn’t any case to answer.

Kamm has attacked Clark’s journalistic competence and honesty on a number of occasions; Clark believes this is sour grapes because he once wrote a critical review of a book Kamm had written. Since then, Clark has claimed there is a campaign of persecution against him, waged by “neo-cons” because of his anti-war views:

The perpetrators of this activity have a clear aim: to discredit me in the eyes of those who employ me and prevent me from earning my living as a journalist. They are also perhaps hoping that in the light of their constant, malicious attacks, I will decide that in order to have a ‘quiet life’, I will quit journalism. They could not be more wrong. Unlike them, my conscience is clear. The malicious attacks have only energised me and motivated me to work even harder to expose the lies and deceit which underpin the neo-con war machine.

Apparently Clark takes the view that while he has the right to publish controversial essays, any critical response is an attack on his free speech of a magnitude which should be compared (inevitably) with “Nazi Germany”. Here he is back in November at the Guardian:

Anyone who deviated from the official party line – as laid down by a self-appointed uber elite of British bloggers – faced a cyberspace lynch mob, more in keeping with Nazi Germany than a country which is supposed to pride itself on its support for free speech.

For the self-appointed uber elite of British political bloggers, the fact that someone, not of their number, and who did defy their three line-whip on the Iraqi interpreters issue – was nominated – and then won, in a free public vote, the title of “Best UK Blog” in the most prestigious prize in blogging, is too much to bear.

Sunny Hundal called my victory in the 2007 Weblog awards “bizarre”. Sunny has just started a blog which claims to be keen on democracy, yet he clearly doesn’t like it when people vote for someone whose views he does not approve of.

Clark at one point also issued a libel writ against Kamm, which was struck out by the court. Kamm now observes:

Possibly for this reason, after a sobering encounter with a leading libel lawyer whom I had retained for my defence and who rambunctiously explained to Mr Clark that his conduct represented an abuse of the legal process, he now prefers to waste police time at public expense.

Kamm has shrugged off Clark’s latest antics, and suggests that Clark’s writings are actions are “pathological”. While regretting the distress he has had to cause a troubled soul, he also makes the obvious point:

If you make your opinions public, then public scrutiny is what you will get (if you’re lucky).

While Clark is so far the only British blogger to have issued a libel writ against another blogger, he is not the only one to have made libel threats: as I’ve noted previously, the “libertarian” blogger Paul Staines has on more than one occasion made threats against bloggers (including, in one instance, demanding that the Liberal Conspiracy website remove a hyperlink to critical material, which is an area of British libel law not yet completely clear). Most recently, he roped in a blogger-solicitor ally named Donal Blaney in an attempt to make Tim Ireland reveal his home address.

The only case I’m aware of which comes close to Clark’s latest strategy against Kamm is a 2006 complaint to the police which the right-wing activist Mike Keith Smith made against a certain Ed Chilvers following an altercation on a discussion forum. The complaint was for “malicious communication”, but, according to Chilvers here, after making inquiries the investigating detective constable declined to proceed. As it happens, Clark was initially in part inspired to bring his libel action against Kamm by Smith’s victory in case he had brought against someone else.

2 Responses

  1. Very minor correction to your fair account: Mr Clark didn’t withdraw his purported writ against me. The presiding judge at the Oxford County Court struck out Mr Clark’s claim, with the forfeiture of Mr Clark’s court fee, after my laywers, Charles Russell LLP, pointed out that the action constituted an abuse of process.

  2. […] to follow up a meritless complaint against a blogger – in 2008 the journalist Oliver Kamm was contacted by the police after Neil Clark objected to Kamm’s scathing criticisms of Clark’s work […]

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