Nadine Dorries MP Reported Lib Dem Election Rival to Police for Harassment

In October last year, Nadine Dorries MP told Anglia Tonight that she had reported “four stalkers” to the police. Recently, Tim Ireland made a subject access request under the Data Protection Act to Bedfordshire Police in relation to this, and he was given a letter which Dorries had sent to the Chief Constable on 10 July 2010. The letter complained about four persons: three of them are bloggers and Twitter-users who had criticised her performance as an MP; the fourth, it transpires in Tim’s latest blog post, was her Liberal Democrat rival in the 2010 General Election:

[REDACTED BY POLICE], Tim Ireland and [REDACTED] talk about me almost all day and are arranging to meet with with others, in [REDACTED] which is where  I [REDACTED]  on the 20th of this month.

My former Liberal Democrat opponent remains more circumspect; however [REDACTED – read “she”] is part of the group. [She] Tweets as [REDACTED]

Tim’s name was not redacted as it was he who made the subject access request request for the letter. However, we can be sure that the other two persons in the first paragraph are the bloggers/Twitter-users “Mrs Humphrey Cushion” and Chris Paul, while the “Liberal Democrat opponent” is an obvious reference to Linda Jack, who Tweets as @Lindylooz (scroll to end of post to see further evidence that this is the correct identification). As Tim observes:

I hear this Linda person did all sorts of stalkerish things like distributing pamphlets and knocking on doors and disagreeing with Nadine Dorries and stuff. Who knows, she may even have deluded herself into thinking that she could one day replace a woman chosen by God to be an MP. How DARE she etc. etc. etc.

These are the “four stalkers”, whom Dorries wanted the police to suppress and criminalise. The hubris is astonishing.


Tim’s previous posts have dealt with Dorries accusations against himself and against Mrs Cushion (which led to vexatious visit from the police while Mrs Cushion was bedridden and in pain, following an operation which Dorries claims Mrs Cushion was lying about needing). Today’s post also deals with Chris Paul – Dorries complained to police that he had “apparently hung around outside my house”, and that “some people suggest [his]  interest is sexual”. Dorries supposedly got this information from “a journalist”, but Paul denied the claim on Twitter at the time:

@ChrispLOL FFS @nadine4mp. Last time in Woburn (once in 5 years) blogged pic of fabled Black Horse pub. NOT hanging round outside your huge farm.

Tim adds:

To be clear, [going near someone’s home] is not something I approve of (or enjoy) when it is done to intimidate, and I do not intimate or suggest for a moment that Chris Paul has been anywhere near Dorries home(s), but there are many circumstances that would make the investigation of any property this MP was living in an entirely legitimate exercise both morally and legally; many people suspect Dorries had been (almost) caught pretending to live in one place while actually living in another and that the hysterical noises she made were not there to ensure privacy or security, but instead to hide a pattern of behaviour that might reveal expenses fraud (which is what she would be guilty of if she had been claiming ‘second home’ expenses on a home she lived in most of the time). The former Mayor of Bedford (the late Frank Branston) once showed a passing interest in where Dorries lived. She smeared him as a stalker. A newspaper journalist once photographed the tiny gatehouse she claimed was her main home. She smeared him as a stalker. Chris Paul got a photo of the local pub. She smeared him as a stalker.

…There’s been some long-overdue talk about misogyny in online bullying lately, but this is the ugly flipside of that same coin; women pretending to be the focus of unwanted sexual attention in order to discredit and intimidate a critic.

Tim notes that Paul’s blog received several anonymous comments on 10 July 2010, which is the same date as Dorries’ letter. The first comment claims that “Mr Dorries” (sic – Paul’s post discussed her estranged husband) is “with the Police lodging a formal complaint”, while the second stated that:

Your blog and bloggerheads are both guilty under section 5. Your Twitter account and that of others you talk to are also guilty. Humphreycushion and others. I have no idea why Dorries hasn’t been to the police about the lot of you.

One thing for sure though, you will never see Peter Hands name anywhere, even though he was with Jacko today in Bedford firing her up. He will make sure nothing leads back to him when you are all payng your thousand pound fines.

Tim explains that whoever wrote this must have been aware of the letter’s contents – the letter also references Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. “Jacko” is again Linda Jack, while Peter Hand was a former Dorries staff member who had reported a £10,000 expenses claim to police.

Correction: I originally wrote that Tim had received the letter following a Freedom of Information request, rather than following a subject access request under the Data Protection Act.

Nadine Dorries MP Reported Disabled Twitter Critic to Police for Harassment


Mrs Humphrey Cushion writes on Tim Ireland’s blog:

On the night I finally had my foot operation (and was in tremendous pain & bed ridden for 3 days), 2 policemen burst into my bedroom (having scared my children into letting them in) and proceeded to attempt to bully me into accompanying them to the police station for an interview regarding Dorries’ stalking allegations. I refused, had fantastic advice from my great friend @Gaijinsan21 & no further action was taken. It was immediately obvious to the police that it was Nadine who was the liar of the piece. 

Mrs Cushion’s account comes following Tim Ireland’s publication of a second chunk of a letter which Nadine Dorries sent to the the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police on 10 July 2010, in which she complained about several persons who were inconveniencing her by subjecting her performance as an MP to critical scrutiny.

Yesterday’s chunk of the letter dealt with her general complaints against Tim and his blog – today deals with his presence at a hustings event in the village of Flitwick (pronounced “Flit-ick”), and with her accusation against Mrs Cushion.

Tim provides some background:

…Dorries had been seeking to shape hustings events to her advantage well before the Flitwick hustings event in May 2010. It was reported to me that she had denounced supporters of her opponents and other critics as ‘plants’ and ‘spies’ and even had alleged/imagined enemies forcibly ejected from her own private meetings.

…Concerned constituents wanted this final hustings event on record and made available to a wider audience, which is why they invited me to record and broadcast it.

Now, I do not deny that Dorries was properly frightened when she found out I was recording the meeting, but it had nothing to do with concerns about personal safety; Dorries was watching her political career flash before her eyes and would not be a politician if she did not immediately recognise the potential cost of my recording her response to any question(s) about her expenses two days before an election at a time when many suspected – and she knew – that she was under investigation for expenses fraud.

Dorries’ complaint about Tim’s presence at Flitwick led to a voluntary police interview in which it was determined that he had done nothing wrong; however, because of Dorries’ reaction he was warned that any further appearances might lead to some difficulties under laws covering harassment. Dorries and her allies deliberately misrepresented this as Tim having been warned about criminal conduct (all is explained here).

Dorries’ letter to the police links the Flitwick incident to Mrs Cushion:

He was informed of the meeting taking place by a woman known as [REDACTED BY POLICE] from [REDACTED]. [REDACTED – read “She”] also has a Twitter account in the name of [REDACTED, read @humphreycushion].

[REDACTED – read “She] also comments constantly on this site in a manner I can only describe as aggressive and written harassment.

Dorries gives no example of the “aggressive and written harassment” because – once again – she’s lying.

At this time, Mrs Cushion was indeed posting a large number of Tweets critical of Dorries (she is a activist for Labour, I believe as a result of Dorries’ antics), and Dorries was desperate to silence her: three months after writing this letter, Dorries went on to make a thoroughly malicious accusation of benefit fraud against her.

Mrs Cushion is a care-worker, but at the time of Dorries’ attack she was effectively disabled due to arthritis and she was waiting for an operation. Dorries insisted that if Mrs Cushion was well enough to be using Twitter to criticise her she couldn’t really be ill – and that her claim to be needing an operation was a lie:

Really? An operation on both feet for arthritis? Let’s put aside that surgeons never operate on both feet at the same time. This is a medical breakthrough. Hips and knees, yes, now feet! Amazing.  Twitter followers conned again.

In fact, Mrs Cushion indeed endured two painful procedures to her feet in order to get back to work, as I blogged here.

Dorries attempted to create a bit of distance from her smear against Mrs Cushion by leaking details to the pseudo-libertarian blogger Paul Staines (probably via Harry Cole, who knows Dorries and writes for Staines): a post attacking Mrs Cushion appeared on Staines’ website, and Dorries pretended that her own post on the subject was merely following his. Dorries was not only seeking to deceive readers of her blog – she was also insulting their intelligence.

It should be emphasised that Dorries’ reference to Mrs Cushion in her letter to police is not just an incidental detail in her case against Tim – in a statement to a news programme in October 2010 she made it very clear that she had reported “four stalkers” to the police. This fits with four persons who are named in the letter: Tim will be discussing her other two targets tomorrow.

Nadine Dorries MP: Using the Police to Undermine Democracy

Back in September, Nadine Dorries made an announcement on her blog:

Some time ago, Tim Ireland, who hosts a number of objectionable websites, was questioned for five hours by Bedfordshire Police. Under caution and on tape, he was given a warning as to how his actions could be construed in relation to Section 2 of the Harassment Act.

Before and after that interview I had a number of meetings with the Police at which notes were taken.

Weeks ago, Tim Ireland applied for and was sent the redacted notes using the FOI act [Freedom of Information Act]. I assume he will publish them…

I blogged on some of the content Tim received here. Tim has now indeed begun publishing the materials he has been given – which consist not of “notes”, but of the actual correspondence that Dorries sent to police.

Dorries’ complaint shows her to have a shocking sense of entitlement and to be worryingly detached from reality. Her tirades ought to be hugely embarrassing for those who have band-waggoned on her accusations for their own purposes: these include Conservative bloggers such as Iain Dale, lazy journalists who have used Dorries’ outbursts as a source of easy churnalism, and a gang of on-line thugs who subjected Tim to a campaign of abuse and threats of violence as some kind of vigilante vengeance.

This is of some direct interest to me: Dorries has close links with UK Christian Right lobby groups, but there’s also a personal aspect. The gang of thugs who targeted Tim have also attacked me for daring to object to their behaviour: I’ve had threatening and goading emails, abusive websites created about me, and even identity theft on Twitter. The man who organised these attacks, Charlie Flowers, is today associated with activism on behalf of the Quilliam Foundation and British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and he has referred them to Dorries’ public statements on Tim as evidence of why I deserve such treatment, since I am a friend of a “stalker”.

The first segment which Tim has published comes from  a letter dated 10 July 2010 – Dorries has claimed she reported Tim to police before this date, although she hasn’t gone into details. The letter is typed and on House of Commons notepaper, but it begins with a handwritten “Dear Gillian”; this is Gillian Parker, at that time Chief Constable for Bedfordshire Police:

Dear Gillian,

For a number of years I have been subjected to a huge volume of internet attack from three individuals.

It began when a blogger, Tim Ireland, took exception to my position on abortion and the Bill which I took through the House of Commons. His blog is called Bloggerheads and his Twitter account is of the same name.

I cannot have a Twitter account as he has taken every permutation of my name which would be possible for me to use.

His previous Vitim [sic] before me was the [REDACTED BY POLICE] however, he moved away from [REDACTED, ALTHOUGH FINAL LETTER “r” IS PARTIALLY VISIBLE – READ AS “her”] when I launched my Bill.

His web site is almost totally devoted to me and if you read back you can see it is obsessive and aggressive to say the least and contains almost 100% lies.

During the General Election he moved from being an internet stalker and travelled from Guildford in Surrey to gatecrash one of my hustings. He seems to be unable to accept the fact that as he is not my constituent, I am not answerable to him.

One notes that Dorries’ sweeping accusations manage to include irrelevant facts – such as the sinister detail that Tim travels by train – but fail to give any example of how Tim’s actions could be regarded as either threatening or personally intrusive.

This is because she is lying to the police in an attempt to use them to intimidate a member of the public from holding her to account as an MP.

Tim writes:

It is true that Dorries first earned my attention while expressing her opinion on abortion. I watched her make a false accusation against a critic right before she claimed a 21-week-old foetus had punched its way out of a womb and misled Parliament

Of course, Dorries didn’t actually use the phrase “punched its way of a womb” – this a satirical gloss on her use of the famous pro-life “Hand of Hope” photo, which was taken during an instance of in-utero surgery in the USA. A fetal hand is shown sticking through a surgical incision and resting adjacent to the surgeon’s finger; an “urban legend” has developed that the fetus had grabbed the surgeon’s finger (Ben Goldacre has the full story here). However, Dorries – a former nurse – pushed the tale even further:

…My second point is look at the tear in the uterus. See how jiggered it is just above the hand; and yet the rest of the surgically incised openings are controlled and neat. This is, in all likelihood, because the hand unexpectedly thrust out.

Tim also deals with Dorries’ other accusations:

The accusation of lying is especially insulting from someone who admits to using “70% fiction”on her ‘blog’ before changing her story and claiming she meant 30% fiction, and then changing her story again to say that she really meant no fiction at all, if one didn’t count the special lies she says the police advised her to publish to avoid the imaginary stalkers.

In particular, Dorries’ claims about not being able to have a Twitter account are easily shown to be a lie:

I have ONE account in the name of ‘Nadine Dorries’ and Dorries knows this. She has also seen this confirmed by authors of the other accounts using her name for a range of satirical vehicles. She also knows my and their use of this account name (and her name) is entirely legitimate… She shuns scrutiny to such an extent that she’s left Twitter in a huff twice now…

Dorries last deleted her Twitter account shortly after boasting that she was due to have a private meeting with the Prime Minister – whether there was a connection between the two events is unknown.

Among other matters, Tim’s subsequent posts will deal (once again) with the stalker smear, and with the other “individuals” she has accused. He’ll also revisit her claim that she has reported not just three, but “four stalkers” to police:

The four stalkers are three bloggers… and one big surprise. It is not a journalist, as previously thought. Details in an upcoming post. You’re going to love it. The sense of entitlement is off the scale.

The above is just a short summary focusing on some of the main points – for a proper understanding, I’d urge everyone to read Tim’s post.

(I’ve had a sneak preview; naturally, I won’t be giving any spoilers, but I will clarify that Dorries has not anywhere referred to me.)

Christian Concern Makes New Link at Nashville Anti-Islam Conference

Yesterday saw the anti-Islam “Preserving Freedom Conference” take place in Maury Davis’ Cornerstone Church in Nashville (see here and here for background). WorldNetDaily – which was one of the sponsors – has a long puff-piece on the event, which includes mention of the involvement of Paul Diamond:

Paul Diamond, a private lawyer in the United Kingdom and the director of international affairs for the legal action group Christian Concern, said he and his British colleagues are going to begin coordinating their legal efforts with the Tennessee Freedom Coalition.

He urged his American colleagues to engage in debate with “middle America,” referring to people such as lapsed Catholics and nonobservant Jews who are not informed “but are scared about where their country is going.”

Further details are available from the SPLC:

Paul Diamond, a British lawyer who advocates for Christian causes and describes himself as a “street fighter with a posh British accent,” spoke admiringly of “American exceptionalism” and his fears of a Muslim takeover of Europe. Diamond expressed hope that Christians in America and the U.K. would stand “shoulder to shoulder” to battle the dual enemies of Islam and anti-Christian sentiment, warning that “What’s happening in Europe could be coming to your state.”

Christian Concern already works closely with the Alliance Defense Fund, but a link to the TRC would more controversial: the TFC’s website urges us to “Join the Tennessee Freedom Coalition in supporting Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson)”, a “brave man” who is bringing “truth to light regarding the spread of radical Islam both in the United Kingdom and around the world”:

Click here to help relieve the cost of his legal services. We support him, and we support the EDL.

However, one alternative possibility is that WorldNetDaily‘s report has here confused the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, which took part in the “Preserving Freedom” event, with the Religious Freedom Coalition, which took charge of the conference after the original venue cancelled its booking (Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer claim that the relocated event is actually a new event altogether – a self-evident falsehood which they have spread for their own purposes). The RFC, which is run by William J. Murray (the evangelist son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair), would probably to be closer to Christian Concern’s particular interests than the unrelated TFC [UPDATE: In fact, it turns out the report was quite correct: Christian Concern is indeed making links with the TFC].

Some Brief Notes on the Poppy in 2011

It’s not often that I indulge in armchair punditry on a subject that is being widely discussed elsewhere, but I’d like to make a few of observations on this:

Wales footballers have been given clearance to wear poppies on their black arm bands during the international with Norway on Saturday.

Governing body Fifa had earlier blocked both Wales and England from wearing poppies over the Remembrance weekend.

But after intense pressure from the UK government, and the intervention of Prince William as FA president, Fifa has backed down and changed its rules.

The interesting aspect of this is that remembrance poppies and FIFA have both been around since the the early years of the last century, and yet only in 2011 has this become an issue; as others have noted, an England match against Argentina on 11 November 2005 went ahead poppy-less and without controversy. According to an unnamed FA spokesman:

“…a greater focus has been given to the level of support and respect shown by the national teams [over the past five years.]… Since 2005, our clubs have all begun to wear poppies on their match shirts in domestic games for the early part of November as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives serving their country.”

The most obvious reason for this trend is doubtless the continuing roll-call of British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but a few other factors ought to be considered:

(1) As I’ve written before, Britain is a society in the process of trying to adapt to an individualistic culture in which people increasingly feel that their their professional lives should not completely stifle their sense of identity. This isn’t a bad development: terrible things have happened because people gave up any sense of individual responsibility once they were given a uniform and a job to do. Britain is not France, and it has long been recognised that there should be some accommodation for personal conscience and cultural difference. It is therefore not surprising to see national organisations asking for the same sort of flexibility at the international level.

(2) The last few years have seen one economic crisis after another. There’s not much that we can do about the decline of Britain’s standing and power in the face of global forces, but we can adopt a more assertive attitude on matters of national pride. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself – some might dismiss it as psychological compensation, but it might also be seen as a re-connection with other priorities. However, it can have an unattractive side, as Alex Massie notes in the Spectator:

…When contestants on the X-Factor use the poppy as some kind of fashion accessory you know something grim has happened to the annual acts of remembrance…

There is, alas, something vulgar about this craving to be seen to show how much you care. Never mind how much you really care, just be seen to be seen to be caring. “Poppy fascism” is a revolting term but there’s also something pretty ghastly about “Poppy Monitoring” and the subsequent excoriation of anyone deemed to have “disrespected” the poppy, the dead and by extension Britain itself.

Marina Hyde discusses one example in the Guardian:

With a tedious inevitability, the Daily Mail’s campaign to divide the whole of Britain into people who wear poppies and people who are subhuman scumbags has reached the Premier League… In case you are not familiar with what we would be encouraged to refer to as “the growing row”, the facts are these. At the time of writing 15 Premier League clubs have applied for special dispensation to embroider a poppy on their shirts for games between now and Remembrance Sunday, while – far more thrillingly for the Mail – five clubs have not. 

(3) The poppy symbol came under attack a year ago, when a large model of a poppy was publicly burnt in London by members Anjem Choudary’s Muslims Against Crusades (MAC). This provoked widespread revulsion and anger, which has in turn perhaps helped to further consolidate public attitudes that the poppy is something that should be actively stood up for.

MAC was banned as of midnight last night on the following grounds:

Theresa May said she was satisfied the group was “simply another name for an organisation already proscribed under a number of names” including Al Ghurabaa, The Saved Sect, Al Muhajiroun and Islam4UK.

“The organisation was proscribed in 2006 for glorifying terrorism and we are clear it should not be able to continue these activities by simply changing its name,” she said.

However, the timing of May’s “satisfaction” was obviously related to MAC’s plan to repeat the poppy stunt (in an event called “Hell for Heroes”); we’ve all known from the beginning what Choudary has been up to with his various re-branded groups.

As a poster on Harry’s Place notes:

Either it isn’t possible to escape a ban by changing a group’s name – in which case, a criminal case should be brought against Muslims Against Crusades as a reincarnation of other banned groups – or it is.

If the Government believes it is possible to circumvent a ban by changing a group’s name, then there’s no point in introducing a new banning order. Is there?

Clearly, the new banning order has been brought in as a quick fix to prevent public disorder today, and in response to the public mood. But why hasn’t a criminal case ever been brought?

Walid Shoebat’s Handler Attacks Open Doors and Other Christian Charities

Back in June and July I wrote about “Rescue Christians”, an organisation created by Walid Shoebat and his handler Keith Davies with the aim of providing safe houses for persecuted Christians in Pakistan and elsewhere. Shoebat’s friend Joel Richardson reports that he has spoken with at least one unnamed man who has been working on the issue in Pakistan, but Shoebat’s publicity linked the organisation to specific high-profile cases:

Qamar David’s family are regularly been threatened by the Islamic extremists, therefore they are kept in hiding by RC. Same in the Case of Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel and Fanish Robert.

As I noted when I first read this, the Emmanuel brothers were gunned down in court premises in July 2010. Robert died in police custody in September 2009 in circumstances that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan described as “judicial murder”, while David died in suspicious circumstances in prison in February 2010. These are cases which have received international media attention, yet for some reason the role of Rescue Christians, and the specific details reported above, have not been reported anywhere.

I raised concerns about accountability, and I asked a few questions: why would Christians in Pakistan not turn to an organisation such as Open Doors or Release International, which have a track-record in this area, rather than a man known only for anti-Muslim punditry? And why is there no apparent liaison with groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide or International Christian Concern, which have both worked on the specific cases mentioned by Rescue Christians?

Shoebat’s handler Keith Davies has now stopped by with an explanation:

Mission Statement of Open Doors and all the other so called “reputable” aid charities for Christians:

“Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide; We are an organization aimed at strengthening persecuted believers worldwide through community development, Bible & literature distribution, leadership training & education and ministries of prayer and advocacy.”

Notice there is no mention of actual rescue work. How can distributing Bibles save peoples’ lives. That is like giving Jews a copy of the five books of Moses before being herded into the gas chamber. The only reason we took on this work Mr Bartholomew is we went to all these organizations that are “reputable” and asked them to save one family we were working with but every one refused. All Open Doors wish to do is collect money to pay their directors wonderful salaries in order to make people “aware” and pray. Not one organization we approached out of the 5 “reputable” ones had any interest in giving practical assistance to families needing help. So we decided to do something ourselves. We take zero as a salary and 100% of the money is used to help the Christians with the money going directly to each family wired by Western Union. Our registered NGO who replicates the work of Rauol Wallenberg sets up the safe houses and coordinates the distribution of money. He himself is under threat and was recently physically attacked sustaining a broken arm and severe bruising, his camera equipment and money stolen

We have on record for any major donor that wishes to support “Rescue Christians” as well as for the IRS if they feel it necessary to check every dollar we have spent and who it was sent to…

In fact, both the British and American websites for Open Doors make numerous references to “safe houses” operated by the organisation.

If organisations such as Open Doors have “refused” to help with Shoebat and Davies’ project, I suspect that this is because of the controversy around Shoebat: not just the questions about his past and activities, but his excessive utterances as an anti-Islam activist: after all, this is the man who claims that Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist, and who wishes there were more violent extremists so that “nukes” could be deployed against “the Muslim world”.

The Rescue Christians website has now for some reason disappeared.

Daily Mail Corrects Melanie Phillips on “Winterval”

Journalist previously threatened blogger with libel action for making same correction

September 2011: In the Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips writes about the “onslaught” against Christians in Britain, observing that:

Thus Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

Kevin Arscott of the Angry Mob blog picked her up on this, noting that:

No, Melanie, it has never been renamed Winterval. It didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen in one solitary council in Birmingham in 1997.

Whilst you eagerly await 2011’s roll call of terrible hacks, feel free to re-read (or read for the first time) and share my essay on Winterval.

He also brought this to her attention by email, and wrote a follow-up post based on her response. Phillips, who also railed against Winterval as the “censorship” of Christians, immediately made a libel threat:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. 

November 2011: The Daily Mail adds a correction to Phillips’ column:

A previous version of this article stated that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

A version of the correction has also appeared on the Mail’s corrections page, although it begins with a corporate “We” rather than using Phillips’ name and it gives the date of publication as having been 26 September: Phillips’ piece was published on-line the day before.

However, Bob Haywood, who wrote the first article on the subject of “Winterval” back in 1997, has left a statement on the Press Gazette website:

I’m all in favour of killing off urban myths – but Winterval isn’t one of them. I am the journalist who broke the Winterval tale in 1998 – and I’m proud of it. More importantly, it was entirely accurate. There has been an insidious attempt of late to undermine this story, presumably in the hope that those who know the truth are long since gone. Previously, I have remained silent. But now that even the Daily Mail is apologising for it, let’s have the truth. In the run-up to Christmas 1998, I was a staffer on the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham and we exclusively reported – as the splash – the fact that the aptly-named Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer, was furious that Winterval had been adopted as the umbrella name for the city’s festive celebrations. Birmingham City Council moaned then – and has been moaning off and on ever since – that its dreadfully-uninspired slogan had been misrepresented. This from a local authority which ruled five years earlier that its Christmas lights must be called “festive lights”. I didn’t seek out Bishop Santer; his remarks were made in a newsletter sent to parishes throughout the diocese – and reported verbatim in the Sunday Mercury, along with comments from the city council. Other newspapers and journalists may since have taken liberties with my tale but I stand by the original. One final thought: if Birmingham City Council’s vastly-overpaid marketing department was so comfortable with the Winterval tag, why did it abandon the absurd concoction the following Christmas  – and every Christmas since?

Other commentators remain unconvinced:

No one is saying Winterval didn’t happen. They have  complained that it did not rename or replace Christmas. That is the Winterval Myth. From your comment, you seem to stand by a story which reported that a Bishop was angry at Winterval. That’s true, he was. But Santer was complaining that Christmas wasn’t being called Christmas any more, because of Winterval. That simply isn’t true, as the Winterval  posters that can be found on Wikipedia proves. Far from ‘moaning’ the Council are rigth WInterval was misrepresented and have made clear that:

there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Phillips’ use of the Winterval  story was part of larger campaign by the Mail to whip up hysteria over the use of “BCE” and “CE” rather than “BC” and “AD” on part of the BBC website. That was a load of nonsense too, as I blogged here.

(H/T Stephen Baxter, and to comment on his blog by Andy Mabbett)

The Order of Saint John: The Grand Master Writes

Somewhat to my surprise, I have received an email from Nicholas Papanicolaou, Prince Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order (OSJ), and a close associate of Christian Right “A-Listers” such as Gen William “Jerry” Boykin and Rick Joyner. The Grand Master is also a co-founder the World Public Forum, which holds international-level conferences involving academics, politicians, and religious leaders.

The Grand Master was prompted to write following a post I wrote concerning a trademark dispute between the Ecumenical Order and the better-known Roman Catholic Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). The facts of the dispute, which was recently heard in a US district court in Florida, hinged on events in 1798, when Napoleon invaded Malta. The Knights of Malta left the island, and at that time the Russian Tsar, Paul I, became the new Grand Master. From SMOM’s perspective, this was an unhappy interlude, described by the historian Jonathan Riley-Smith as an “illegitimate and eccentric grand mastership” (1). On Tsar Paul’s death, Pope Pius VII appointed Giovanni Battista Tommasi as his successor Grand Master, and SMOM is today based in Rome. By contrast, the OSJ perspective claims a legitimate continuation of the order in Russia, followed by a transfer to the USA at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Grand Master of the Ecumenical Order has asked me to take account of the origins of the Order, which was founded as a hospital for sick and weak pilgrims in Jerusalem in the mid-eleventh century (the traditional date is 1048, although historians are less clear about the exact year). Although the founders were merchants from Amalfi, their initiative (which included a Latin chapel) dated from before the Great Schism of 1054 between the Latin Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Christians. The Grand Master further tells me that the Order was established with the approval of Michael I Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (I haven’t been able to confirm this detail), while it was not confirmed as a Catholic Order by the Pope until 1113, following the Latin invasion of 1099. The Grand Master tells me that the Order of Saint John was therefore “clearly established as an Orthodox Order”. The OSJ recognises SMOM as a legitimate Catholic organisation, but it cannot claim to be the sole expression of the Order. The implication is that the move to Russian patronage in 1798 was by no means “illegitimate”, as Riley-Smith asserts.

I can anticipate some counter-arguments. First, although the Great Schism was in 1054, it did not come from nowhere: Greek and Latin Christians belonged to differing intellectual cultures, and there were already serious theological differences when the hospital was founded. Second, although the Patriarch of Constantinople may have approved the hospital, it was for pilgrims from the Latin west, and there was no Orthodox interest in its development afterwards. The gap to Tsar Paul is 800 years. Third, it is difficult to see the chapel and hospital constituting a chivalric order in the early decades: there was no military aspect, and there was no Grand Master until 1070.

It is also worth noting the existence of an Orthodox Order founded in Cyprus in 1972 by Archbishop Makarios. Makarios also appealed to pre-1054 origins: he regarded the Amalfi hospital as being the revival of a hospital created by Pope Gregory I in 603, and he pointed out that Amalfi had formerly been under Byzantine rule. However, Makarios regarded his Orthodox Order as something new, albeit “in the spirit of the old Graeco-Russian Grand Priory” of Tsar Paul I.

It seems to be a matter of perspective: disparate historical events can be shaped into more than one narrative. Perhaps a more serious difficulty faced by the OSJ is the thread from Tsar Paul I in 1798 to the USA more than a hundred years later. Russian hereditary knights established a Russian Grand Priory in Paris after 1917, but there is no link with the USA; the OSJ claims that Grand Duke Alexander brought the Order from Russia to the USA, but SMOM’s supporters, and others, dismiss this as a fiction created by a  far-right activist named Charles Pichel in the 1950s.

(1) Jonathan Riley-Smith (2007), “Towards a History of Military-Religious Orders”, in Karl Borchardt, Nikolas Jaspert, Helen J. Nicholson (eds), The Hospitallers, the Mediterranean and Europe: Festschrift for Anthony Luttrell (Ashgate: Aldershot), pp. 269-284.

Report on New Nashville Anti-Shariah Conference Angers Geller and Spencer

From Bob Smietana at the Tennessean:

Nashville’s anti-Shariah conference now has a new place and a new name.

Cornerstone Church in Madison agreed to host the Nov. 11 conference after its contract with Hutton Hotel in Nashville was canceled. Hotel management cited concerns about protests and safety. Organizers said the hotel is censoring their views on Islam.

The conference, once called the Preserving Freedom Conference, is now called the Constitution or Sharia Conference.

Conference organizer William Murray said 300 people are signed up for the Nov. 11 event — more than were registered before the cancellation…

…The Rev. Maury Davis of Cornerstone said he agreed to host the conference because he wants to learn more about Shariah law and its impact on American culture. Earlier this year, the church hosted a speech by Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who is highly critical of Islam.

I blogged on the planned Hutton Hotel event back in September (Paul Diamond of the UK Christian Legal Centre was one of the listed participants), and on Wilders’ visit to the Cornerstone Church here. Events involving Geller have also recently been turned away from the Hyatt Place Houston and the Foyer de l’Etudiant Catholique in Strasbourg.

Smietana’s report has angered Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller – Geller writes that:

…I have been invited to speak at the new conference, but right now I’m more concerned with the marginalization and ghettoizing of our message of freedom. I am not going to consent to the attempts of the Left and Islamic supremacists to drive our defense of freedom from public spaces.”

Smietana has it wrong — it was not moved it was canceled. Cornerstone is an altogether different event.

Inevitably, both claim that Smietana has conflated the two events because he’s “notoriously pro-jihad, anti-freedom”, and allegedly in league with the “Hamas-tied, anti-Jewish group CAIR” – Geller and Spencer always precede every mention of those they consider hostile with ritual lists of accusations and abuse [See update below for more on this].

One can understand why Geller and Spencer are so adamant that the “Shariah Conference” is not the “Preserving Freedom” conference under another name: the Hutton Hotel cancellation has generated considerable media interest, and a relocation to Davis’s church would again highlight their problematic relationship with the Christian Right. Back in 2010, their association with Martin Mawyer of the Christian Action Network did not end well, due to public attention on Mawyers’ fulminations against homosexuality; Davis takes an authoritarian line on the same issue:

…Our founding fathers never considered constitutional rights to include socially destructive and morally deviant behavior. Rest assured, homosexuality was considered a perversion by our founding fathers and by most generations of Americans until recent media pollution clouded the issue. 

One person recently told me that a person cannot legislate morality. I totally disagree! Our founding fathers expected not only to create a Democratic society, but a society with morals based in the Christian religion…

Davis is also personally controversial, having served time for killing a middle-aged woman in 1975 (his knife reportedly nearly decapitated his victim).

William J. Murray, meanwhile, runs the Religious Freedom Coalition – he is famous as the evangelist son of of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and he was also due to speak at the “Preserving Freedom” conference. Back in May, he made something of a spectacle of himself at the launch of Janet Porter’s “Israel You’re Not Alone” campaign, which was held at the National Press Club in Washington. By a strange co-incidence, the event  followed a room booking by the Council for the National Interest, which opposes pro-Israeli lobbies and policies. Some heated discussion occurred when the two groups met, in particular a spat between Murray and the CNI’s Alison Weir (website tag-line: “I am not the British historian, please stop threatening her”). Murray accused Weir of hating Jews, and Weir responded by filming Murray on her camera; Murray then smacked the camera out of her hand and across the room, prompting Gen William “Jerry” Boykin, who was standing next to him, to head discretely for the exit.

UPDATE: The website of the Shariah Awareness Action Network announced on 31 October that

National Conference Relocated

The Sharia Awareness Action Network has changed the venue of it’s Preserving Freedom Conference: The Constitutuion or Sharia to… Cornerstone Church


Because of the unjustified cancellation by the Hutton Hotel there will be no banquet. The total registration fee has been dropped from $75.00 to $20.00 which includes lunch.

Meanwhile, Don Feder, who was listed as the “project coordinator” for the original conference, issued a press release on 27 October stating that:

In a demand letter to an executive of the Hutton Hotel, an attorney for “The Constitution or Shariah: Preserving Freedom Conference” says the hotel “has unjustifiably and improperly cancelled the contract to provide the venue for this conference” and promises to “pursue all available remedies.”

…The conference webpage is For more information or to schedule an interview William Murray, contact Don Feder.

That weblink automatically re-directs to the SAAN website.

So, both the old conference and the new conference use the “Constitution or Shariah” name; the line-up is largely the same; and a website officially associated with the original conference and the new conference calls it a “relocation” and talks about the price having been “dropped” due to the Hutton Hotel cancellation.

It would appear that Geller and Spencer’s claim that Smietana “has it wrong” is a barefaced lie – and that behind the scenes there may be some tensions within the wider anti-Shariah “movement”.