Andrew Bostom and WND Mislead on Vaccines and Islam

(Amended post: I originally failed to notice that the WND author had conflated Somali-Americans with Somali refugees)

From WND:

An outbreak of measles is sweeping through a community of Somali refugees in Minnesota and the growing number of cases may be starting to test the limits of the Hennepin County healthcare system.

…Dr. Andrew Bostom, M.D., an academic internist specializing in general internal medicine who has also authored several books about the history of Islam, said Muslim communities often prove difficult to convince that vaccinations are appropriate for their children.

“The case against vaccinations is first an Islamic one,” he said, citing a 2011 article by Dr. Majid Katme, spokesman for the Islamic Medical Association in the United Kingdom.

“We are giving our innocent children haram [forbidden] substances and harmful chemicals that destroy their natural immune systems, causing disease, suffering and death,” Dr. Katme wrote. (1)

The article, by WND‘s Leo Hohmann, was originally titled “Measles Outbreak among Somali Refugees Stretches Minneapolis Health System”, but this has since been amended to “Quran Blamed in New U.S. Disease Outbreak”.

It should be noted that other reports refer to “Somali-Americans” rather than “Somali refugees”, and it seems more likely that this is the case: from the rest of Hohmann’s article, it seems that he has chosen to portray the patients as “refugees” in order to promote Donald Trump’s thwarted travel restriction proposals.

It is the case that measles vaccination rates among Somali-Americans in Minnesota are low – but this is something that is local, and that has happened over the past ten years. It’s theoretically possible that Majid Katme’s view about what is “haram” may have played a role, but if so, neither Hohmann nor Bostom provide any evidence of it, and I’m doubtful.

A more immediate cause appears to be first-hand contact between Somali-Americans in Minnesota and the discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield. Of course, a community might have been predisposed to welcoming Wakefield’s anti-vaccination theories due to a pre-existing religious objection to vaccines, but this seems unlikely to be the case here given that in 2004 the vaccination rate among Minnesota-born Somalis was at 92%.

Ironically, it may be that Somali refugees are better protected: although some vaccine resistance has been reported in Somalia, the authorities have run vaccination programmes without without encountering serious problems. More generally, although Islamists have opposed vaccines in some parts of the Muslim world (as blogged here), the mainstream Muslim view, as expressed by the Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication – and apparently endorsed by the OIC – is that “routine childhood vaccinations” are “a life-saving tool which protects children” and that vaccination “fully conforms to Islamic rulings.”

Somali-Americans in Minnesota are far from being the only group to have shunned the measles vaccine: in one particular case in 2005, a returning missionary from Romania brought measles to churchgoers in Indiana. A subsequent study confirmed that the patients had been concerned “about adverse events, particularly related to media reports of a putative association between vaccinations and autism”.

WND has sent out mixed messages on the subject of vaccines; on the one hand, it has run pieces by a libertarian named Phil Elmore with titles such as “Don’t Buy the Vaccines-Autism Myth”, and in February 2015 it published a column by Ben Carson stating that “there is no substantial risk from vaccines, and… the benefits are very significant”. However, the site’s more typical output has been fearmongering headlines such as “Measles Vaccines Kill more than Measles”, which was followed by “Stunner! Whistleblower Claims Feds Hiding Vaccine-Autism Link” and “Big Pharma-CDC Lie On Vaccines” (among others).

Further, in 2007, WND‘s tie-in print publication Whistleblower ran a special issue on “Scary Medicine: Exposing The Dark Side of Vaccines”. Contributors included one Dr Sherri Tenpenny, who is on the board of directors of the “International Medical Council on Vaccination”. The council has a website, which includes among its resources… the very screed by Majid Katme quoted by Hohmann and Bostom!

UPDATE: ABC News has run a piece on the issue, under the headline “In Minnesota’s Worst Measles Outbreak, a Battle of Beliefs over Vaccines”. It includes the following:

On Sunday, a nonprofit group that has questioned vaccine safety held a meeting for the Somali community [in Minnesota] to advise them about their rights to decline vaccinations based on their beliefs.

Patti Carroll, the director of outreach for the non-profit group called the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, said the goal was to inform parents of their rights and that they could decline recommended vaccinations even during an ongoing measles outbreak.

…Mark Blaxill spoke at the meeting on Sunday, aimed at parents in the Somali community, according to ABC affiliate KSTP, and told parents they could refuse vaccinations and still have their children attend daycare and receive benefits.

WND re-published the first three paragraphs of the article, and provided a link for the rest. However, WND has also changed the headline; while the ABC News report refers to “Somali Minnesotans”, WND headlines the article as “Somali-Muslims at Center of New Vaccine Battle” – thus maintaining the bogus refugee and religion angles while implying that Minnesotans of Somali birth or heritage are not “really” Minnesotans.


(1) Katme actually used the spelling variation haaram, and “forbidden” appears to have been in the original source:

We are giving our innocent children haraam (forbidden) substances and harmful chemicals that destroy their natural immune systems, causing disease, suffering and death.

Former EDL Leader Shows Up on Zelo Street‘s Doorstep at 10pm*

*UPDATE (17 May): In a new video, Robinson claims that his visitation in fact occurred at 8.43pm

At Zelo Street, my friend Tim Fenton reports on an unwelcome visitor:

…[T]here was loud and persistent banging at the front door, high-intensity lights were shone into the front windows, and when I went to see what was kicking off – it wasn’t going to be an election canvasser or the Witnesses at 2200 hours – one of those high-intensity lights was shone into my face as [former English Defence League head man Tommy] Robinson introduced himself.

He wanted to ask me one question. He claimed I had “written lies about him“. He would come back, and keep coming back, until I answered him, which suggests someone has sufficient time and money on his hands to keep on making 300 mile round trips to Crewe on the off-chance of finding someone at home. After the front door was shut in his face, the hammering and shouting continued.

The confrontation was a stunt by Robinson in association with Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media – in recent weeks Robinson has been making numerous videos in the company of one Caolan Robertson, who heads the UK branch of Levant’s operation. In March, Rebel Media gleefully reported on Robinson’s negative reception at a London Stand Up To Racism rally; and earlier this month, Robinson (civilly) doorstepped a student who had used Twitter to call for his murder. Robinson has also visited a newspaper office to air grievances about being labelled “far right”, a video of which is in the works.

In Tim’s case, it seems (although this is something we must infer) that Robinson objected to being called a “racist bigot” in a blog post from 8 April in which Tim criticised the Spectator for running a soft-ball interview with Robinson by James Delingpole. For the record, I don’t think that Robinson is racially prejudiced, but his continuing activism against Islam is characterised by sensationalism and inflammatory interventions – as was seen when he showed up at the scene of last month’s Westminster attack. And while I wouldn’t want to reduce someone to the most regrettable thing they’ve said or done, the fact that he was filmed joking about the Anders Breivik massacre while drunk a few years ago does not leave an impression of moderation.

However, Tim is hardly the first person to describe Robinson with the “R” word – it’s something that he gets a lot, as he lamented to James Whale in January. From an earlier video, it seems that Robinson visited Crewe while en route to Dewsbury, but even so, such an extensive detour seems a somewhat disproportionate reaction given Robinson’s profile. Tim’s blog has only ever mentioned Robinson a couple of times over eight years, and so far as I can see there is nothing by Tim on Robinson among his writings for Byline Media. It’s a surprise that the post even caught Robinson’s notice, let alone that he would feel the need to research the author and travel in pursuit of him. Oddly, Robinson kept referring to Tim as “Paul”, which is a given first name that he doesn’t use. It’s as if Robinson had only a vague idea about who he was off to meet.

Perhaps Tim’s post was brought to Robinson’s particular attention by someone – Tim has annoyed a number of tabloid and right-wing media figures over the years, and there have been intimidatory consequences in the past – examples include an abusive and intrusive attack blog (anonymous, but praised by Delingpole) and a series of anonymous letters from a supposed “Blog Complaints Commission”.

Of course, though, going after Tim also serves a more general purpose for Robinson, demonstrating to other potential critics that they risk family intrusion and doxxing. This was not a serious attempt to “engage” or remonstrate over a grievance – it was a gratuitous and thuggish stunt at an unreasonable hour for the benefit of a fan base (whose unpleasant social media effusions in response to it are noted in Tim’s new post).

UPDATE: Robinson published his video on 17 May; for some reason, he puts quote-marks around Tim’s name, and he describes him as a Guardian journalist. But Tim has never written for the Guardian, although he’s been quoted a few times and was even interviewed once.

UPDATE 2: On the question of whether Robinson can legitimately be called “far right”, a post by Joe Mulhall for Hope Not Hate draws attention to some pertinent associations:

Pictures have emerged of [Robinson] and Caolan Robertson having drinks with Britain First leaders Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding.

It seems that, rather than for any concern over the extreme tactics deployed by BF, Yaxley-Lennon’s previous reticence to cooperate with the group was the result of his “beef” [quarrel] with former BF leading member Jim Dowson. In a recent Q&A video he called Dowson “a grass” [informant]…

I previously blogged on Golding and Dowson here. Britain First is an offshoot of the BNP – in an interview with Andrew Neil, Golding explained that he had left the BNP over corruption, rather than because of an ideological rethink.

Mulhall also notes that after the confrontation at Tim Fenton’s house, Robinson (Mulhall refers to him by his legal name of Yaxley-Lennon) “then proceeded to storm the offices of a South Wales newspaper alongside George Llewelyn-John of The New Brit and Rebel Media.”

The New Brit appears to be Caolan Robertson’s venture, running parallel to his Rebel Media work – also involved is Jack Buckby, of Paul Weston’s Liberty GB party (blogged here).

Police Consulted “Dissociative Identity Disorder” Therapist In Ted Heath Abuse Probe

From the Daily Mail:

The farce over the Sir Edward Heath child abuse inquiry grew yesterday as it emerged that a member of an independent panel scrutinising the probe has been paid to help on the case.

Dr Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist who specialises in abuse and trauma, received £2,025 for advising Wiltshire Police about two individuals who have made allegations against the late Tory prime minister.

The force subsequently asked her to join a panel of four looking at all aspects of the Operation Conifer probe to help police chiefs ‘consider the ongoing proportionality and justification for the investigation’.

The report goes on to add that Hanson denies any conflict of interest.

It is not known for sure if the “two individuals” she was asked about pertain to the Satanic Ritual Abuse claims against Heath or some other strand of the investigation, but it’s a reasonable assumption: another expert consulted by police stated last week that the SRA claims were “the core strand” that Wiltshire Police “wanted to use to prove Ted Heath’s guilt”.

Further, Hanson is actually a specialist in “Dissociative Identity Disorder”, a diagnosis that implies memories that have been repressed due to trauma, usually childhood sexual abuse. We know that the Heath SRA accusers were a “group” of women, and that the main accuser underwent recovered memory therapy in Canada.

It seems unlikely that Hanson would have advised the police to exercise caution: just last month she gave a presentation at a conference organised by the European Society for Trauma and Dissociation (ESTD), where other speakers included Peter Garsden, a firm believer in the “sacrifce of children” by “secret societies” (as blogged here) and three members of the Ritual Abuse Information Network and Support (RAINS, previously blogged here).

Supposed “recovered memories” have formed the basis for numerous allegations  of Satanic Ritual Abuse. Some background here is provided by by Jeffrey Victor in his 1993 book Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend:

MPD [Multiple Personality Disorder, the old name for Dissociative Identity Disorder] psychotherapists are faced with an ambiguous problem in need of a clear explanation… The Satanic cult legend serves as a substitute for “hard news”, that is, a substitute for a decisive discovery of a cause for the ambiguous symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder… There is good evidence that MPD patients have a chameleon-like, manipulative personality and feed therapists the kind of stories they feel therapists want to hear. (p. 93)


The “survivor” stories were first given credibility when leading MPD psychiatric authorities publicly professed belief in their plausibility. This happened at the firat national conference of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality disorder, in 1984. Once authority figures lent credibility to the stories, the process of consensual validation, operating through the psychiatric communication network, reinforced the credibility of the stories. In this network, normal open and public scientific criticism and dispute is discouraged.

…Believing therapists have been articulating the Satanic cult legend in great detail for years, since the mid-1980s, without publishing any empirical research findings in juried scientific journals where the findings can be subjected to scientific cross-examination. (pp. 93-94, 95)

I speculated on how such networks may provide a link between old SRA claims and new false sex abuse allegations against public figures in the UK here.

It is perhaps also relevant to note that at the start of 2016 Hanson gave a presentation at an exhibition called “The Wall of Silence”, which was created to highlight the testimonies of child abuse survivors. One of the exhibition’s promoters, a nurse named Sue Crocombe, believes that Heath must be guilty of sex abuse, and the exhibition blurb makes special reference to “powerful people” supposedly being involved in child sex abuse. This is based on the testimony of the exhibition’s “exemplar” survivor, a man who has made extravagant allegations against politicians.

UPDATE (March 2021): A related op-ed by Richard Hoskins has since been withdrawn by the Mail on Sunday as part of a libel settlement after a claim was brought by Hanson. Her legal representative is quoted in Press Gazette:

“Contrary to what the article alleged, Dr Hanson had not organised the [Wall of Silence] event, did not know Beech would be attending when she accepted an invitation to speak, and, Dr Hanson believes, learned that fact either shortly before or on the day…

“She met Beech at the event, speaking briefly with him in person for the first – and only – time that day for a couple of minutes…”


“Dr Hanson did not in fact express a prejudicial view about Sir Edward Heath prior to joining the Operation Conifer scrutiny panel, as the article also alleged…”

Expert: Satanic Ritual Abuse Claims are the “Core Strand” of Wiltshire Police Investigation into Edward Heath

Friday’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4 included a segment on Wiltshire Police’s sex abuse investigation into the former Prime Minister Edward Heath, focusing on Richard Hoskins, a criminologist who (as Rachel Hoskins) went public in November with concerns about how the probe was being conducted. A number of allegations against Heath, who died in 2005, appeared in tabloid newspapers in 2015, as I discussed here; Hoskins revealed that the investigation also included a remarkable claim of Satanic Ritual Abuse, involving not just child abuse but also murder.

The interview clarifies that, according to Hoskins, the SRA claims are the “core strand” of the investigation, rather than just being an outlier. Hoskins was asked onto the programme after it was announced that two people who had been arrested in relation to the inquiry have now been released from bail without charge. The arrests had been announced in November following criticism of the investigation, although they are believed to have occurred some weeks beforehand.

Details of the arrests are scarce, although it has been reported (a) that they “related to child protection and not perverting the course of justice”; and (b) that the two individuals “did not know Sir Edward and had never met or worked with him or in politics”. The Sun refers specifically to “two men”, although that may just be an assumption.  In my opinion, it is very likely that the two arrests relate to the SRA allegations, first made against them by a family member some years ago and now resurrected in the context of the investigation into Heath (as discussed by me here).

A full transcript of the interview is given below, with some annotations. The audio begins at 2 hours 33 minutes into the programme, and the interviewer was Mishal Husain. I’ve highlighted the “core strand” comment.


I’ve investigated something like nearly 200 criminal investigations over the last 15 years, and so I’ve developed an expertise in the area of ritual crime [1]. So, I’m well-known for working in this area. And Wiltshire Police found that they thought there were elements of ritualistic crime within this enquiry.

And what did you find when you started looking into the evidence available?

Well, I was presented with two large dossiers, one on the Wiltshire Police investigation and another on the historic Westminster VIP paedophile enquiry. The reason that I had both dossiers is because there were overlaps and people named in one enquiry were named in another. And as I looked into it, I found a series of very questionable evidence, and so I began to probe into that. I approached the whole thing with an open mind, as I always do, but I began to find that the evidence didn’t look strong to me.

Why not?

Well, there were issues here about how the evidence had come to light in the first place, and as with the Westminster VIP paedophile enquiry, where we know it all went back to one sole source, Nick [2], there was an issue here about the way that the evidence in the Wiltshire enquiry went back to, effectively a sole source who had recovered memories from the 1980s [3]. So, this immediately led to me making comparisons, valid comparisons with the 1980s Satanic Ritual Abuse panic.

Just explain what recovered memories are.

OK, well this is where people who have gone through trauma regain memory that they have blocked out. And that’s a genuine thing, it does happen. The trouble is the role of some psychotherapists, and we have to say “some” here, especially under hypnosis, as happened in this case, leads to questions when we’re dealing with criminal cases.

And you thought that that meant this was not credible, the evidence before you.

I am certain that the evidence was not credible, with which I was presented, because there were serious question marks – which I can’t go into all the details here, because some parts of the report remain confidential – but there were serious question marks about the way the memories were recovered.

But in itself the evidence was fantastical. We were… I counted I think 21 murders apparently that had taken place, some of which involved Edward Heath in broad daylight in English churchyards, on English church altars. There were sensational accounts of ritual orgies and drinking blood and suchlike, and I do think that just as which happened with Nick on the Westminster enquiry, had people just taken a step back and said “hang on a second, is this really likely?”. they might have stopped and paused the investigation at that point.

And you told Wiltshire Police this?

I did. I produced a 160-page report after two months of very solid work. As I always do I approached the case with a very open mind, I tackled all the evidence, but my conclusions were pretty damning. And that did not go down well with Wiltshire Police.

What did they say?

Well, the response initially, and this was after I’ve produced something like 200 case reports over 15 years, was something I’ve never encountered before, which was that I apparently was questioning the credibility of witnesses. Well, yes, I was, effectively. But of course that was never my aim. I mean, I myself am a victim of historic sexual abuse, so I – and someone got about 10 years for it – so I have no axe to grind at all, quite the opposite. But we’re dealing here with evidence, and if the evidence looks sketchy then we have to ask the questions. And I did.

Wiltshire Police were uncomfortable with that, they did not take my recommendations forward, which were to submit the report – I was not asking to go public, I suggested the report should go to the Chair of the Historic Abuse Inquiry, the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Chair of the IPCC and the Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner. These were not outlandish recommendations at all. I felt that those stakeholders in the public interest must know about this.

And the police say that what they put before you, the evidence which you decided was not credible was only a small part of what they had.

Well, I’m afraid that Wiltshire Police are wriggling at every single turn here, and, whenever one part of their investigation falls down, this is their fallback, they’re saying “no, but there’s another strand”. So now we have a situation where two witnesses have been cleared, and again they are going to say, “well, but that was only one strand”. The fact is, and I had this briefing with the police before we started, I was briefed on all the different strands of the investigation. This was the core strand that they wanted to use to prove Ted Heath’s guilt.

But it’s not impossible that there are other strands, and they are, as recently as yesterday, sticking to the fact that they believe all of this is worth investigating. They say this remains a live and ongoing investigation with a significant number of allegations made by a number of separate individuals.

Well, the police have been on a fishing trip with this. They – I think, outrageously-  stood outside Ted Heath’s house and called, basically, for people to come forward. Now, of course there’s a balance here. We know that with historic cases we do need to get people to come forward if there’s a genuine case of abuse. But they have been on a fishing trip, some of it has clearly been quite absurd. And the investigation so far, has cost, up to the end of last month, of £1, 142,000. This is not, I think, for the police to decide now, whether this goes forward. I think in the public interest somebody has got to say “it’s time to call a halt to this”. There’s no credible evidence, nothing has stuck on Ted Heath, and that was the point of this investigation.

They’ve had two years, which is not as long as other investigations have been given.

It’s still a hell of a long time, with 21 officers involved working on a case in which they have so far not found one single scrap of hard evidence.

Why did you go public with all of this? Because by doing so you went against the agreement that you signed, and you won’t be able to do future work like this for police forces.

Well, that’s a decision that I myself have taken. In fact, individual police forces are still approaching me, because they seem to appreciate the work I’ve done previously. But as a member of the National …

Have you not been removed from the National Crime Agency list of approved experts?

No, I took myself off the National Crime Agency database of experts. It was my decision, because I was so appalled, frankly, by the response of Wiltshire Police, to a report that was a serious piece of academic research. I was not asking to go public, I was asking it should go to the various agencies, who deserve to see this information. In fact, the Historical Abuse Enquiry have called for my report, and they have now received it.

You’re very convinced that there is nothing to be found in relation to these allegations. How can you be so sure that there aren’t people out there who need to be brought to justice for something that happened?

Well, there is a balance here, and obviously we don’t want to go back to the situation with Jimmy Savile, where things were covered up. But I think, there is a balance, and if after two years of investigating, nothing solid has been found, and my understanding is that there is nothing solid on Ted Heath, then, for the sake of his reputation – and  don’t forget, other people have been besmirched in this process, like Lord Brittan, who went to the grave never knowing his name was cleared [4] – and with the extent of public money being spent, then someone has to draw a line. Now, of course, if there are genuine strands, and there are real people who have been through the trauma of abuse, which I know all about, then that must of course be investigated. But this is totally disproportionate. That’s the problem here.


[1] Most famously, Hoskins was involved in the 2001 “torso in the Thames” investigation. Hoskins has also highlighted the issue of the abuse of African children accused of witchcraft, as I discussed here.

[2] This is a reference to the Operation Midland fiasco, discussed in further detail here. As I mentioned just yesterday, there are a number of child sex abuse activists who can be described as “Operation Midland Truthers”, who continue to assert their confidence in the accuser known in the media as “Nick”. Some of these activists/vigilantes have expressed contemptuous views about Hoskins, making mocking references to his apparently temporary transgender status as Rachel Hoskins and nasty insinuations about past family bereavements [UPDATE 2019: Nick can now be named as Carl Beech, and his claims have been found to have been fraudulent. More details here].

[3] Details about the therapy that the Heath SRA accuser underwent some years ago appeared in the Toronto National Post in January, and were discussed in further detail by me here.

[4] I discussed the investigations into Leon Brittan here.

Some Notes on The Times and Allegations against Barbara Hewson

From Wednesday’s London Times:

Barrister ‘made death threats’ to student

Police have issued a harassment warning to a barrister amid allegations that she waged a campaign of online bullying, abuse and “death threats” against a law student and another lawyer.

…In a 22-page complaint to the standards board, seen by The Times, Mehul Desai, a student at Nottingham University law school, claimed that he had “received death threats and abuse over the phone” from Ms [Barbara] Hewson.

…The dispute allegedly grew out of Mr Desai’s support for Sarah Phillimore, a family law barrister at St John’s Chambers in Bristol. Ms Phillimore is a well-known campaigner on child protection issues who has frequently crossed swords with Ms Hewson on social media over their opinions on investigations into alleged historical child abuse.

…Ms Phillimore told The Times that, “following months of serious and frightening harassment” by Ms Hewson, she registered a complaint with the police. The Metropolitan Police confirmed that on March 1 “a 55-year-old woman was issued with a harassment warning”.

Such warnings have no legal standing and do not establish wrongdoing, but are used by police as a response to allegations of low-level harassment. There has been no finding against her.

That detail about so-called harassment warnings having “no legal standing” comes in the 11th paragraph of the article, 440 words into the story. The existence of the harassment warning is also the focus of a very brief preview blurb that appeared on the bottom of the front page of the print edition: “Police have issued a harassment warning to a human rights barrister after claims that she engaged in the online bullying of a law student and another lawyer.” The story itself was the lead item on page 5.

The story as presented in The Times is a mess, and it has brought joy to a social media crowd that has actually been subjecting Barbara Hewson to a campaign of trolling abuse and personal intrusion. Facts are distorted and misrepresented, and important context is missing that the authors – Jonathan Ames and Frances Gibb – could have checked out without requiring comment from Barbara.


First, a disclosure: I’ve met Barbara socially a couple of times and we get along. As such, I refer to her in this post familiarly, by her first name. I don’t agree with all of her views or ways of expressing herself, but I expect she gets that a lot.

Most controversially, she believes that the age of consent should be reduced to 13, and she has criticised some prosecutions that relate to “historic” allegations of abuse on these grounds. On these points, I concur with Matthew Scott’s criticisms, which can be read here. The Times article refers to Barbara calling “for the age of sexual consent to be substantially lowered”, but for some reason it doesn’t clarify that this means “reduced to 13” – one suspects the authors opted to be vague in the interests of sensationalism.

Barbara’s perspective has brought her into conflict on social media with a number of campaigners against child sex abuse, and she has not shied away from scathing rhetoric just because some of these campaigners themselves identify as victims – I noted her dispute with Andy Woodward in December. As I wrote then, many of these campaigners are quite reckless in their embrace of conspiracy theories about “VIP abuse” and are vicious in their pursuit of those facing allegations or those deemed to be insufficiently credulous. Some might fairly be described as “Operation Midland Truthers”, and they are particularly incensed by Barbara’s references to the false accuser “Nick” as “Toxic Nick” [UPDATE 2019: Nick can now be named as Carl Beech, and his claims have been found to have been fraudulent. More details here].

The feud with Phillimore, meanwhile, goes to back to debate over family courts.

The “harassment warning”

The Times cover blurb conflated the so-called “harassment warning” that emerged from the Phillimore dispute with the allegation of the “death threat” made by the student – this misleading effect is amplified by the opening paragraph, which lumps together Phillimore’s complaints and those of the student.

As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, a “harassment warning” is formally called a “Police Information Notice”. It is a mechanism by which police inform someone that a complaint of harassment has been made against them, and it warns them that if the complaint is true, then they should desist from continuing with such behaviour or risk prosecution. However, they precede rather than follow any investigation.

The problem with PINs is that they sound far more formal than they actually are. PINs are “issued”; recipients supposedly “have” a PIN, in the present tense, as if they “have” a criminal record. Also, despite a specific recommendation in the Henriques Report, the Metropolitan Police continues with the rhetoric of “victims” rather than “complainants” – thus a largely derivative Daily Mail article (“By Xantha Leatham for the Daily Mail and Katie French for Mailonline“) based on the Times story also includes a police statement:

‘The victim, a 46-year-old woman, alleged she had been harassed via a social media network (Twitter) between August 2016 and January 2017. 

‘The allegation was passed to officers in Islington to investigate. 

‘On 1 March the alleged suspect, a 55-year-old woman, was issued a harassment warning. The victim was informed of this outcome.’

In fact, however, a PIN is nothing more than “words of advice” written on a bit of paper – and those “words of advice” may be based on incomplete or even fictitious information. And, as I documented here, police forces seem confused about their status.

Phillimore’s complaint

The ongoing feud between Barbara and Phillimore was previously reported by Ames in The Times in January; and in early February, he and Gibbs referred jocularly to a “‘handbags at dawn’-style dust-up”. The was also a piece in Legal Cheek.

It is the case that Barbara has referred to Phillimore in crudely abusive terms, but the context here is two public figures engaging in a bitter debate. There is nothing in Barbara’s Tweets that would give Phillimore reasonable cause to feel frightened. There is also an extravagant element to her allegations: for example, she Tweeted about a family member, Barbara referred to this Tweet, and Phillimore then announced that Barbara is bringing her family member to the attention of  a “large audience of unrepentant paedophiles”.

Phillimore and the trolls

Phillimore has also undermined her complaint with a series of jocular interactions with accounts that troll Barbara with abusive comments. One particularly vicious account is anonymous, and it is largely dedicated to subjecting Barbara to a sustained stream of highly personalised abuse and mockery that goes far beyond Barbara’s uncivil comments about Phillimore: for instance, the account mocks Barbara’s Irish heritage, and has made gratuitous references to a family bereavement. Phillimore has expressly encouraged the account to “enjoy… freedom of speech”. Such a statement, which would obviously needle and goad Barbara while spurring on a troll, are not consistent with a credible complaint of harassment.

The “death threat”, and a “skinned cat”

The Times led on the claim of a death threat based on the allegation appearing in a complaint to the Bar Standards Council – this is flimsy, given that the student doesn’t appear to have been able to get the police to take his complaint seriously (he is complaining bitterly about this on Twitter).

Further, it should be noted that the student’s range of complaints is extraordinary. In his Twitter bio, up until recently he described himself thus:

Hewson Abuse Survivor (HAS): 11/03 forced in2 twitter, abused, blew whistle, Harassed 12-2.19am, complaints excluded uni, pedotrolled, 3xhackd, cat skinned

He has since removed “cat skinned”, but his Twitter feed includes a photo of his cat with a large gash on its back and tail, along with a letter from a veterinarian practice about treatment. For some reason, the letter has been partially redacted – some details are missing, and if there is a date on the original it is not visible on the posted version.

Does his extraordinary allegation that Hewson arranged for someone to “skin” his cat appear in the document he submitted to the BSB? If not, why not? And if it did, why didn’t Ames and Gibbs draw attention to such a remarkable claim?

Reading through his Tweets, he seems to veer between saying he was “frightened” by Barbara (an email arriving at an unsocial hour described like a phone call in the middle of the night) and boasting about how he might mete out violence against paedophiles.


I doubt that The Times would have run with the “death threat” headline simply based on the student’s word: instead, it was given extra weight due to Phillimore’s separate “bullying” complaint. Thus two weak claims were combined to make a supposedly strong claim, worthy of a prominent position in the UK’s newspaper of record.

Complaints to police and the BSB have served as a media strategy – and those now tasked with assessing their merits ought to take that into consideration.

UPDATE: Police dropped the complaint on 11 May 2017. Barbara has shown me a letter from Leicestershire Police dated 30 May 2017, which quotes the case worksheet (emphasis added, ellipses in original):

The original report of harassment was reviewed…… and found no evidence within the report that we could progress. ……….. there is no evidence to support Mr Desai’s allegation of social media harassment…. Suspect Hewson will be updated no further action will be taken.

Despite the 30 May date, however, for some reason her solicitor did not receive it until September 2017.

UPDATE 2 (24 May 2019): The Daily Mail has conceded that the allegations are untrue:

An article published from 12 April 2017 reported allegations made in The Times that the barrister, Barbara Hewson, was responsible for sending anonymous threats to a law student, including death threats, persistent nuisance phone calls, sending him pictures of his address and his daughter, and details of his ex-partner’s address. The report of these allegations was repeated on social media. However, we now accept these allegations were untrue, and have agreed not to repeat them, pay damages and apologise to Ms Hewson for any distress caused.

The notice is also carried on the website of her legal representatives.

UPDATE 3 (10 December 2020): The Times has now settled a legal case brought by Barbara. Here is the retraction:

An article published in April 2017 (and until recently online) headed “Barrister ‘made death threats’ to student”, reported on a complaint made to the Bar Standards Board against barrister and writer Barbara Hewson, alleging that Ms Hewson or someone acting on her behalf had made death threats and persistent nuisance calls to a law student and sent him pictures of his daughter, his address and details of his ex-partner’s address. We also reported that a similar complaint against her had been made to Leicestershire police. Neither the Bar Standards Board, nor Leicestershire police pursued the complaints. We accept Ms Hewson’s assurances that the allegations made in the complaint against her were not true and have agreed not to repeat them and to pay damages to her for libel.

Further details are on the website of the media law firm 5RB.

Jim Bakker Guest Explains How Donald Trump Has Stopped Islam Taking Over the USA By 2021

From Mark Taylor, in conversation with Jim Bakker on the Jim Bakker Show:

All through history our presidents have been taking orders… from people behind the shadows… And how what you’re seeing now come forth is someone who’s not going to be doing that…

God has his timeline, the enemy has his. This has totally wrecked the enemy’s timeline….

They were trying the Islamization of America by 2021 according to one author of a book that just got released… There were like seven phases he listed, and these seven phases have already been completed. So it was 2021. I looked at another researcher, who was on the Freemason side, and he was coming up with 2021, he had cracked the code.

Mark Taylor came to prominence last year, when the radio conspiricist Rick Wiles and Charisma News decided to publicise his claim to have received a message from God while watching Donald Trump on TV, that Trump would be president.

Taylor now presents himself as someone with special spiritual insight into US politics and global affairs – in November, he and Wiles were looking forward to “tribunals” in which “divine justice will be meted out” against associates of Hilary Clinton, described as “participants in occult practices”. Although Taylor hasn’t apparently received any further specific messages from God, he suggests that it may be significant that God spoke to him 2021 days before Trump was elected.

It’s not clear which books he is referring to his above comments about 2021, but it seems likely that his knowledge of the “seven phase” plan comes from one Andrew Thorp King, who in early 2016 published a column on the Birther website WND entitled “2021: The United Shariah States of America”. Writing as if in 2021, Thorp King describes a USA in which ISIS is now in charge, and in which “Christians, homosexuals, atheists and especially the Jews” are subjected to mass extermination. A few months later, Thorp King published a novel, Blaze: Operation Persian Trinity, in which Iranian machinations are thwarted by a “retired CIA assassin and spy” with the inconspicuous name of Blaze McIntyre, who “struggles with warnings of a biblically prophesied war”. The novel was published by WND‘s self-publishing arm, World Ahead Press, and comes with a blurb from Islamic Antichrist author Joel Richardson.

Thorp King’s own interest in the “seven phase” plan comes from Al Zarqawi: Al Qaeda’s Second Generation, a 2005 book in which a Jordanian reporter named Fouad Hussein interviewed a number of figures associated with al-Qaeda. The book is available only in Arabic, but its outline is known in English through a 2005 review in Speigel Online. Phase Four was predicted for 2010-2013, in which “al-Qaida will aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments”, while in Phase Five “an Islamic state, or caliphate” will be declared between 2013 and 2016. Phase Six is “total confrontation” from 2016, followed by a vaguely defined “definitive victory” in 2020. There are also references to conflict in Syria

Thus, 12 years after 2005, we can read into this outline a prediction of the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS. However, the emphasis here is on “read into”. Dramatic and complex political changes in parts of the Arab world cannot be explained simply by evoking “al-Qaeda” or even Islamism more generally, and the Islamic State hardly represents the kind of caliphate – either in size or character – that al-Qaeda wants (despite the possibility of a future merger). The pathway to “definitive victory” by 2020 is unexplained, although Thorp King’s column envisions the USA being taken over by Muslims living in the country.

A rough outline and wish-list put forward al-Qaeda in 2005 has now apparently become a supernatural “code” by which neo-Pentecostal Christians can understand the role of malign spiritual forces in global affairs – although both sides appear to be on the same page as regards Phase Six, the “total confrontation”.

Theresa May Rails Against an “Egg Hunt” Not Being Called an “Easter Egg Hunt”

UPDATE: Now with added Corbyn

News from Amman, in Jordan, where British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken out against… the National Trust’s website for referring to an “Egg Hunt” rather than an “Easter Egg Hunt”:

Mrs May, who is a vicar’s daughter and a member of the National Trust, told ITV News: “I think the stance they’ve taken is absolutely ridiculous and I don’t know what they’re thinking about.

“Easter’s very important. It’s important to me, it’s a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world.

“So I think what the National Trust is doing is frankly just ridiculous.”

One National Trust page is now headlined “Join the Cadbury Egg Hunt this Easter” (the last two words apparently recently added), while another just says “Join the Cadbury Egg Hunt” but has the words “easter-egg-hunt” in its url. The main text on both sites mentions “Easter”, and other promotional material for the event headlines with “Join the Easter fun”. There are also numerous other references to Easter events, and a section on Easter crafts.

May’s intervention in this supposed “controversy” comes in the wake of what appears to have been social media campaign against Cadbury – a browse through @CadburyUK’s Twitter feed for the last couple of weeks brings up many references to Easter, mostly posted as rebuttals to claims that the word has been excised from its Easter-egg packaging (“It’s not true we’ve removed ‘Easter’ from our Easter eggs, it’s clearly stated on back of the pack & embossed on some of / our eggs. We’ve also used it in our marketing for over 100 yrs & continue to do so in our current Easter campaigns”).

The controversy also seems to be part of a wider campaign against the National Trust – the Telegraph has now bashed out a piece headlined “Who is the National Trust’s boss Dame Helen Ghosh?”, which goes on to relate “a number of faux pas she has been associated with in recent years”.

The word “Easter egg” denotes a chocolate egg, or less commonly these days, a decorated egg shell or an egg-shaped box for giving an Easter gift. Chocolate eggs are almost exclusively secular products, and the inclusion of the word “Easter” does nothing to evoke the Christian teaching of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. A 2013 book called On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao suggests that chocolate Easter eggs were first created by Jewish chocolatiers in the town of Bayonne in France, and notes that the Quaker chocolate dynasties of Fry and Cadbury, who established the tradition in the UK, did so purely as a business opportunity, since Quakers do not generally celebrate Easter.

It is true that the Oxford English Dictionary does not have any references to “egg hunt” that are not preceded by the word “Easter”, but the usage “egg hunt” without “Easter” is not an innovation: the world’s largest Easter egg hunt, in Homer, Georgia, ran for 50 years and was known as the “Garrison Egg Hunt” without attracting adverse comment (and the event was established “for employees and fellow church members”). Further, a look on Google Books for the phrase “an egg hunt” shows that that phrase has appeared often enough in recent years, including in books relating to evangelism (e.g. “An egg hunt is fun—and in this game can reinforce Bible knowledge”).

One can see why a vicar or evangelist might prefer the phrase “Easter egg hunt” rather than just “egg hunt”, despite the distance of the word from its original meaning, but May’s outrage is excessive: reference to an “egg hunt” does nothing to insult or diminish those for whom Easter is religiously meaningful (indeed, references to “Easter fun” seem rather to trivialise the festival).

Behind the absurdity, it’s also slightly sinister when a politician uses a flimsy pretext to whip up resentment in this way. May’s populist outburst plays into a belligerent mood that appears to be descending on the UK, and it is no surprise that on social media, conspiricists have decreed that the real reason for the usage “egg hunt” is because of Muslims. Blowhards are also on the bandwagon: Nigel Farage has announced that “we must defend our Judeo-Christian culture and that means Easter”, while the splenetic talk-show host Jon Gaunt is leading calls for a boycott.

UPDATE: Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn has now waded in, with a slightly different angle of complaint:

Mr Corbyn said the decision to include Cadbury rather than Easter in the logo’s title reflected “commercialisation gone a bit too far”.

“It upsets me because I don’t think Cadbury’s should take over the name of Easter”, he said.

Presumably it would be better to have no corporate sponsorship, and no egg hunt at all – we could instead spend the time contemplating the good old days when the making and buying of chocolate eggs at Easter was a folk tradition rather than a commercial enterprise.

UPDATE 2: Jon Worth has charted how this story developed in the media, in a piece with the very apposite headline “The anatomy of misinformation: Cadbury, the National Trust, and (Easter) Eggs“.