The Caroline Farrow “Misgendering” Controversy

From the Evening Standard:

A devout Catholic and mum-of-five faces being questioned by police after being reported for using the wrong pronoun to describe a transgender girl on Twitter.

Caroline Farrow, 44, has been told police in Surrey want to conduct a “taped interview under caution” after receiving reports she had made transphobic comments online.

The 44-year-old is being investigated under the malicious communications act, and although the interview would be voluntary, she claims she could face arrest if she does not attend.

Farrow is a regular media commentator on Catholic matters; she and her husband are converts from Anglicanism, and because her husband was formerly an Anglican vicar she is now in the unusual situation of being married to a Catholic priest. I noted her intervention in the Alfie Evans case here.

The police investigation has apparently now been dropped after the accuser withdrew her complaint, but there are several points worth noting here.

First, it transpired that despite numerous headlines, the basis for the complaint was not “misgendering” (aka “confundir el sexo”, according to one report in Spanish), but rather rather the crude and polemical terms in which Farrow had described the circumstances in which a transwoman named Jackie Green, now aged 25, had transitioned in Thailand aged 16. Farrow accused Green’s mother Susie Green of “child abuse” for facilitating the operation, which was described by Farrow in reductive terms as a “castration”. These were in Tweets from October that have since been deleted, although Farrow’s Twitter archive goes back some years.

Farrow suggests that she was not made aware by police that the complaint pertained to these Tweets, rather than just “misgendering”. This explanation is not implausible: “misgendering” may have served as the easiest hook on which could peg a “hate crime”, with the Tweets to be introduced during the interview as evidence of a “hate motive”. Equally, however, the police investigating a case of “misgendering” is an easy media story that more readily fits a boilerplate narrative of “PC gone mad”.

The need to establish a motive perhaps explains Surrey Police’s statement to the media:

A thorough investigation is being carried out to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place.

A 44-year-old woman has been asked to attend a voluntary interview in relation to the allegation as part of our ongoing investigation.

This could be taken to mean that the police believe there is a case to answer, and they just wanted to give Farrow the opportunity to put her side of the story before referring the matter to the CPS – but given the paucity of progress since October I think it’s more likely that the police had insufficient evidence to proceed and were hoping that Farrow would have obliged them by saying something incriminating during the interview. This smacks of fishing.

A further point of interest here is that Farrow has more than once herself made complaints to the police about various individuals, alleging online harassment or stalking. Farrow is sometimes subjected to abuse and intrusion, but some of her complaints have been unwarranted and she has had a tendency to portray her interaction with police being a police endorsement of her claims: over the years she has stated that this person or that has been “written to by Surrey police”, or that police have taken “a detailed statement” from her.

One particularly unpleasant instance was after she asked my friend Tim Ireland to investigate the origin of a sockpuppet account that was attacking her – Tim determined that, as it were, the call was coming from inside the house, which prompted Farrow to make a stalking allegation. She was encouraged in this by Nadine Dorries MP, who wanted to revive a failed complaint of her own by involving other accusers.

On her blog, Dorries falsely accused Tim of having caused Farrow to have gone into premature labour in 2012 – Farrow’s own Tweets comprehensively disproved the allegation, but she nevertheless endorsed Dorries’ version. This required her to retcon allegations of harassment she had made against others in 2012 as instead having been due to Tim.

Excurcus

A commentary on the police investigation has been posted online by Barbara Hewson. Barbara argues that Green’s complaint ought to have handled as a civil matter:

Green’s route to the lawful vindication of her good name lies in a defamation action in the High Court, therefore, not via the police.

I have argued before that people should not seek to reintroduce the criminal offence of libel through the back door, by going to the police alleging “hate crime”, harassment or malicious communications. That is deeply regressive.

This is a trend that I have noted previously.

Tommy Robinson Lashes Out at Critic after Lawyer Arranges Service Stunt

From Mike Stuchbery at the Independent:

For the last few months, I have written about the methods used by “Tommy Robinson” to intimidate and harass those who dare to criticise him. I do this because he’s the most visible figure in a surging UK far right, feted by politicians and media figures alike.

Tonight he paid me a visit. Twice.

After tweeting the news that he was about to be served papers for defamation at his home in Central Bedfordshire, I got to see, in response, what his customary “doorstepping” was like for myself.

Robinson live-streamed the incident to Facebook via an associate, and the video can be easily found on YouTube. Robinson repeatedly bangs on Sutchbery’s door and demands Sutchbery come out; he also promises to return night after night, and he boasts that Sutchbery’s neighbours and others in the town will now be aware that his home is the address of a “case” and a “wrongun”. Robinson also told a passerby who recognised him that Stuchbery is “in with all these bondage and these weird sex cases”, which prompted the passerby ask if he was “looking for a paedo”; Robinson does not clarify.

Stuchbery’s Tweet about Robinson being served papers referred readers to a livestream on the Facebook page of a group called “Resisting Hate”. He also noted that “ITV, Guardian & the Daily Mail” were in attendance, and made a jocular reference to Robinson being doorstepped in the same way that he has doorstepped others. (1) It seems that he was afterwards targeted by Robinson primarily for reasons of convenience: Stuchbery happens to live not far from Robinson’s home, and he is primarily an independent writer rather than a journalist who enjoys the backing of a big news corporation – although Robinson claims that he has the addresses of journalists whom he will “expose”, including one he describes as “Mr Daily Mail Reporter” (a reference to this article).

However, I don’t share Stuchbery’s enthusiasm for the way that the lawyer Tasnime Akunjee (var. Mohammed T. Akunjee) turned the serving of legal papers into a media circus. Akunjee’s first and only concern should be for the best interests of his client, the Syrian teenager “Jamal” who says that Robinson libelled him. The serving of papers could probably have been arranged by mutual agreement elsewhere (although the Daily Mail says that Robinson had ignored earlier correspondence), but if it was really necessary to attend Robinson’s address then a regulated and professional process server ought to have been used.

Instead, Akunjee delegated the task to one Dick Coughlan, described in the Independent as a “YouTuber”. Coughlan is a comedian whose appearance is dishevelled; even Stuchbery describes him as “half ratbeast”, and he brought along a Staffordshire terrier. (2) Coughlan’s involvement was obviously meant to provoke, and it is unclear why the date chosen was one on which it had been widely reported that Robinson was away in Finland. Akunjee followed up the incident by promoting Coughlan’s Patreon page on social media, although he later thought better of it and deleted a Tweet on the subject.

Coughlan did not reach Robinson’s address – instead, he handed the papers to a police officer who was blocking the way (reportedly about 50 metres distant from the house). Coughlan approached the officer alone, having handed over the dog to an associate. At one point the name of a nearby road is visible, and Coughlan refers to a house number.

Although there was no contact with Robinson’s family, this is not how things should be done. However, Akunjee and Coughlan’s stunt was an excuse rather than a reason to target Stuchbery – and to send a message that other critics had better be careful.

According to a statement issued by Bedfordshire Police:

We were called to reports of a man causing a disturbance outside a house in Luton at around 10:52 last night [Monday] and again at around 5:21am this morning [Tuesday]. Officers attended and we are now establishing the circumstances around both incidents so we can determine whether any offences have been committed.

UPDATE: Stuchbery has published a message that UKIP’s NEC Elizabeth Jones has sent to supporters defending Robinson’s behaviour. In her version of the story, “5 men turned up” at Robinson’s house and “terrorised his wife and children”. After “finding out who they were”, Robinson “knocked on the one journalist’s door he knew to ask why”. (3)

UPDATE 2: Robinson has now given his version of the incident on the Alex Jones Show. Robinson told the American conspiracy monger that “six men” in masks had reached to his house and scared his children, and that Coughlan had afterwards made malicious comments about his family on Twitter (Coughlan’s account is currently suspended). These men, according to Robinson, were “sent” by Stuchbery, a claim presumably extrapolated from Stuchbery’s support for crowdfunding the legal action.

Robinson also denies any responsibility for what his supporters may do now, and downplays how he conducted himself outside Stuchbery’s house:

I’ve had so many people contact me…, so many people message me saying “we’ll go get them, we know where they live.” I haven’t said a word, but now, I realise I’m probably being set up… I actually went myself to one of these men’s houses, who set up the people to come to my house and I knocked… I went completely on my own and knocked on the door and said “You have been intimidating my children, come outside and answer a few questions.”

Robinson further claims that the following morning he confronted two men in a white van outside his home, who said they were plumbers but eventually admitted to being police officers with recording equipment (he has a video extract of the van). Robinson told Jones that he is being “set up” so that he can be accused of conspiracy to commit a crime; Jones warns him that the government plans to assassinate him and plant a weapon on him.

Footnotes

1. One of those previously targeted by Robinson include my friend Tim Fenton, shortly after Tim criticised James Delingpole for mainstreaming Robinson via a softball interview. There is reason to suspect that Tim’s blog post was specifically brought to Robinson’s attention by someone else for their own reasons, and that this person or persons supplied the address. More on that here.

2. This seems to me to have been particularly ill-considered, especially if Coughlan foresaw a confrontation. Staffordshire terriers already suffer from an undeserved reputation for aggression, and to bring one to what might become a fraught situation where any dog might become frightened and lash out was irresponsible.

3. Liz Jones goes on to relate that at a recent meeting in Durham, 90% of the audience who had come to see her and UKIP leader Gerard Batten said they no longer “listen or view the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky”, and that when “one man said he only watched Russia Today” there was “loud approvement”.