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

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IPSO Backs Tom Newton Dunn’s Deleted “Hijacked Labour” Conspiracy Chart Article

It has now been a bit longer than a month since the the Sun newspaper published, and then deleted, an article promoting a website that purported to have traced how Jeremy Corbyn sits at the centre of a “spider’s web of extensive contacts” that stretch “from Marxist intellectuals to militant groups and illegal terror organisations”. The fact that Corbyn has had some controversial and discreditable associations over the years is hardly news, but the website’s chain of associations was absurdly diffuse and conspiratorial. At least one person who had left the Labour Party over Corbyn was annoyed to find his name on it; there were inexplicable inclusions, such as the comedy actor Matt Berry; the authors appear to have a crank obsession with three French philosophers (Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard); and there were signs of sloppiness and incompetence (Keir Starmer becoming “Kevin Starmer”, for instance).

What did for the Sun article, though, was when social media users noticed that sources for further reading were included alongside some of the names, and that these sources included neo-Nazi websites. That was apparently too much even for the Sun, and the piece was promptly pulled. The article’s author, Tom Newton Dunn, has declined to comment on the matter since then, although he did apparently take to Wikipedia to try to have a reference to the incident suppressed from his page.

Of course, there is no law against promoting a crank conspiracy website that uses vile sources, although those named on it might reasonably complain that the Sun had amplified a smear website that was inciting hatred against them. What interested me, though, was that Newton Dunn had misled his readers about the website’s provenance and the credentials of the persons behind it. According to Newton Dunn, the website was the work of “former British intelligence officers”, led by “ex-SAS officer turned author Mark Bles”. These details were reported as fact, and so I decided to make a complaint to the press regulatory body IPSO.

My complaint was follows. First, Mark Bles (real name Mark Whitcombe-Power) is not a “former intelligence officer”. The SAS is an elite combat unit, but it is not an agency of British intelligence. Second, the website, called “Hijacked Labour”, was obviously a reworking of an earlier website called “Traitors Chart”, toned down slightly with a less inflammatory name and the most egregious absurdities removed. That earlier website was deleted as soon as the new one was created, which was a few days before Newton Dunn wrote up his story. Clearly, someone was trying to obscure their tracks, and those curious about where the chart really came from would be advised to probe the websites that first promoted the “Traitors Chart” (there’s also a video with a narrator – also deleted, but helpfully preserved here). And third, the poor quality of the website is manifest grounds for scepticism as to its purported origins with “intelligence officers”. There is no evidence that this “group” of ex-officers actually exists, and I’m inclined to the view that Bles was duped into fronting the project.

IPSO, however, is unconcerned. The body has written to me to explain that “the SAS, as a unit, are often involved in covert intelligence gathering”, and also that I did not dispute that Mr Bles had “worked as an ‘intelligence specialist’ outside of the SAS.” As such, there is no “significant inaccuracy”. It should be noted that this is not the Sun‘s defence of its article – this is IPSO’s own argument. In other words, when a complaint is made to IPSO, the organisation serves as both defence counsel and judge.

I was invited to respond to this within seven days if I wished IPSO to reconsider – however, the email was sent to me on the afternoon of 24 December, meaning that a seven-day deadline was actually three working days away. It is difficult not to regard this as deliberately obstructive.

My response was that many jobs involve “covert intelligence gathering” – police officers, benefits investigators and so on. That does not make those who do them “British intelligence agents”. I added that that term “intelligence specialist” has no specific meaning, but that in any case it is irrelevant here. The point is that “British intelligence officer” obviously designates membership of an arm of British intelligence.

Three weeks later, it has been explained to me by IPSO that that article’s headline stated that “Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”, and that this word “say” means that the claim was not being reported as fact. As such, I have no case.

This was a curious reply, as it argued against a point that I had not raised. The problem with “Ex-British intelligence officers say” is not with the word “say”, but with the designation “ex-British intelligence officers” being reported as fact. Such an obtuse misreading of my complaint suggests to me bad faith.

9 Responses

  1. “Worked as an ‘intelligence specialist’ outside of the SAS.” And when I worked briefly in Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s for 2 months in the most innocuous & somewhat superfluous job (involving department store security) which also included talking to some top local coppers & even secret police officials (only for diplomatic reasons) it can be said I was “involved in serious security matters liaising with top Security Officials in Saudi Arabia”(ie: pointing out spots I thought were the best for CCTV cameras to be posted in a new shopping mall). We can make anything sound sensational on the slightest of facts. It’s all in the headline isn’t it?. Once that is read anD absorbed the rest of a tale really doesn’t matter. But it does matter and kudos to Bart’s Notes for even complaining. At least it’s on the record. NB: complaints to the BBC often involve the same process and replies can often have so many mistakes over the original complaint and with the result that bad timing on their part ceases communication.
    # One thing that annoyed me about Jeremy Corbyn was his habit of not legally attacking the numerous lies printed about him. Many were defamatory & actionable yet he took the “high road” which was useless. Once it was shown he could be outrageously libeled and he would not respond it was a free for all . As I now live in Australia I’ve read so much about 2 local powerful politicians from the Right and Left who used libel actions to neuter lies printed about them: the late PM Bob Hawke and the late QLD Premier Sir Jo Belke Petersen who slapped libel writs on any journalist who printed a lie. And it worked- at least till the next election.

    • “# One thing that annoyed me about Jeremy Corbyn was his habit of not legally attacking the numerous lies printed about him. Many were defamatory & actionable yet he took the “high road” which was useless. Once it was shown he could be outrageously libeled and he would not respond it was a free for all .”

      Agreed Eric. I emailed his office over a defamatory article and received no reply.

  2. I could take articles like this more seriously if there were a string of similar ones defending conservatives never mind people like Tommy Robinson (yes, let’s all Dox his wife and kids while dad’s in prison), or Nick Griffin, when they’re accused of being “at the centre of a hard-right extremist/ racist/ sexist/ misogynist/ faNazi/ homophobic/ Islamophobic…. network”!

    • Mr Man, not sure what is stopping you from setting up your own blog were you would, no doubt, display utter impartiality with precisely 50% of blogposts defending conservatives/rightwingers and 50% defending liberals/leftists.

      • Mr tdf, not sure what is stopping you from explaining what, exactly, your point is, if any.

        Or were you just hoping for a reply after having been spurned by Jezza?

        And where did I mention, never mind demand, impartiality?!

        I was merely pointing out that when the vast majority of the people in the mainstream-media/anti-social media spend most of their time implying conservatives are LITERALLYHITLER for the most tenuous of reasons it’s a bit rich making a song and dance, never mind an official complaint, over a(n immediately?) PULLED article.

        Especially as all it appears to be “guilty” of is that it ‘purported to have traced how Jeremy Corbyn sits at the centre of a “spider’s web of extensive contacts” that stretch “from Marxist intellectuals to militant groups and illegal terror organisations”. The fact that Corbyn has had some controversial and discreditable associations over the years *is* *hardly* *news*, but the website’s chain of associations was *absurdly* *diffuse* and *conspiratorial*. At least one person who had left the Labour Party over Corbyn was *annoyed* to find his name on it; there were *inexplicable* *inclusions*, such as the comedy actor Matt Berry; the authors *appear* to *have* a *crank* *obsession* with three French philosophers (Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard); and there were signs of *sloppiness* and *incompetence* (Keir Starmer becoming “Kevin Starmer”, for instance)’.

        Surely this wasn’t a case for Inspector IPSO but for the Met’s thousand strong cyber hate NON-crime unit.

        LOCK . HIM . UP . !

        But while you’re here, perhaps you can help me out with a question no one else seems able to answer:

        When people refer to the far/ hard /extreme right/ winger or some combination thereof, were do those labels put people or groups vis a vis say Salazar, Franco, Mussolini and Hitler?

        What label would you use for, say Tommy Robinson, or, say, the EDL.

        And where would you put them on that scale?!

      • @BJ Man

        I have said before that I have reservations about mass immigration from certain Muslim countries. I have also said that Islamophobia is a real thing and definitely exists. I stand by both these views. Tommy Robinson I find hard to figure out, so I won’t comment.

      • Ah, you’re saying Islamophobia is a very real and natural reaction to the very real IslamoFascism?!

        But that doesn’t really help me with:

        “When people refer to the far/ hard /extreme right/ winger or some combination thereof, were do those labels put people or groups vis a vis say Salazar, Franco, Mussolini and Hitler?”

        Just adds yet another label to the list!

      • “Ah, you’re saying Islamophobia is a very real and natural reaction to the very real IslamoFascism?!”

        I’m not quite saying that. Islamophobia would exist without Islamist terrorism, I suspect – all kinds of prejudices and fears of others exist in society. I do have some sympathy for the point of view of the Tory MP who stated that he required Muslim constituents who ordirnaily wore hijabs, burquas or nijabs to remove them if they wished to meet him for constituency work in his office. I will admit I feel uncomfortable when I see hijabs and niqabs etc. A Malaysian Muslim friend uses much ruder language than Boris Johnson to describe the hijab-wearing fraternity.

  3. I could take articles like this more seriously if there were a string of similar ones defending conservatives never mind people like Tommy Robinson (yes, let’s all Dox his wife and kids while dad’s in prison), or Nick Griffin, when they’re accused of being “at the centre of a hard-right extremist/ racist/ sexist/ misogynist/ faNazi/ homophobic/ Islamophobic…. network”.

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