Dan Wootton Threatens Legal Action After Police Investigation Ends

From Dan Wootton’s crowdfunder, last summer (emphasis added):

A hard left blog is on a deranged campaign of harassment designed to destroy me financially, mentally and professionally – but, with your help, they will not succeed.

…We must fight back against the current state of social media, where any allegation can be made in an attempt to get someone on the right cancelled and it is impossible to defend yourself. This is even the case where they have claimed that I have engaged in criminal activity when I have never been arrested, interviewed or charged in respect of any of the allegations against me.

As is well known, Byline Times had published allegations that Wootton had used pseudonyms to solicit intimate images of men in return for money, adding that his alleged targets believed “catfishing” to be the motive. Wootton denied having done anything criminal, although he kept to generalities: he never denied using the pseudonyms, and he referred to enigmatic “errors of judgement in the past”. He also denied other criminal allegations, which had the effect of conflating the Byline Times accusers with other individuals, against whom Wootton was able to raise issues of credibility.

Wootton’s reference to the lack of any police contact was confirmed by an article that appeared in the Independent in August:

Scotland Yard said: “In June 2023, the Metropolitan Police was contacted with regards to allegations of sexual offences committed by a man.

“Officers are assessing information to establish whether any criminal offence has taken place. There is no police investigation at this time.”

That changed in October, as was reported by the Guardian, the Mirror and Byline Times as a new development in the ongoing story. However, rather than update his supporters, Wootton – whose crowdfunder included a GB News screenshot bearing the words “No censorship” – instead reached for his lawyers. It seems that they cited the February 2022 Supreme Court ruling in Bloomberg LP v ZXC that, to quote a legal discussion here, “a person under a criminal investigation has a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation”. The Guardian and the Mirror decided that it wasn’t worth pushing back and deleted their pieces, but Byline Times declined to do so. I discussed the issue in general terms here.

That police investigation has now ended:

In a statement, the Met said: “In June 2023, the Metropolitan police was contacted with regards to allegations of sexual offences committed by a man aged in his 40s.

“Officers assessed all information available to establish whether any criminal offence has taken place. An investigation was commenced into these allegations. All parties involved have now been advised that no further action will be taken. There were no arrests during the investigation.”

Wootton is signalling via Paul Staines’ Guido Fawkes website that he intends to take legal action, while Andy Wigmore has posted Tweet in which he appears to promise funding while denouncing “that little @peterjukes and woke leftie @Hardeep_Matharu and the rest of the extremists at @BylineTimes”. This is a bit much given that when in 2018 Wigmore filed a police complaint against Byline Media he posted a photograph of the online submission form as if that in and of itself had significance (no police action followed).

The Guido Fawkes website has also given some brief commentary about the case, inferring from the outcome that the police believe Wootton has been the subject of a “smear campaign”. That is a speculative extrapolation given how little detail Wootton has chosen to share about what happened, despite issuing a new statement.

The circumstances of ZXC are very different from the position in which Wootton found himself – and it should be noted that the “reasonable expectation of privacy” is merely a starting point, not a rule that reporters must now follow. There was no such “reasonable expectation” for instance when Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner were investigated in May 2022 after Richard Holden MP handed over misleading information to police in Durham. Of course, Wootton could alternatively complain of libel, but if he believes he has a case then it seems odd instead to launch a privacy action.

However, if Wootton does decide to press ahead, then I’m sure his testimony under oath about the pseudonyms “Martin Branning” and “Maria Joseph” will be of interest to many.

NB – the “catfishing” allegations should not be conflated with the reasons why Wootton disappeared from GB News, which I discussed here.

UPDATE: Press Gazette adds:

Dan Wootton is seeking damages, an apology and the retraction of articles from Byline Times after it reported on the fact he was being investigated by police.

Press Gazette understands that Wootton’s legal team is also writing to Carol Vorderman and former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis over statements made by them on Twitter.

The suspended GB News presenter is also considering legal action against other media outlets over articles published in October last year.

The notion of a “retraction” doesn’t seem coherent: even if Wootton successfully argues that the police investigation ought not to have been reported in October, that hardly applies now, when he himself has referred to end of it and the matter is common knowledge.

However, a letter from his lawyer Donal Blaney has apparently persuaded Maitlis to delete at least one old Tweet in which she noted the fact of the police investigation and what it was about, quoting Byline. Paul Staines frames this as “deleting conspiratorial tweets”, the strained suggestion being that the allegations against Wootton – including the “Martin Branning” alias – are conspiracy theories that no-one should have taken seriously. Wootton, of course, can now boast that a famous journalist has withdrawn a Tweet about the allegations.

Blaney previously ran the Young Britons Foundation (blogged here) and he has a long history of collaboration with Staines. This perhaps explains why Guido Fawkes is apparently doing free PR for Wootton.

Notes on Valdo Calocane and the Attorney General

From a press release from Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General:

Valdo Calocane’s crimes were horrific and have shocked a nation. He brutally killed three innocent people, and violently attacked three other victims. Their experiences will stay in our minds for a long time to come.

This was a case that evoked strong feelings amongst so many people and it was no surprise that I received so many referrals under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme to consider the Hospital Order handed to Calocane.

My duty as a Law Officer in considering whether sentences may be unduly lenient is to act independently of government, even when it is not easy or popular.

Having received detailed legal advice and considered the issues raised very carefully, I have concluded that the sentence imposed against Calocane, for the offences of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and attempted murder, was unduly lenient and will be referred to the Court of Appeal.

It seems odd to make a general reference to decisions that are “not easy or popular” when the specific decision being announced happens to be extremely popular and is doubtless also helpful to the government in projecting a “tough on crime” image. The case as to why “the CPS and the judge made the right decisions” has been laid out in some detail by Matthew Scott here; we don’t yet know the grounds on which Prentis has taken a different view.

On the face of it, Calocane’s conviction is in line with other cases: for instance, here’s one from last year:

A schizophrenic who killed and then dismembered a woman at her home has been sentenced to an indefinite hospital order.

Luke Deeley, 26, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of June Fox-Roberts, 65, by reason of diminished responsibility.

Deeley attempted to clean up the scene and to change his appearance – evidence of rational decision-making to evade capture, comparable to Calocane’s planning before his attacks and his coherent phone calls to a relative afterwards.

Given that Prentis does not seem to be concerned about Deeley’s sentencing, it seems reasonable to infer that her interventon in the case of Calocane is media driven. The scale of his violence indeed “shocked a nation”; young photogenic victims were involved; and there is much public sympathy for the bitter complaints of bereaved relatives.  There has also been angry and opportunistic commentary on social media, such as this example from GB News’s Darren Grimes (1):

…It’s enough to make you wonder, what’s it going to take for the system to wake up and smell the coffee? When are we going to start putting the victims first, instead of tiptoeing around the perpetrators? It’s high time for a change, and it can’t come soon enough. This isn’t justice; it’s a joke. A cruel, heartless verdict for those who’ve already suffered enough.

Faced with this sort of thing, it would not have been “easy or popular” for Prentice to have backed the trial judge.

The allegedly “unduly lenient” sentencing is tied up with the fact that Calocane was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, even though it is difficult to envisage different sentencing outcomes. One can appreciate, though, that relatives who regard Calocane as a murderer want him to be officially recognised as such, both on princple and given a hypothetical but fantastically improbable route to early release that has been hyped by segements of the media (Daily Mail: “Nottingham killer Valdo Calocane could be eligible for release in THREE YEARS under terms of hospital order”).

On this point, I do wonder about the implication that Calocane’s medical history means that he was inherently incapable of committing a random murder. One of the psychiatric experts judged that “it seems likely that Mr Calocane’s decision-making was largely governed by his psychotic experiences”, but that “seems likely” gives a lot of leeway – we don’t know exactly what he thought he was doing that night. Delusional belief is not in itself a bar to being convicted of murder: Danyal Hussein, for instance, was convicted of murder for killing two women apparently (2) in the belief that doing so would seal a demonic pact that would allow him to win the lottery. A random attack motivated by anger or frustration can also be murder. I’m open to the suggestion that Calocane’s general volatility (he had previously assaulted co-workers), rather than psychosis, motivated him – but could that ever be proven in court, given his diagnosis? (3) Sometimes justice is less than satisfactory because it cannot served fully, rather than because wrong decisions were taken. (4)

Notes

1. There was also heightened public interest in the case over an early assumption that this was a terror attack, which on social media has segued into gratuitous discussion of his ethnic background and immigration status. Thus Grimes pointedly refers to “Valdo Calocane, of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa” – a reference to his early childhood origins, rather than his a settled status in the UK as a Portguese citizen.

2. Hussein’s account was taken at face value, although why did he have to kill women specifically? It is reasonable to suspect banal mysogyny underlying the esoterism.

3. I think here of Robert Napper, who was convicted of manslaughter after he was belatedly found to be Rachel Nickell’s killer. However, his history of mental illness had not precluded him from being convicted of murdering a different young mother, along with her child.

4. It seems contradictory that Calocone was also found guilty of attempted murder, but had he been successful this would have been yet more manslaughter. Presumably this was the only way to deal with it given that “attempted manslaughter” is a nonsensical concept.

Laurence Fox Lashes Out After Libel Loss

In the Guardian, drag queen Crystal writes about their recent libel victory over Reclaim Party leader Laurence Fox:

It’s been bizarre to watch Fox’s behaviour this week. He’s refused to admit defeat, threatened to appeal, and doubled down on the rhetoric that started this whole mess. It’s especially bizarre given that damages are yet to be awarded – but perhaps if we view it as political strategy, it starts to make sense. I didn’t want to go to court, but Fox forced our hand by not only refusing to apologise, but with his ultimately failed countersuit (hole: dug).

Perhaps we gave him and any financial backers exactly what they wanted: publicity, outrage and, for some, damage to the reputation of our legal system. Regardless, I needed to see it through – I had to clear my name, and there must be consequences for defamation.

I wrote about the potential issues in 2020, including the possibility that Fox might counter-sue, which is what happened. Crystal, along with deputy chair of Stonewall Simon Blake and the actor Nicola Thorp, had accused Fox on social media of racism, based on their view of things he had said. Fox responded by calling the trio paedophiles. Fox’s defence was that he obviously wasn’t seriously accusing them, but, rather, simply trading socially stigmatising terms of abuse.

In the case of Thorp, he previously prevailed at the Court of Appeal, because he had mimicked her wording and the so context was clear. In the case of Crystal and Blake, though, he has lost. According to the judge:

Mr Fox’s firecracker ‘paedophile’ tweets may have been indiscriminately lobbed… but here they landed on highly combustible material, reputationally speaking. Three things about Mr Blake and Mr Seymour [i.e. Crystal] stand out in particular.

First, they are not only both gay men, but both had a public profile as such – Mr Blake in his Stonewall and other diversity roles, and Mr Seymour in the distinctively gay subculture or art-world of drag […] They both gave evidence from their own experience, which was not challenged, and which I accept, that one of the oldest, most pernicious and most stubbornly ineradicable falsities or myths of homophobia is that men whose sexuality is orientated to other men thereby exhibit a general ‘proclivity’ likely to comprehend a sexual orientation to children.

…Second, both claimants had, in the course of their respective professions, worked with children in circumstances in which sexual propriety was of the essence

…And third, remarkably, each claimant shared a name with a convicted child sex offender.

…Finally, there is no suggestion whatever that either claimant had himself previously done or said anything remotely capable of justifiably casting the shadow of paedophilia on himself.

Fox in contrast failed in his countersuit because he was unable to show that he had been seriously harmed by their “racist” allegation. Had this bar been reached, then the trio would have relied on an honest opinion defence, likely bolstered by Fox’s own testimony in court. As quoted in the Guardian, Fox thought it helpful to expound the view that “If a man is just released from a Ugandan jail where he’s been gang-raped by several men and he walks out and he goes: ‘I hate black people’, it’s a sort of understandable response”, and he chanted a haka to contrast footballers “taking the knee” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement with New Zealand rugby players. Speaking on The News Agents podcast, Thorp described spectacle as a”parody” and “an uneducated interpretation of a tribal dance”. (2)

Meanwhile, Fox has indeed been using the outcome to “damage to the reputation of our legal system”, via a series of bitter social media posts and and self-pitying video monologues made from the back of a car. In particular, he complains that the judge had failed to define the meaning of “racism”, and that it therefore is a meaningless term that he is now free to deploy against others. Thus he addresses Thorp:

Racist as a term now means nothing.

So actually, I won.

He followed this up with a post calling her a racist (1).

This is a wild compensationary extrapolation, but it reflects Fox’s apparent inability or refusal to understand that meaning arises out of context (also seen, for example, in his belief that “Aussie” and “Paki” are equivalent abbreviations), even though this is why Thorp’s claim failed and the others didn’t.  He also misrepresents the basis for the judge’s reasoning. As discussed by Sunder Katwala:

Fox has misunderstood the judgment. He attributed serious changes in reputation (eg loss of agent) to a couple of specific tweeters. The judgement shows his reputation (agent, public, media) was very different long before that owing to his penchant for controversy.

Fox needed to sue many more people earlier in the reputation shift.

Fox himself uses “racist” incessantly, eg for Sainsbury’s marking black history month/taking knee. He says this is key to free political expression. But he also now wants some kind of court ruling to define it

If you want to risk calling Laurence Fox (or Farage, Starmer, Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, Lammy, Braverman, Johnson, Southgate, Rashford or Katwala racist) + are asked to defend it legally, need either “fair comment, reasonably held” or “substantively true”. Fox case failed before that.

Fox seeks to defend as free expression statements like “most anti-racists are racist” about his specific political/ideological opponents & many EDI programmes) while seeking legal protection against other people describing any of his own statements as “racist” as honest opinion.

How far Fox is just being dim or alternatively has enough donor cash to put a lot of £ into losing, appealing & then miscommunicating why he lost for political reputation/martyr purposes hard to gauge. Tweet yesterday [calling Thorp a racist] is as/more stupid as the extremely stupid paedophile tweets

Also:

Other people have won defamation cases for being called racist. Fox’s team failed to make the case he needed to make for court to assess this (that his reputation was damaged by those tweets). The judgment suggests it may have been difficult for him had they needed to take a view.

It is also difficult to see how he can argue that he has lost his acting career when he boasted in May 2023 that he was “10 million quid up” for his performance in the Breitbart film My Son Hunter. The figure was always implausible (the film was crowdfunded for $2.75 million), but he can’t have it both ways in how he chooses to present himself.

Of course, there is some argument that the law should be reformed – Brendan O’Neill makes the case that people shouldn’t find themselves in court due to what he calls “a rhetorical flourish”. If an appeal goes ahead the judge’s reasoning will come under scrutiny more serious than Fox’s rants. Fox, though, is hardly helping the effort, even if his political patron Jeremy Hosking (Fox was quoted by the judge of boasting about receving “a huge wad of cash for this game” as leader of Reclaim) is happy with how Fox is framing the outcome and riling up his base of supporters.

Notes

1. In the original post, Fox also baselessly claimed that Thorp’s case against him failed because the court had earlier found her to be a “compulsive and vexatious liar”. He then went on to allege in an angry video that her commentary about the case was putting his life in danger.

2. The notion that “taking the knee” is an attitude of passivity or submission has arisen due to it having been taken out of its original context, which was as a defiant gesture of non-participation in standing for the American national anthem as a protest against police brutality against Black people. British sportspeople and some politicians adopted the position in solidarity following the death of George Floyd, but nearly four years later Prime Minister Rishi Sunak now sees it as something for which Keir Starmer should be derided.