A Note on Russell Brand and “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

At the Spectator, Sam Leith notes support for Russell Brand from among the “alternative news” influencer crowd (links added):

Elon Musk and Jordan Peterson; Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson; GB News’s Calvin Robinson (‘What is their motivation?’) and Bev Turner (‘This proves you are winning. You’re a hero’); George Galloway (‘I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I smell a giant RAT); even the Telegraph‘s Allison Pearson, before the reports were aired or published, mused that ‘my first reaction is to wonder why They [sic] are trying to silence the person’. Laurence Fox, grotesquely, quoted Pastor Niemoller.

In some cases, it is not clear whether the commentators believe that Brand has been falsely accused, or just that he has been singled out unfairly. Several of the above have histories of making lurid allegations against others without much concern for due diligence – Musk infamously once called someone “pedo guy” in a fit of pique and more recently forced Twitter’s former head of site integrity go into hiding, while just a few days ago Carlson (who claims Brand has been targeted due to his views on drug companies and Ukraine) conducted a risible softball interview with the discredited figure of Larry Sinclair.

Leith also addresses how the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is currently being bandied about “as if criminal conviction was now the minimum standard of verification for a newspaper investigation”. Certainly, in some cases (such as that of Calvin Robinson) the phrase seems to be a mantra deployed to dodge any need to engage with the story. However, some warnings about “trial by media” are more general and principled – particularly vocal on this point is Harvey Proctor, who was vilified based on a ludicrous and incompetent police investigation triggered by the liar and hoaxer Carl Beech.

The problem with “innocent until proven guilty”, though, is that it does not reflect how we assess what may or may not be pertinent information in everyday life, rather than when following the narrow epistemological principles imposed on juries. Even in law, the civil standard of a finding is “balance of probability” rather than absolute proof. We can all think of cases where an acquittal in a criminal case was more a matter of doubt rather than exoneration. Of course, it is important to be especially careful and fair-minded in relation to sexual allegations, due to the special circumstances of accusers whose identity is protected and the exceptional stigma that is attached to such crimes – but that doesn’t mean we can’t ever form a view about a particular situation.

In the case of Russell Brand, one accuser made a statement at a rape crisis centre the day after the alleged encounter occured in 2012, and she has what appears to be a text message from him in which he apologises for what occurred. It is reasonable to regard this as a case to answer, and then to draw adverse inferences if a credible answer is not forthcoming. We may then draw futher inferences about the likelihood of other allegations that can probably never be proven in court either way, such as that during one consensual sexual encounter he forced his alleged partner (a 16-year-old girl) to perform a sexual act against her will.

As regards the allegation of “grooming” a 16-year-old, this is not actually illegal unless and abuse of authority is involved, and so the issue of a criminal standard of proof doesn’t even apply – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have reputational ramifications.

BBC Critics Seize on Disinformation Correspondent’s 2018 CV Embellishment

From the New European‘s “Mandrake” media column:

We all make mistakes when we are young, and sometimes they grow in irony as time passes. Case in point: Marianna Spring, the BBC’s disinformation correspondent who, I can reveal today, was once caught red-handed lying in her CV to win a job.

…Five years ago, in 2018, Spring was looking for work as a Moscow stringer for US-based news site Coda Story. In her application to editor-in-chief Natalia Antelava, she included a CV in which claimed to have worked alongside BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford on the corporation’s coverage of the football World Cup held in Russia… A simple check by Antelava with Rainsford resulted in the latter admonishing Spring for the embellishment in her CV. A grovelling email apology from Spring to Antelava followed…

The disappointing indiscretion has been seized on with glee by critics of the BBC, including the conspiracy crowd and the anti-NATO left (“a criminal offence”, crows Kit Klarenberg, ludicrously [1]). Some headlines, such as the Telegraph‘s “Marianna Spring: BBC disinformation reporter ‘lied on her CV'” give the false impression that the story relates to her current position. On Twitter (sorry, “X”), Christian Christensen describes the social media reaction as “bro-schadenfreude”.

There is some surprise that the story appeared first in the New European. The column is anonymous, and the flow of information remains opaque. Perhaps it simply found its way there due to chance connections between journalists, but there might be something else going on: someone with a grievance who didn’t want to take their story to predictable anti-BBC news outlets; or possibily even a “friendly” leak to the weekly as news management to pre-empt some more vitriolic anti-BBC source.


1. Klarenberg published a supposed “investigation” of Spring in Grayzone in June, in which he suggested that the lack of anything interesting in her past must be evidence of a cover-up and noted darkly that she had studied at Pembroke College “during the period when disgraced former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove served as its master”. Given Dearlove’s retirement role as a buffoonish opinionator for the Telegraph, the hint of some “intelligence” link between the two is incoherent.

Covid Anti-Vax Conspiracy Crowd Embraces Tommy Robinson

Bankruptcy after losing a libel case does not appear to have unduly inconvenienced Tommy Robinson, who yesterday made an appearance at the “Facts Matter” anti-Covid vaccination conference in Denmark.

Photos posted online by one of the participants, Anastasia Maria Loupis, show Robinson posing with disgraced Reclaim Party MP Andrew Bridgen and with Peter McCollough – Loupis described Robinson and McCollough as “the greatest freedom fighters of all time”. A short video also shows Robinson and Bridgen sharing a trip in a people carrier, and Robinson chatting away with other attendees with actor John Bowe in the background.

Robinson, of course, will jump on any populist bandwagon no matter how intellectually discreditable, and it is easy to see how conspiracism about vaccines would have an affinity with conspiracist rhetoric about Muslim migration. Even so, though, the vaccine conspiracy movement’s embrace of Robinson is a new development that is likely to be controversial. It also reveals more about the nature of Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party.

The “Facts Matter” conference was organised by a group calling itself the Danish Freedom Movement FBF (Frihedsbevægelsens Fællesråd), founded by one Malue Montclairre. Montclairre kicked off the event, followed by “Conference host Mette Bloch & John Bowe”. John Bye has noted some of the line-up:

Andrew Bridgen clearly has an odd sense of what kind of speakers make a “great event” given he’s in a session with Reiner Fuellmich (accused by his own group of embezzling funds) and Dolores Cahill (on the run from the Irish police), with music from Matt Hoy (ex Continuity UB40). [1] Also at the ironically named Facts Matter Conference are Pierre Kory pushing ivermectin, Clare Craig exaggerating vaccine harms, Ryan Cole blaming them for “turbo cancer”, and John Campbell on how he got rich by embracing quackery on YouTube. Sorry, “evidence-based social media”. [2]

The allegation against Fuellmich is discussed in more detail on German news portal t-online – complaints against him were rejected by the Berlin public prosecutor, although he declined to give an account to the t-online reporter on the grounds that the media is under the control “of those who are responsible for this plandemic and everything else related to the Great Reset” (via Google translate).

Robinson was not himself a speaker – Bye says that he “seems to be reporting on the Facts Matter Conference for his BitChute channel”. He was also in Denmark for other reasons – he gave an interview for Aia Fog and Michael Pihl of “The Free Press Society 2004” (Trykkefrihedsselskabet af 2004) and met with Morten Messerschmidt of the Danish Peoples Party (DPP, Dansk Folkeparti) – in one video he appears to be wearing a Burberry shirt worth several hundred pounds, which may be of some interest to the bankruptcy investigators.

Some Notes on Dan Wootton vs Byline Times

From a statement by GB News presenter Dan Wootton:

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.

Byline Times has eschewed all journalistic, legal and moral practices to publish a series of defamatory and untrue claims as part of a highly politicised witch hunt designed to cancel and de-platform me.

…The line-up of people which Byline and other biased sources appear to be relying on for their information include a convicted phone hacker, an abusive ex-boyfriend turned hard left campaigner who admitted in writing to me that he is a “psychopath” and threatened to “slit my throat”, a recently released violent criminal who has previously blackmailed me, and a convicted extortionist I have never met who was sent to jail for many years after being described by a judge as a “compulsive” danger to the public…

Wootton alleges that he is being targeted by Byline Times for political reasons (although the “hard left” descriptor is ludicrous), and he is asking supporters for £150,000, apparently to bring a libel case. His appeal follows a previous statement that he made on his TV show, in which he admitted to “errors of judgement in the past”, but beyond denying anything criminal did not go into detail about what these “errors” may have been [1].

There are a couple of threads to unpick here.

First, as reported in the Guardian, the main thrust of the initial Byline Times article concerns allegations that Wootton had used the online alias “Martin Branning” to ask men working in the media for explicit images in return for money. Certainly, it seems that someone has been doing this – the alias was first noted by Popbitch back in 2021, and the Guardian says that in the last three years it has “talked to multiple individuals working in the media who say they have been approached online by a person using the name Martin Branning”.

The Byline Times reporters claim to have spoken with four people contacted by “Branning” who believe from context that it was Wootton, as well as someone who believes that messages from someone using the identity “Maria Joseph” were from him. Are they all mistaken, or making it up, even? According to the article:

…a representative for Dan Wootton declined to provide Byline Times with an on-the-record response. It is understood that he strongly denies all allegations of criminality. The representative did not clarify, when asked, whether Wootton also denies being Martin Branning.

On TV Wootton referred to “legal advice” which supposedly means that he can’t comment on details.

As well as the five alleged targets quoted by Byline Times, the article also reports claims that Wootton had admitted to being “Martin Branning” to a “former colleague and friend”, and to his (i.e. Wootton’s) ex-partner Alex Truby. It is difficult to judge their credibility, but Wootton’s counter-allegations against Truby are of little value without more detail. In any case, these two witnesses are not crucial to the story.

It also should be noted that the five alleged targets are distinct from the “violent criminal” and the “convicted extortionist” referenced by Wootton. The “convicted phone hacker” is Dan Evans, the co-author of by the Byline Times articles. Some may judge that Evans’ historic involvement in this widespread illegal practice means that any subsequent journalism produced by him can be dismissed out of hand; others, however, may take the view that his regret means that his actions were just “errors of judgement in the past”.

Second, we come to the issue of criminality. Byline Times alludes to the existence of criminal allegations on Twitter, presumably referencing the extortionist (it’s not clear where the “violent criminal” fits in), and GB News has highlighted the extortonist’s discreditable past as an answer to all the allegations against Wootton. This person is not relevant to the question of “Martin Branning’s” true identity, and he is barely present (if at all) in the Byline Times article; nevertheless, there is a sense that his more serious (and unevidenced) allegations are being conflated with the Byline Times reporting. Byline Times also notes other allegations made by Truby on Twitter, although it does not vouch for their veracity.

Byline Times further says that two people who were pestered by “Martin Branning” went to the police, and that the journalists themselves have now presented the police with a “dossier”. Does this amount to accusing Wootton of criminality? Readers will (or should) understand that a lodging a complaint does not mean that police will necessarily agree that an offence has been committed, or that that right person has been identified.

And again, although Wootton may feel aggrieved at having been the subject of police complaints, his objection does not amount to a categorical denial that he had anything to do with “Martin Branning” or “Maria Joseph”. Neither does it address further non-criminal claims in follow-up articles on Byline Times about his alleged conduct while working at the Sun (containing details consistent with a report about an unnamed “pundit” that recently appeared in Private Eye magazine [2]). This is not beside the point when you are asking people to give you money to defend your reputation. (3)

As part of his fundraising, Wootton writes that “Byline have already come for the likes of the Free Speech Union, the Legatum Institute, GB News and Douglas Murray who received substantial damages for their lies”. The reference here to Murray is something of an extrapolation, although Murray has endorsed it. I have some further background on this here.

(post expanded on 22 July 2023)

UPDATE: Expressions of support for Wootton have been posted by Nana Akua, Lord Cruddas, Leilani Downing, Baroness Foster, Laurence Fox, Nile Gardiner, Andrea Jenkyns MP, Narinder Kaur, Oli London, Louise Mensch, Allison PearsonSarah Vine and Toby Young, among others.

UPDATE 2: Also on board is QAnon hotelier John Mappin, whose Tweet has been RTed by Wootton. Mappin writes that “I can’t say WHY. But it is VITAL that Dan ⁦ @danwootton ⁩ gets ALL the help that he needs”. In reply to a query from right-wing commentator David Vance about why he can’t say, his reply is that “Because it’s private”.

UPDATE 3: Nana Akua and Oli London subsequently deleted their Tweets of support, without explanation.


1. Wootton did, however, angrily deny false claims that he had deleted Tweets relating to Huw Edwards – this myth arose because he had not Tweeted for a week due to being on holiday.

2. Final paragraph of “Phil Chase”, Private Eye 1599 (2-15 June 2023), p. 9. The article accuses various unnamed media figures of hypocrisy in relation to Phillip Schofield, a subject Wootton has expressed strong condemnatory views on.

3. In a letter from his lawyers to Byline Times, Wootton rejects suggestions of criminality relating to the “Martin Branning” story, but again without clarifying whether he used the alias at all.

The “I Withdraw My Consent” Conspiracy Meme

From football website Fan Banter:

Matt Le Tissier and Rickie Lambert go viral again leaving viewers rather baffled with their latest videos trending on Twitter.

Both uploaded a new profile picture too, a message which read: “I withdraw my consent to be governed by any corrupt, compromised, belligerent, criminal parliament or government. I will not comply.”

The message, posted as a graphic of black writing against a yellow background, is currently being re-posted by “Great Awakening” and anti-Covid vaccination conspiracy enthusiasts across the UK and beyond. Supporters are also encouraged to video themselves reading the statement, and to send pro-forma letters to their local MP and to the prime minister. In this way, members of the conspiracy movement acting in cult-like unison signal their commitment while also pretending that they are engaged in some sort of act of individualist dissident bravery. The initiative is also a way to spread “sovereign citizen” concepts within the movement – specifically, the belief that a pseudo-legalese declaration has some sort of ritual power to release the utterer from the power of the law.

The originator seems to be Mark Sexton, a former police officer who got into the news in 2021 after lodging a police complaint against vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and who was involved in disrupting the work of a vaccination centre in October: the font and colour scheme for the “I will not comply” graphic have both been used by him before, and the message is currently prominent on his Facebook page. Others who are following his lead include conspiracy influencers Tom Numbers and Mark Attwood, as well as anti-vax GP David Cartland.

The campaign may also be related to an “invite only” afternoon where Sexton met with Attwood and Cartland last week – a photo from the event posted online (noted by @CoasterCrazy82) shows an earlier version of the wording on an display screen (“I no longer consent to being governed…”). As noted by John Bye, other attendees included anti-vaxx funeral director John O’Looney, Irish fugitive Dolores Cahill and (inevitably) disgraced MP Andrew Bridgen. However, a similar “Do Not Comply” message on a yellow background also appeared on t-shirts worn by Piers Corbyn and his supporters at Uxbridge and South Ruislip last week, as can be seen here (posing with Bridgen, even though Bridgen was there to campaign for rival fringe election candidate Laurence Fox).

Laurence Fox and Supporters Campaign in Uxbridge & South Ruislip

From GB News, mid-June:

Laurence Fox will run in the race to replace Boris Johnson as the MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip in West London.

…Fox, who starred in DS James Hathaway in crime drama Lewis, will run in the seat after the Reclaim Party leader agreed a “mutual cooperation agreement” with Reform UK.

A photo blurb adds “Laurence Fox often appears on GB News”, which understates his position as a regular presenter (1) on the channel (currently on hiatus due to election law). As has been widely noted, the primary motivation for his political activism appears to be bitterness at his personal circumstances as a divorced father, complaining in one Tweet in January (that he subsequently deleted) that “women have it easy”; he also expresses his discontent with the world via attention-seeking stunts such as burning some Progress Pride bunting in his back garden. Inevitably, his Reclaim Party (I say “his”, although it is bankrolled by a millionaire donor named Jeremy Hosking) is heavily invested in conspiracism, and especially Covid vaccination alarmism – this is a subject that the party’s sole MP, disgraced former Conservative Andrew Bridgen, now regularly uses to grandstand in Parliament.

Fox made an appearance in the constituency at the weekend, and photos show him addressing a crowd of less than 50 in a local park, including one person who had brought a large “Sovereign Citzen” banner. In the spirit of the pact with Reform UK, Fox was joined by Reform’s Ben Habib; Fox afterwards Tweeted his thanks to Habib and to some other supporters who were there: Bridgen, Fox’s GB News colleague and fellow conspiracy-monger Neil Oliver (2), and “CaliforniaFrizz”, a familiar figure from UK conspiracy-influencer meet-up events (3).

Oddly, Bridgen also chose to pose for a photo with one of Fox’s rival candidates – Piers Corbyn, who is running for a party called Let London Live. Corbyn and his own supporters were wearing t-shirts bearing their party’s web address, although the site isn’t yet live.


1. Fox recently complained that GB News won’t allow him to use his show to interview Katie Hopkins or Tommy Robinson:

I’m like, “why?”, because you have open racists on all other TV channels. So, you’ve got that – what’s that one who looks like she’s wearing a mop on her head? Shola [Mos-Shogbamimu]? She’s a massive racist. You get her on. You’ve got the other one that [indistinct] News, Narinder Kaur, who just says racist things and it’s fine… so you’re actually letting racists on TV dependent on their skin colour.

2. Oliver has recently started railing against “medical products” on GB News, as a way to evade censure for explicit Covid vaccination alarmism.

3. She can also be seen here as part of group called the “Elite Thinking Club” explaining that the moon landings must have been faked because there is a “shield” around the moon (17 mins in).

Duelling “Gotchas”: Jess Phillips and Katharine Birbalsingh

From Sky News:

Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips has been accused of “racist and bullying behaviour” after a row on social media with high-profile headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh.

…It came after Ms Birbalsingh, head of high-achieving Michaela Community School in Brent, said she inadvertently tweeted a picture of Tina Turner alongside her abusive former husband Ike Turner amid tributes to the late star.

…Ms Phillips then tweeted “hold the line!”, adding: “Stay with me! Domestic abuse is never ok and we will defeat those who prop up the status quo…”

The Tweeted image was a faux pas, but the allegation that Birbalsingh would have used the death of Tina Turner as a way to launder Ike Turner’s reputation or to make a dig at women who leave their abusive husbands is vicious and implausible; yet Phillips persisted with her opportunistic gotcha, celebrating Birbalsingh’s subsequent deletion of the Tweet as a victory and then sarcastically Tweeting a “sure” gif when Birbalsingh clarified her opposition to wife-beating. Phillips also Tweeted that she might write to the Michaela Community School to ask about domestic abuse policies in “her school or teaching plans”.

Birbalsingh had valid reason to complain about Phillips’ stance, and particularly her continuing unwillingness to accept that the Turner image had been posted inadvertently. However, her claim that Phillips instigated a pile-on motivated by “racism”, as laid out in a long letter to Keir Starmer that she has posted online, is based on flawed evidence and wild extrapolation and undermines her grievance. In particular, Alex Andreou has pointed out that Birbalsingh was already under attack before Phillips got involved, and that Tweets from third parties cited by Birbalsingh as evidence of a pile-on precede her intervention. Birbalsingh also incorrectly claims that she was singled out for criticism by Phillips when she recently gave a speech at the recent National Conservative Conference, when in fact Phillips had offered scathing comments about a number of speakers.

Birbalsingh is on firmer ground when she complains that Phillips referred to her as “that headteacher woman” – such a description raises the suspicion that Phillips couldn’t be bothered to double-check how to spell an ethnic minority surname and so decided to dodge around it, but Birbalsingh’s extrapolation from that to “she holds me in contempt for being a black woman who does not bend the knee and consider her master” is excessive.

Further, an important plank of Birbalsingh’s argument in her letter is that Phillips allegedly subscribes to a belief that ethnic minority Britons lose their right to be considered as such if they do not supoort progressive politics. Her evidence here was a 2018 Tweet in which Phillips supposedly wrote that an unnamed Conservative Party leadership candidate “ain’t no Asian”. However, Birbalsingh had misread a screenshot, and the phrase used was actually “ain’t no Aslan”, mocking a contemporary media comparsion between the famous fictional lion and Boris Johnson.

The Tweet as reproduced by her appears to derive from a collage of undated salty Phillips Tweets that someone put together a while ago – here’s someone posting it in 2021 and making the same “ain’t no Asian” misreading. How this was brought to Birbalsingh’s attention remains unknown, but the fact that the Phillips Tweet hadn’t provoked any media interest ought to have been a red flag. The error, which Birbalsingh has conceded but downplayed, shows the importance of checking Tweets for oneself where possible (currently more difficult due to Elon Musk’s daily read limits).

Phillips had assumed the worst about Birbalsingh due to the latter’s high-profile position within UK culture wars – Birbalsingh describes herself as a “floating voter” who has sometimes voted Labour, but her appearance at the National Conservative Conference was obviously as a supporter of a political movement. Last year, of all the people she could have invited to visit her school she chose the crank conservative commentator Jordan Peterson, and she recently made headlines by endorsing sensational yet unsubstantiated media claims that some schools allow children to identify as cats and other non-human things. In particular, she claimed that she had heard of a pupil somewhere who supposedly identified as a hologram – read alongside rumours of a cat-pupil, this obviously brought to mind the television series Red Dwarf, and raised the possibility that she was being pranked.

As regards Birbalsingh’s education policies, they are controversial but as far as I am aware there aren’t any ex-pupils complaining that they found the school environment oppressive. Also, she has at least shown that it possible to run a “strict” shool without resorting to hitting children with bits of wood, which is welcome.

I noted a previous instance of Phillips going on the attack based on false allegations here.

Rash of “Lab Leak” Articles Precedes Wuhan Intelligence Declassification

From the Sunday Times “Insight” team [1], a couple of weeks ago:

Investigators who scrutinised top-secret intercepted communications and scientific research believe Chinese scientists were running a covert project of dangerous experiments, which caused a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and started the Covid-19 outbreak.

The US investigators say one of the reasons there is no published information on the work is because it was done in collaboration with researchers from the Chinese military, which was funding it and which, they say, was pursuing bioweapons.

The Sunday Times has reviewed hundreds of documents, including previously confidential reports, internal memos, scientific papers and email correspondence that has been obtained through sources or by freedom of information campaigners in the three years since the pandemic started. We also interviewed the US State Department investigators — including experts on China, emerging pandemic threats, and biowarfare — who conducted the first significant US inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak.

An image caption with the article adds that “Covid-19 is widely believed to have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology”, as if this is now the consensus view.

Oddly, the “investigators” are never named, although the article contains commentary from the likes of lab leak proponents such as Richard Ebright, who appears to have guided the authors through the material. Particularly conspicuous by his absence from the story is David Asher, who led the Trump-era State Department investigation into Covid origins referred to above; some details of this previously entered the public domain in 2021, such as a Mail on Sunday piece headlined “‘A Lab Leak isn’t 100% Certain but it Seems to be the Only Logical Source of Covid’: Washington Expert Who Led Inquiry into the Cause of the Virus Reveals Three Wuhan Lab Scientists Fell Ill in November 2019” [2]. This reappears in the Sunday Times article:

They found evidence that researchers working on these experiments were taken to hospital with Covid-like symptoms in November 2019 — a month before the West became aware of the pandemic — and one of their relatives died.

An investigator said: “We were rock-solid confident that this was likely Covid-19 because they were working on advanced coronavirus research in the laboratory. They’re trained biologists in their thirties and forties. Thirty-five-year-old scientists don’t get very sick with influenza.”

On Twitter, the links back to Asher were noted by Angela Rasmussen and Flo Débarre, as part of long threads critiquing the article. As judged by Rasmussen:

This “investigation” is actually just rehashing documents from the US government, including this citation-free “fact sheet” that Mike Pompeo’s state department rushed out during his last week in office.

That fact-sheet, she adds, was probably written by Asher. She and Débarre also draw attention to a 2021 critique of Asher and his investigation written by Christopher Ashley Ford, a former State Department Assistant Secretary.

A couple of days after the Sunday Times article, the New York Post reported further details about the alleged sick lab workers:

Scientists conducting research on novel coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were the first humans to contract COVID-19, according to a new report.

“Patients zero” included Ben Hu, Ping Yu and Yan Zhu — scientists researching SARS-like viruses at the institute, according to an investigation by journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi [3] published on the Substack newsletter Public.

The three scientists were researching “gain-of-function” experiments with the virus — which increases its infectiousness and makes pathogens stronger in order to better understand their dangers — when they became sick in the fall of 2019, multiple US government officials reportedly told the journalists.

This was then followed with an opinion piece a week later from Marty Makary headed “10 reasons we KNOW that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Lab”, which rehashed some lab leaks “greatest hits”, oblivious to nuance or subsequent critiques.

So why were all these talking points suddenly being pushed into prominence just now? The most obvious context, as noted by Rasmussen and Peter Jacobs last week, is that US Director of National Intelligence was due to declassify intelligence assessments pertaining to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that the release was likely to be underwhelming as regards support for “lab leak” narratives.

And so it has come to pass – as described by Reuters:

U.S. intelligence agencies found no direct evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic stemmed from an incident at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, a report declassified on Friday said.

The four-page report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said the U.S. intelligence community still could not rule out the possibility that the virus came from a laboratory, however, and had not been able to discover the origins of the pandemic.

As for the three alleged “sick workers”, there is some suspicion that their identifications were simply pulled from online scientific papers published in English. Further, one of those named has now come forward to Science Insider with a denial:

A scientist at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) who has recently faced media allegations that he was the first person with COVID-19 and his research on coronaviruses sparked the pandemic strongly denies that he was ill in late 2019 or that his work had any link to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, a newly released U.S. report of declassified information on COVID-19’s origin… “My colleagues and I tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibody in early March 2020 and we were all negative.”

…Hu is an appealing suspect for lab-leak proponents because he was a lead author on a 2017 paper in PLOS Pathogens describing an experiment that created chimeric viruses by combining genes for surface proteins from bat coronaviruses that would not grow in cultures with the genome of one that did.

In contrast to the regular stream of repetitive “lab leak” media sensations, scientific work building the case that SARS-CoV-2 is natural and that it spread to humans in ways that have nothing to do with a lab escape receives far less attention. It seems to me that it is “lab leakers”, rather than sceptical scientists, who have enjoyed the patronage of a compliant media, in large part relying on the mystique of “intelligence” (in one case the Daily Telegraph even wheeled out a former head of MI6 to as substitute peer review for a paper that had failed to pass muster). However, as Rasmussen points out:

The reason why [there is] no clarity on origins thanks to this declassified report is that this has always been a scientific question rather than an intelligence question.


1. One of the more memorable chapters of Nick Davies’ 2008 book Flat Earth News chronicles the decline of the Sunday Times “Insight” team:

The desperate quest for suitable scoops without suitable resources… produced a string of stories which were simply fictitious. There was a joke in the office: “Our stories are more manufactured than retail.” Journalists on other newspapers who were used to following up Sunday Times exclusives simply stopped bothering. It became a Fleet Street cliché to talk about the stories on the Sunday Times which “stood up on Sunday and fell down by Monday”. I know Whitehall press officers now who rank the paper above even the cheapest red-top tabloid as a source of fabricated stories.

2. This was a year after the Mail on Sunday ran a number of lab leak stories (a period during which lab leakers now claim that their theories were being suppressed and derided unfairly as conspiracy theories).

3. Shellenberger also has “multiple sources” who have told him that the US “has 12 or more alien spacecraft”.

Richard Fairbrass Claims Vaccine Holocaust Tweet was a Hack

A statement from novelty pop musician turned conspiracy influencer Richard Fairbrass:

Right Said Fred would like to issue the following statement ‘Some may be aware that the tweet below is currently circulating on Twitter and has incited negative attention towards us. We would like to state that this tweet was never posted by Richard and we believe his account has been infiltrated and compromised, not for the first time. We both come from Jewish heritage and find any intimation of antisemitism abhorrent. We regret any offence this tweet may have cause.

The Tweet being disavowed posted an image of the concrete and wire fence line at Auschwitz-Birkenau, above which was written:

“No need for gas chambers when vaccines will do the job slowly and quietly and nobody will even know it’s a holocaust”

The quote is unattributed despite the quotation marks.

The original Tweet was immediately derided as an obvious example of Holocaust trivialisation; Fairbrass’s apparent acknowledgement that as such it carries “an intimation” of antisemitism is in contrast to the position of disgraced MP Andrew Bridgen, who has defended comparing Covid vaccination with the Holocaust on the grounds that an Israeli academic agrees with him. Bridgen is currently suing Matt Hancock for libel after Hancock called the comparison antisemitic.

The original Tweet appeared at 12.25 on 4 June. Fairbrass was active on Twitter in the hours afterwards, including interacting with other users on other subjects. It’s not clear when the Tweet was taken down, but the statement claiming a hack was not published until more than 24 hours later. It is very difficult to understand why it took so long, and the hacker’s motives remain unclear – the Tweet came under particular criticism, but it was not anomalous. For instance, in January Fairbrass defended Bridgen’s Holocaust comparision, calling Sajid Javid an “ill informed wanker” for criticising him; there are other examples from the same period, at least one of which has now been deleted after coming under renewed attention.

In January 2022, Fairbrass and his brother Fred Fairbrass said they had “got it wrong” after promoting a livestream hosted by neo-Nazi Mark Collett; more recently, however,  Richard Fairbrass’s output has included supporting Paul Golding’s complaint about a Muslim reciting the adhan outside the Royal Albert Hall as part of an iftar event, and posting a Ukrainian flag with the words “Fuck Ukraine” superimposed over it. None of this damaged their standing within the populist milieu: just last month they appeared on GB News live from Bournemouth, where they were shown larking around with Nigel Farage. It seems that someone, though, judged their more recent Holocaust Tweet to be a more serious matter.

The Mystery of Mike Veale’s Delayed Gross Misconduct Inquiry

From the Press Association:

‘Stonewalling’ claim as misconduct inquiry delayed into former police boss

A Home Office minister has been accused of “stonewalling” in response to frustrations surrounding a delayed gross misconduct inquiry into a former chief constable. Lord Sharpe of Epsom was tackled over the investigation into Mike Veale which is yet to start despite being announced in August 2021.

Veale was Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police during Operation Conifer, an expensive investigation into whether former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had died a decade before in 2005, had committed sexual offences. No evidence was found, but Heath’s reputation was tarnished by sensationalising leaks to the Mail on Sunday. Those leaks were very likely channelled through Andrew Bridgen MP, who although always a buffoon was not at that time publicly associated with the belligerent conspiracy theorising that he has embraced since being disgraced in court. Veale went on to become Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, although he didn’t last long and Bridgen then recommended him as an advisor to Rupert Matthews, the UFO-enthusiast Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire; Veale soon afterwards resigned from that role due to negative media coverage. (1)

Delays over Veale’s misconduct inquiry have been lamented for months; on 6 February BBC News ran a piece headlined “Probe into ex Cleveland chief constable Mike Veale should be ‘speeded up'”, which was followed on 21 March with “Mike Veale: Ex-Wiltshire police chief ‘not taken to task’” from the Salisbury Journal. According to the latter,

In cryptic remarks, Tory frontbencher Lord Sharpe of Epsom told peers there were reasons for the postponement, but he was unable to reveal what they were.

Lord Sharpe was responding to a question from Lord Debben (better-known as John Gummer), but the fuller exchange was initiated by Lord Lexden (Alistair B. Cooke), the official historian of the Conservative Party.

The matter also features in the latest issue of Private Eye magazine (1599, p. 13, “Called to Ordure” column). The magazine compares Lord Lexden to a “mild-mannered detective quietly persisting until he nabs his villain”, and describes him variously as “mouselike” and as having “tradmark Monsieur Poirot courtesy”. It also quotes his contribution to a Lords debate on 3 May on restoring public confidence in the police, where he stated

It is unconscionable that one of the Crown’s First Ministers should pass into history with even a faint suspicion of wrongdoing because no one in authority today will do anything to help wipe it out… For me personally, Operation Conifer showed how hard it had become in Britain today to feel full confidence in our police.

Operation Conifer was distinct from the Metropolitan Police’s disastrous Operation Midland, but there were overlaps and it is reasonable to judge that the Met’s pursuit of sensational allegations against “VIPs” set an example. Shortly after the end of Operation Conifer, one of Veale’s first media interviews was with none other than Mark Watts of Exaro, the alternative media outfit that first brought Carl Beech to police attention. However, it seems that these overlaps are now being used to explain away details specific to Operation Conifer. Here’s Lord Sharpe in the same debate:

On Operation Conifer, I really have heard what my noble friends in particular have said on this matter. One thing that I feel I must say is that, even though the accusations laid against some of the people who were investigated turned out to be those of a fantasist, that fantasist was given political cover and there was political pressure involved here; we should not forget that fact.

As noted in Private Eye, this is a reference to Tom Watson MP, who advocated on behalf of Beech and other accusers and liaised with the Metropolitan Police. However, it’s not clear that his influence extended into Wiltshire.


1. One person who claims to have had contact with both Andrew Bridgen and Mike Veale is retired police officer turned anti-Satanic Ritual Abuse obsessive Jon Wedger, although he’s the only source for this (see here for Bridgen and here for Veale).