Gatwick Drone Arrests: How Twitter Mob Responded on 22 December

A Tweet from Sussex Police, 22 December:

#GatwickDrones | Around 10pm today we made 2 arrests in connection with criminal drone activity at Gatwick Airport. Proactive investigations are still on-going: we urge the public to contact us if they believe they have information that can aid us further.

I discussed the arrests and the media response here. As everyone knows, the couple were released 36 hours later, and they are no longer suspects.

I return to the Tweet today in order to note some of the more than 350 replies that the announcement of the arrest elicited. Although a few voices urged caution, the overwhelming view prior to the couple being released was that the police deserved to be congratulated for having caught the culprits, and that the couple ought to be subjected to severe penalties – not just long prison terms after conviction, but also being brought to the airport at once to face angry travellers. One person Tweeted an image of a noose, while another hinted that the public would welcome police brutality against the suspects.

It was also suggested that if the matter were dropped without going to court, this would be indicative that the CPS is not doing its job properly, and that there is “no justice anymore”.

I include some examples below.

Rather than charging them & involving the courts at Christmas could you not bring them loudly into the departure halls & leave them there. I’m sure they’d be dealt with sympathetically 🙈🙊😂

Now charge them for every single penny this disruption caused. You got to wonder what actually goes through people heads sometimes, sit them in a room with that kid that was on tv who was going to Lapland and let them explain to him why they did it.

Absolutely throw the book at them, no other way to deter people from doing this again. Whatever their reasons they have brought misery to families, old and young!

Do grown up crime then they need to do serious grown up time. 5 years is not enough a detterent. That needs doubling, they have ruined so many dream trips, holidays, trips for deeply personal situations – family funerals etc. Untold financial cost !

Good. Now make them pay for all the chaos they’ve caused.

Excellent work 👏🏻 Best wishes for Christmas and New Year, especially for those working over the holiday period.

Wasn’t it a local passer by that saw them and alerted the authorities? Well done police for arresting them but the person that reported them is the real hero here!! Name and shame the irresponsible imbeciles and let nature take its course….

You’ve done all that, now see if the CPS will back you up with taking action and if they do, the Court handing out the appropriate sentence.

British Armed Forces and Police working in unison =job done

Good job. Now let’s hope the @cpsuk do a proper job of prosecuting. It’d be even better if the airport and disrupted passengers lined up to sue them into oblivion. That might make others think twice.

Great news well done #sussexpolice I don’t think there’d be too much concern if they were to “fall over” in their cells.

2 arrests but I guarantee nothing will will happen to them. No justice anymore

@cpsuk Please throw the book at these bastards. They should get maximum time for every plane they disrupted plus sued by every airline and person affected.

Etc., etc…

A Note on the Gatwick Drone Arrests

The Independent quotes Sussex Police Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley, following the arrest and release without charge of a couple, Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk, in relation to the drone incidents at Gatwick Airport:

The detective said the arrests made on Friday night were the result of a tip-off from a member of the public.

“I’m completely satisfied the arrests were lawful, bearing in mind the burden of proof and likely suspicion at the time of arrest,” he said.

“Obviously we had to be sure prior to release, in terms of that investigation, they were no longer suspects.”

Mr Tingley added: “I won’t apologise, but what I will say is we really do appreciate their co-operation and we have put a lot of effort and resources into supporting them when they were released from questioning.”

The “tip-off”, assuming it was unembellished, would have consisted of the mundane fact that the couple lived near Gatwick and Gait owned a drone. These are very thin grounds on which to suspect someone, and when news of the arrest broke the first reports already included an alibi from Gait’s boss which put him in the clear.

A further quote from Tingley was published on the Sussex Police website:

“Both people have fully co-operated with our enquiries and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick.

“It is important to remember that when people are arrested in an effort to make further enquiries it does not mean that they are guilty of an offence and Sussex Police would not seek to make their identity public…”

Some observations.

First, it is always welcome when a police force reiterates the point that an arrest does not indicate guilt, even though this should be obvious. Sussex Police does not have a good record here, though – in 2015, the force announced that having spoken with a woman who had accused the late Bishop of Chichester George Bell of child sex abuse, Bell would have been arrested, interviewed, and bailed, and the matter referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The only impediment was that Bell had died in 1958. After some pushing by the journalist Peter Hitchens, the police eventually clarified that “there was no intention to release a police statement about the alleged criminality of Bishop Bell”. However, routine police procedure had been presented in sensational terms, with the obvious implication of just such criminality. I wrote more about this here.

Second, it should be noted that Tingley justifies detaining Gait and Kirk on the grounds that the arrests were “lawful”. There is tendency for the police to refer to its powers when asked to justify operational decisions, but this is a dodge. The arrests may well have been “lawful”, but that does not mean that they were proportionate or well-grounded. In this instance, at the time of the arrests the police were under great pressure to show that they were making progress, and it is reasonable to suspect that this had an improper influence on decision-making.

Third, police may not have publicised the two names, but they reached the media nonetheless. Perhaps they were leaked, although the spectacle of the arrest and police search of Gait and Kirk’s home may have caught the attention of journalists. The person who provided the “tip-off” may have been responsible, in which case we must wonder if police acted in response to a malicious allegation.

Sensational front-page headlines followed, with the Mail on Sunday asking “Are These the Morons Who Ruined Christmas?” This goes far beyond simply echoing a question which at that time was being asked by the police, and is obviously accusatory and derisory. Roy Greenslade has more on this here, including the obvious parallels with the infamous press monstering of Christopher Jefferies. He suggests that it is “doubtful that the Mail on Sunday, and maybe other titles too, will escape unscathed.”

A Note on the Maguire Seven Convictions as an Instance of Moral Panic

There are a couple of days left to catch Stephen Nolan’s documentary A Great British Injustice: The Maguire Seven on the BBC iPlayer. The miscarriage of justice suffered by an ordinary family of Northern Irish extraction living in London in the 1970s is not just some “old case” (as I recall Kenneth Clarke as Home Secretary saying [1]) – new interview material in the documentary shows that it is a continuing trauma for those who were abused in police custody and wrongfully convicted of terrorism offences, and there is contemporary resonance in the police investigative, forensic and disclosure failures highlighted by Annie Maguire’s solicitor Alastair Logan.

One detail that particularly caught my attention was a media clip from 1976, in which the journalist John Stapleton credulously expounded the official line shortly after the convictions, for a segment that was broadcast on Nationwide (2). His account was so striking that I decided to transcribe it:

So what type of person is behind this terrifying campaign? Where and how do they hide in London? Could one of them be your next-door neighbour? These days, terrorists seem to have adopted different tactics. Now, they send highly trained specialists here several months before the planned operation, the idea being that the specialists can absorb themselves in the community and at the same time awaken people known as sleepers.

Probably the most notorious of all sleepers was this woman, Annie Maguire. Annie Maguire had lived in England for 20 years; as far as her neighbours were concerned, she was just an ordinary, indeed a rather friendly housewife.

What they didn’t know was that along with her husband Patrick and their two sons, one of them not even 14 years old, Auntie Annie – as she was known to her terrorist friends – was a vital cog in the bombers’ machine. Not only did she train new recruits how to make bombs, she actually stored explosives in the kitchen of this, her home, just like you might keep tins of corned beef.

The place became known as “Auntie Annie’s Devil’s Kitchen”. Well now, that kitchen is closed.

As Stephen Nolan adds in his commentary on this: “Every one of [those] sentences was wrong”. So where did all this nonsense come from?

Stapleton’s reporting, it seems to me, reflects the logic and language of moral panics, which are revealed in sharpest relief in Satanic Ritual Abuse claims. Our “next-door neighbours” may be secretly dedicated to a wicked conspiracy, their domestic arrangements an obscene inversion and parody of the mundane: “she actually stored explosives in the kitchen of this, her home, just like you might keep tins of corned beef.” The case for Maguire’s guilt verges on the non-falsifiable, since the implausibility of her involvement becomes evidence that she was actually a “sleeper”, sent to the UK more than a decade before the conflict in Northern Ireland had even started.

The parallel with SRA is underscored by the phrase “Auntie Annie’s Devil’s Kitchen”, which suggests that Maguire and her “terrorist friends” recognised their own evil and revelled in their transgressions. This bit of Brass Eye absurdity does not appear in any other account that has made it online; It seems to have been an escalation from the phrase “Auntie Annie’s Bomb Factory”, which appeared in earlier reporting and at least reflected how a terrorist might conceivably refer to a bomb-making facility.

Have lessons been learnt? Perhaps – but botched reporting on terrorism threats (remember breast-implant bombs?), fiascoes around “VIP abuse” allegations and continuing police disclosure failures suggest that the malaise is perennial. And Nolan’s documentary also notes that public anger against Republican terrorism in  the 1970s was expressed in crudely anti-Irish terms during protests – another detail with modern parallels.

Footnotes

1. I quote from memory of a broadcast news interview. Most likely this was after the publication of the May Report in late 1992, although I can’t be sure. Clarke referred to the “old cases” of the Maguire Seven, the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, as if they were some legacy anomaly from long ago that now at last been been tidied up.

2. The clip also has a page on the BBC website, although the extract itself cannot be viewed at the moment (“Sorry, this clip is not currently available”). The blurb attempts to distance Stapleton from the pseudo-account he presents, saying that he “describes the activities the court believed took place in ‘Auntie Annie’s Devil’s Kitchen’.”

British “Yellow Vest” Group Disrupts Court of Appeal Hearing: Some Notes

From the Independent:

A drink-driver who killed three teenage boys as they walked to a birthday party has had his prison sentence reduced at a court hearing that was disrupted by protesters.

Judges preparing to hand down their decision on the case of Jaynesh Chudasama at the Court of Appeal were forced to halt proceedings because of shouting and chanting from people in the public gallery, including members of the “yellow vests” group.

Family members of victims Harry Rice, 17, George Wilkinson, 16, and Josh McGuinness, 16, were among about 30 members of the public who attended the Royal Courts of Justice for the decision.

The “yellow vests” group – inspired by, but not apparently connected with, protesters in France – came to attention last week when members blocked several bridges across the Thames in central London in support of Brexit. There was also an incident in which activists approached the pro-Remain MP Anna Soubry on the street outside Parliament and abused her as a “traitor” who is “on the side of Adolf Hitler”. (1)

The group identified itself as “Fighting for Justice”, and some of the yellow vests had the slogan “Justice for Our Boys” written on the back. The same slogan featured at a “Free Tommy” event over the summer, and refers to the claim that Chudasama was actually a terrorist who killed the boys deliberately. The campaigners – who include at least two of parents of the victims – argue that Chudasama’s jihadi motive has been covered up by the police and legal system, and that he ought to have been tried and convicted for murder rather than for causing death by dangerous driving.

The campaign has been endorsed by Tommy Robinson, and members noted in an earlier Independent report include “former soldier Tim Scott, who once led the UK branch of anti-Islam German group Pegida” and “David Coppin of Margate, an EDL supporter who has attended numerous far-right rallies across the UK including a ‘White Lives Matter’ march.” Further:

Also among them are two men allegedly involved in an attack on the Bookmarks socialist bookshop in London in August.

Mark Martin aka “Buska in the Park” and a young man called Max, who is known as “Red Cap Boy”, are both avid supporters of Mr Trump.

Social media has also identified one of the men involved in the abuse of Soubry as one Brian Philips, known as “Brian the Lion”.

The group’s spokesperson (he says that he is not the leader) is James Goddard, who told cheering “Free Tommy” supporters in the summer that the government consists of “Satanic paedophiles”; on Gab, Goddard has opined that “It’s about time the indigenous people of Great Britain, were put first”, and he reposted a reply referring to “Paki traitors of any stripe, along with your treasonous officials who enable the ethnic cleansing of the native British people”. He further advises the journalist Afua Hirsch, whose mother is Ghanaian (her father is British), that “this isn’t Africa” and that she should “F**K Off, back to Bongo Land” after she made provocative comments about Nelson’s Column. On Twitter, he makes generous use of the alt-right insults “snowflake” and “soy-boy”, and so on.

The campaign also intersects with several conspiracy theories: the vest worn by “Brian the Lion”, for example, has a reference to “788-790 Finchley Road”, a company service address that a man named Graham Bowden believes is at the centre of a multi-million pound fraud involving politicians. Goddard’s own vest features the acronym “WWG1WGA”, indicating alignment with the extravagant (and repeatedly deferred) promises of “QAnon”, and Tracy Blackwell (var. Tracey Blackwell), the mother of one of those killed, has signalled her support for Melanie Shaw and the Hampstead Ritual Abuse hoaxer Sabine McNeill.

It is not a surprise, then, that members of the campaign are suspicious of the law itself; and there are indications of “Freeman of the Land”-type beliefs, which regard the legal system as being largely illegitimate, having usurped the “common law” (I discussed this in relation to a group called the “White Pendragons” here). This may explain why there was disruption at the Court of Appeal. The court judgment (which can be read here) includes the detail that

As we understood it, [the families] challenged the adequacy of the charges without success. They had also complained to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor of London. Finally, we were handed a Notice of Application for Voluntary Bill of Indictment for a voluntary bill against a Metropolitan Police Officer for “misconduct in office by failing to exercise his powers to investigate allegations of murder”. The document goes on to assert that “the families of the victims have exercised their common law right to refer the matter to a Middlesex Grand Jury of their peers which has issued a presentment”.

Such “grand juries” were abolished in 1933, I would hazard that this is a reference to some pseudo-legal group of like-minded activists.

The judgment also discusses in some detail the circumstances in which the boys were killed. Although the idea of a drunk jihadist is counter-intuitive, it is possible that an act of violent jihad might have romantic and redemptive appeal to someone who has not adopted Islamist strictures, and the family claim that Chudasama had viewed jihadi videos. However, in this case it seems that Chudasama had genuinely lost control of his car; further, he had a passenger, and after the crash his instinct was to flee rather than cause further harm. It seems to me that a trial for murder would almost certainly have failed to prove its case.

Footnote

(1) The aggressive street abuse of Soubry was widely condemned on social media, although Kate Hoey MP dissented by promoting an article on Spiked by Brendan O’Neill entitled “Of Course Anna Soubry is being Protested Against”. O’Neill argues that “the fury over the anti-Soubry protests speaks to the astonishing sense of entitlement in the political set”, and that “the media class’s hatred for these protesters is down to the fact that they are from the lower classes”. He acknowledges that “one of them is a known hard-right activist”, but argues that it is unfair to extrapolate any wider significance from this. As is often the case with O’Neill, he has a point as regards the general principle, but his polemic is overstated and selectively applied: thus while he is scathing of Soubry’s supporters he has no problem with Sarah Champion MP neutralising criticism by characterising instances of it as extremist attacks that personally endanger her.

Revealingly, one MP who is usually very quick to characterise criticisms of MPs as harassment has had nothing to say about Soubry being accosted in the street: this is Nadine Dorries, who recently announced that she is “speaking [to] police” about disobliging comments made about her by the journalist James O’Brien. In 2016, Dorries claimed that she had been “terrified” and “surrounded” by a Remainer protest held just after the referendum, and she mocked Soubry with the false claim that she had been inebriated when she addressed the crowd. However, the appearance of videos of the yellow-vest abuse of Soubry happened to coincide with Dorries announcing that she is taking a break from Twitter.

Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse Hoaxer Sabine McNeill Convicted

From Court News UK:

A pensioner described as an ‘online troll of the worst kind’ is facing jail for accusing innocent parents of satanic abuse. Sabine McNeill, 74, led a campaign to uncover claims of devil worship and child abuse at a primary school in Hampstead, northwest London. McNeill harassed four mothers, who cannot be named, by claiming they were members of a cult who cooked babies and ate them.

The rest of the article is paywalled, although what appears to be a derivative account can be seen at Metro. The latter includes the claim that “Her claims were so realistic that a police investigation was launched into the blameless parents”, which is not quite accurate: the origin of the affair was that two children at the school had been coached by their mother and step-father to make allegations of Satanic sex abuse, and their precociously sexually explicit accounts would have been of greater concern to the police.

In 2015, there was a protest outside a church next to the school, consisting of a weird coalition of evangelical Christians, “alternative media” conspiracy theorists and “Freeman of the Land” types (a couple of arrests followed). The conspiracy milieu in which the allegations have been promoted has been chronicled extensively by the blog Hoaxtead Research, including an exhaustive account of McNeill’s 18-day trial (concluding summary here), which also highlighted some antics by her supporters during it.

Of course, prosecutions and convictions are unlikely to change the minds of those who have invested in the conspiracy theory – indeed, the outcome can easily be assimilated into a grand and non-falsifiable theory of an all-powerful cover up. Just recently, two American Hampstead enthusiasts attended a child abuse conference in Dundee, during which one of them plastered stickers around the town promoting the Satanic Ritual Abuse claims; and the story of “Hampstead Satanists” is now embedded within alt-right and populist circles, alongside the claim that the convicted arsonist Melanie Shaw has been convicted as a cover-up of “VIP child sex abuse” in care homes.

This was demonstrated last month, in a speech made outside the Royal Courts of Justice by Tracy Blackwell, a leader of the Tommy Robinson-linked “Justice for Our Boys” campaign. As shown in a video, Blackwell told her supporters (at 14.15):

Free Melanie Shaw, as we all know, another political prisoner. Free Sabine McNeill, another prisoner.

It was Blackwell and her fellow campaigners, led by one James Goddard, who blocked bridges in central London on Friday as a pro-Brexit stunt.

Also visible in the same video is Paul Rogers, who documents and promotes various right-leaning protests in London under the name “Eddie Isok”. Rogers – whose Twitter avatar shows him posing with Anne-Marie Waters of For Britain – also attended the McNeill trial, and he made videos in which he named witnesses despite reporting restrictions and promised that he intended to film “certain people” outside Southwark Crown Court, “and then certain people in the know, I will tell them who these people are, right, and they will deal with it”. This sort of thing did not go down well with the judge, and he was held overnight for contempt of court before being given a suspended sentence. According to Hoaxtead, he also tried to video in the court precincts, and he blames the Hoaxstead author for reporting him over this. Rogers believes it is significant that Hampstead is close to Finchley, here making a link with “Finchley Road” international fraud allegations popular among the same activist crowd. (1)

Meanwhile, another activist who showed up to report proceedings claimed that he was assaulted by an agent of the “Zionist conspiracy”, and a few days after that the judge ordered security posted outside the courtroom and required attendees to provide ID, telephone numbers and addresses.

Footnote

1. Rogers does not believe just anything, though, and a few months ago he publicised Brian Harvey’s complaints against Bill Maloney.

WWG1WGA Comes to London as “Fighting for Justice” Protesters Block Bridges

From Mail Online:

Pro-Leave demonstrators donning yellow vests took over three bridges in central London today as they demanded Britain’s exit from the EU.

Campaigners chanting ‘Brexit now’ stopped cars from crossing Westminster Bridge, Tower Bridge and then Waterloo Bridge as Theresa May held crunch talks with EU leaders in Brussels.

A live stream, hosted on a Facebook page titled Fighting for Justice, showed yellow vest-wearing activists blocking the bridge for about 20 minutes. They chanted “Brexit now” before they were moved on by police.

…The identified themselves as the ‘Fighting for Justice’ Group, which was set up following the deaths of George Wilkinson, Josh McGuinness, both 16, and 17 year-old Harry Rice.

The three teenagers were killed by drink driver Jaynesh Chudasama when he lost control of his Audi A5 trying to overtake another vehicle in Hayes, west London.

Former EDL leader and far-right figure Tommy Robinson lent his support to the families by attending the court hearings, which ended with Chudasama being jailed for 13 years.

I previously blogged about this campaign, also known as “Justice for our Boys”, in September: supporters claim that Chudasama killed the boys deliberately as an act of jihad, but that the police and CPS refused to take this into account as part of a cover up. The organiser of the protests seems to have been James Goddard, who a few months ago received cheers when he told a “Free Tommy” rally that the UK is run by an elite of “Satanic paedophiles” – although Tracy Blackwell, the mother of one of the boys, has a higher media profile.

The campaign has been a visible presence at fringe-right marches and demonstrations associated with Robinson, and in recent weeks it has expanded to include various grievances associated with the populist movement around Robinson. Blackwell recently gave a speech outside the Royal Courts of Justice in which – while holding a Bible – she described Melanie Shaw and Sabine McNeill as prisoners who should be freed (see 14:15 here): the “Free Melanie Shaw” campaign (backed by Robinson and UKIP leader Gerard Batten) alleges that Shaw has been imprisoned as part of a cover-up of VIP sex abuse, whereas McNeill was convicted just yesterday for offences related to her promotion of distressing false claims about a murderous Satanic Ritual Abuse cult in Hampstead, which saw parents of children at a school in the area being falsely accused on social media and threatened.

Videos uploaded to the Fighting for Justice Facebook page suggest that Brexit was the main focus of yesterday’s protests, with Remainers denounced as traitors and passers-by being asked to say whether they were British or European. Goddard gave a short interview on the subject to Sputnik, and a clip of the protest was promoted on Twitter by Leave.Eu with the commentary “This is what happens when the Establishment ignores the will of the people”. This clip prompted criticism of the protesters – Westminster Bridge leads south to St Thomas’ Hospital opposite Parliament just across the river, and a rapid response car ambulance making an emergency journey was forced to stop (Goddard says it was let through, but the extract suggests that the protesters didn’t anticipate the problem and were slow to react – and one protester apparently initially told the driver to take a different route).

However, the Facebook uploads also show that Blackwell used her megaphone to refer to tax evasion by “elites”, and that she urged people to investigate “788-790 Finchley Road”. This address, and others nearby, is used by many companies as a service address, and a campaigner named Gordon Bowden (of “Pandora’s Box Investigations”) believes that he has uncovered a multi-million pound fraud associated with the location involving prominent politicians. Bowden’s website also points out that the address is “in a pre-dominantly Jewish part of North London”, although he adds that he not anti-Semitic. The protest also returned to the Royal Courts of Justice, where Blackwell highlighted other campaigners outside protesting against the family courts and perceived injustices around “joint enterprise” convictions.

The Fighting for Justice Facebook page includes rhetoric suggestive of “Freeman of the Land” beliefs (e.g. “Know the law people which is common law No Loss No Harm No Injury.. they do not like it when they know you do not fear them”), and the acronym “WWG1WGA” makes an appearance – a reference to the American “QAnon” conspiracy, which has a number of British supporters. WWG1WGA also appears on the yellow vest worn by Goddard in his Twitter avatar, along with slogans that include “Have you found Jesus?” and the obscure phrase “Hats off constables” [UPDATE: A reader suggests that this may relate to a belief that a police officer cannot perform an arrest unless wearing a police hat or helmet].

Some Notes on the Sunday Mail Integrity Initiative Story

(expanded post)

This one is being widely discussed: from the Sunday Mail, the sister paper of the Scottish Daily Record:

A secret UK Government-funded infowars unit based in Scotland sent out social media posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

On the surface, the cryptically named Institute for Statecraft is a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife.

But explosive leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The “think tank” is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.

The article is the sequel to one that appeared the week before, headlined “Derelict Scottish mill is shadowy hub in UK’s fight against Putin’s propaganda machine”, which told us that:

For the tiny number of people aware of its existence, Gateside Mills is a derelict building in rural Fife without any obvious signs of life.

Anyone curious enough to carry out further investigation might find a seemingly small Scottish charity is registered there.

But the Sunday Mail can reveal the crumbling Victorian mill is actually the official headquarters of the controversial Institute for Statecraft (IFS) – a shadowy “think tank” whose Integrity Initiative programme has been set up to combat Russian propaganda.

The Integrity Initiative came to attention last month, after internal documents were leaked online – ostensibly by Anonymous – and then publicised by the Russian propaganda website Sputnik. These seem to be the same documents that are now described as having been “passed to the Sunday Mail“. Articles also appeared on the conspiracy website UK Column; one of these, posted on the same day as the first Sunday Mail piece, also included references to the supposed “derelict” state of Gateside Mills, and has now been commended by the left-wing activist Aaron Bastani, despite UK Column‘s Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy mongering and other extravagances.

I’m not convinced that this is in fact much of a story at all, for several reasons.

First, the “social media posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party” consist of a handful of Tweets that refer to critical newspaper and magazine commentaries: these include an article by Edward Lucas published in The Times in February, from which Integrity Initiative extracted a quote referring to Corbyn as a “useful idiot”, and two pieces by Oz Katerji from September: first, “The Kremlin has weaponised doubt in Syria – and Labour is helping”, which appeared in the New Statesman, and second, “Skripal poisoning: It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem”, which appeared on Politics.co.uk (Katerji has now responded on Twitter).

These are not “smears” – they are reasonable criticisms, and comparable to Tweets about other parties (tweeting a Times story in October: “Tory peers told to come clean about Russia links Peers across parties are on Russian payroll”). Apparently, the Integrity Initiative’s spokesman has conceded that Tweets attacking politicians ought to have been posted, but he seems to be making to a general statement without much familiarity with the organisation’s Twitter feed – the Tweets cannot be described as unreasonable, and if they breach the conditions of FCO funding then those conditions seem to me to be too restrictive.

Second, the Tweets publicise material of which Integrity Initiative obviously approves, but it is disproportionate to extrapolate a campaign (or a “psy-op”, to use a term preferred by the shrillest voices) against Labour based on such minimal and selective evidence. The Integrity Initiative’s Twitter feed is overwhelmingly about other subjects than the Labour Party. (1)

Third, the allegation is back to front: the material Tweeted by Integrity Initiative is obviously criticising Labour figures for their stance on Russia, and by extension Syria, rather than using Russia as an excuse to attack Labour – in this context, the “smear” motive makes no sense.

Fourth, “‘clusters’ of friendly journalists and ‘key influencers'” indicates affinity rather than conspiracy. That an organisation opposed to Russian disinformation might like to build links with journalists who are also opposed to Russian disinformation is hardly a surprise. We are not provided with any examples where we should reassess the significance and credibility of a story or commentary in the media because of the supposed influence of Integrity Initiative. The organisation has issued a statement on the subject, confirming that in fact that many of the names listed in its documents were simply potential contacts for events.

And fifth, while Gateside Mills is out of the way, it does not appear to be derelict. There is a least one business also based at the site, and both the Sunday Mail and UK Column articles show that the front of building bears a sign in good repair that says “Gateside Mills Centre of Creativity & Design” (2). It appears that some demolition work is going on around the back of the building (involving some garages and a former covered walkway), but a photo posted to the site’s Facebook page in August shows the same area in a reasonable condition. The owner is apparently still advertising for new businesses to join the site, and he or she has also posted a jocular and dismissive comment apparently aimed at the first Sunday Mail report (“Followed your instructions comradski. Cyanide pill as fake as news report”). The air of mystery around the location thus seems to me to be contrived.

I’m not adverse to keeping a critical eye on relations between the media and other actors – in many cases, we read about things not simply because inherent “news value” drives them to the front page, but because of links between journalists and particular politicians, think-tanks, or self-promoting “experts”. However, in this instance my curiously and scepticism are directed more towards the Sunday Mail itself than the subject of its supposed exposé.

Footnotes

1. The Labour Press Team Tweet from yesterday reported “@EmilyThornberry responds to media reports that a government-funded Infowars operation has been engaged in political attacks against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party”. I assume that the capitalisation of “Infowars” (which also appears in the related press release) was an accident, but it gives the false impression that the government had been funding Alex Jones.

2. The Sunday Mail photo of the back of the building is credited to the Sunday Mail, and the UK Column image of the same area (taken from a different angle) to David Scott. In both images the weather is damp, but there seems to be more cloud cover in the UK Column image. Perhaps, then, the publication of both images on the same day was a coincidence.

Operation Midland’s “Nick” Named as Carl Beech

The Times reports:

The man whose allegations sparked Scotland Yard’s disastrous paedophile inquiry can today be revealed as a former NHS manager, school governor and father of one.

Carl Stephen Beech, 50, is the man who has been known publicly only as Nick since 2014 when Scotland Yard launched Operation Midland based on his claims of murder and abuse by a paedophile ring.

Mr Beech… faces 12 charges of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud after the collapse of one of the Met’s most prominent inquiries. He is accused of profiting from alleged lies about murder, abuse and torture by fraudulently claiming £22,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. [1]

…Scotland Yard’s £2.5 million inquiry relied solely on Mr Beech’s abuse claims that he made against VIPs including Lord Bramall, 94, the Normandy veteran and former chief of defence staff, and Harvey Proctor, a former Conservative MP. Both were interviewed under caution during the 18-month inquiry before they were exonerated in 2016. 

The development has been reported in various newspapers – the Daily Telegraph has even put him on the front page. 

Carl Beech’s identity was not much of a secret – “jigsaw” identification has been possible for a long time, and in 2016 Associated Newspapers was fined after it published his photo with such minimal pixelation that he could be readily identified by anyone who knew him (see below). He has also previously been named by various individuals on social media.

The removal of Beech’s right to anonymity is an important step in achieving justice for those who were targeted by Operation Midland, in that while their alleged accuser remained in the shadows a thoroughgoing dismantling of the false allegations attributed to him by police and media has been impossible – thus despite the police exoneration, users of an #IBelieveNick hashtag have continued to assert the guilt of those who were falsely accused. It also remains to be told how the allegations were promoted by various groups and politicians, and the simple fact that we can now say that Nick’s real name is Carl opens new avenues here.

However, we are not quite at the destination: Beech will not face trial until May, and in the meantime we must take care to avoid writing anything that might be prejudicial or subject to reporting restrictions. Beech’s lawyer has indicated that his client intends to contest the allegations, and we do not know what defence may be offered – that is why I am careful to refer to claims attributed to Beech. I make no comment or speculation here about what Beech may have said to police or why. That does not mean, though, that we must pretend to be agnostic about false allegations. It will be Beech on trial next year, not the Operation Midland suspects [2].

The poorly pixelated photo of Carl Beech (“Nick”) that led to Associated Newspapers being fined in 2016. Note that the pixelation virtually disappears when the image is made smaller.

Footnotes

1. According to the Daily Mail:

The fraud charge alleges that he falsely claimed £22,000 in criminal injuries compensation by saying ‘he was subjected to abuse by a paedophile ring, knowing this to be untrue and intending thereby to make a gain for himself’.

Both reports could have been clearer that this relates to one particular allegation attributed to Beech, concerning one specific public figure. There seems to be no good reason why this person is not named, but without further guidance I won’t mention him either.

2 . Limits around what can be said at the moment may also be used opportunistically. Thus the journalist Mark Watts writes on Twitter that:

Part of the complication for media re naming is that there are allegations of child sexual abuse made by ‘Nick’ where he has not been charged with attempting to pervert course of justice or fraud.

This may imply that some allegations are stronger than others, and that the prosecution is being selective. However, allegations attributed to Nick include claims against people who are dead. In such cases, it is impossible to pervert the course of justice because there can be no trial; and the lack of any fraud allegation may merely indicate that no compensation was ever sought.

Pro-Brexit Prosperity Evangelist in Clerical Collar Prompts Conspiracy Theory about Newsnight

From the Independent:

The BBC has taken the unusual step of denying that a guest on a Newsnight Brexit debate who spoke in favour of Theresa May’s European Union withdrawal deal was “a paid actor”, after conspiracy theories about her real identity swirled on social media.

The corporation issued a statement about Lynn Hayter’s appearance after some Twitter users suggested she had been brought on to unfairly sway public opinion.

Hayter has a minor career as an actor, working mostly as an extra under her middle name Marina. However, she also has a religious ministry called Seeds For Wealth, and she appeared on Newsnight wearing a clerical collar. It appears that some people mistakenly assumed from her appearance that she was presenting herself as a vicar of the Church of England, and from this has grown the conspiracy theory that the BBC paid her to pose as a vicar in order to lend authority to the pro-Brexit argument:

Labour peer Andrew Adonis, who has repeatedly argued that Britain should remain in the EU, also tweeted about her appearance.

He asked: “Is it true that @BBCNewsnight engaged actors to put the Leave argument in a recent studio discussion because they wanted the Leave case put more strongly?”

…Presenter Emily Maitlis warned Lord Adonis not to “become a peddler of fake news”.

She tweeted: “Not in this day and age. Not when we need our parliamentarians to be better and more trusted than ever. To have got to a place where you could chose to believe that enough to write it is deeply worrying.”

On Twitter, Hayter describes herself as a “protege of Mike Murdock”, and she is shown posing with Murdock in her profile picture. There is also a video in which she is endorsed by Dr Jerry Grillo, Jr, Presiding Bishop of the Favor Center Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

Essentially, Hayter is an independent evangelist whose authority and credibility derive from other evangelists rather than from a formal position within a denomination. She titles herself “Minister”, and the Independent confirms that she was not billed by Newsnight as “Reverend”. It is not clear, though, why she chose to wear a clerical collar on television: she does not do so on publicity materials for her ministry, and it is not Murdock’s practice to wear one either.

Murdock first came to attention as an associate of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker on PTL in the 1980s; he subsequently founded his own church, emphasising the Prosperity Gospel. The Dallas Observer has run articles criticising his ministry and his finances over many years, and 2015 he was famously mocked on The Daily Show in a segment by John Oliver (blogged here). Another associate is Pastor Mark Burns, who led prayers at Trump rallies in 2016. Murdock had a photo-op with Trump in late 2015, and he has more recently spoken at Trump rallies.

Murdock travels abroad, and in Nigeria he has links with Reverend Biodun Fatoyinbo, Senior Pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) Worldwide: in 2014, Murdock presented Fatoyinbo with a Rolls Royce, and Fatoyinbo reciprocated last year with a giant birthday cake. He also makes visits to the UK – I remember seeing him in London in late 2001, and he is a regular at Kingsway International Christian Centre’s (KICC) yearly “Gathering of Champions” in Chatham. KICC was founded by Matthew Ashimolowo, a Nigerian immigrant to the UK, but Hayter’s involvement with Murdock shows that his international appeal is not just to African Christians, for whom Prosperity teachings are at one end of a spectrum of motivational rhetoric and practical self-help advice that have actually been of value to adherents.

The Independent also refers to Hayter as an author – her book Seeing God through the Camera Lens is available on Amazon, and according to a review there the work is “Totally Challenging and a MUST READ – LIFE CHANGING for anyone.”

UPDATE: The story has now been picked up by the Daily Mirror, with the botched subheading “The BBC denies ‘Reverend Lynn’ is actually a professional actress called Marina Hayter after eagle-eyed viewers took to Twitter”. That, of course, is not the BBC position: no one denies that Hayter is an actor, but the channel does dispute the allegation that she was playing a role for them when she appeared on Newsnight.

As James O’Brien puts it: “An eccentric, self-styled cleric, with thespian ambitions, has as much right to be in that studio as any other member of the public.”

(Note – some of the social media chatter incorrectly names Hayter’s ministry as “Seeds Of Wealth” rather than “Seeds For Wealth”)

Times Column Mocks Rent-a-Quote MP Andrew Bridgen: Some Observations

Profile fails to note link to Mike Veale, and possible contact with Jon Wedger

Times columnist Matt Chorley has written celebrated profile of rent-a-quote MP Andrew Bridgen, inspired by the Tory backbencher’s recent call for Theresa May to resign over her Brexit deal:

If May is ousted nobody would be more surprised than Bridgen himself, having led unsuccessful efforts to unseat David Cameron, John Bercow and Keith Vaz…But then he’s not what you would call a details man. He’s one of those who thinks a trade deal could be struck “in an afternoon”. 

Chorley mocks Bridgen for making continued predictions of the imminent political demise of May, and for dud interventions such as his recent claim that English people have a right to an Irish passport. He also notes the wide-ranging scale of Bridgen’s punditry:

In recent months he has spoken to the press on the burka, the Archbishop of Canterbury, drugs, midwifery, immigration, a National Trust memorial to executed gay men, the Scottish tax system, aid for India, gagging orders, bonuses, university credit cards, uninvestigated burglaries and the BBC 6 Music presenter Cerys Matthews.

Chorley claims that “unkind Tory colleagues” have described him as “thick as mash”, in mocking reference to his intellect and his business background in the potato industry. A text exchange between the two men followed publication. Bridgen: “You have massively increased my standing and at the same time spurred my constituents to rush to my defence .Especially your implied support for Keith Vaz…”; Chorley: “I can’t imagine how low your standing was for it to be improved by being called a liar and a fantasist in a national newspaper…”

This is all good fun, but it risks obscuring a less amusing aspect to Bridgen’s publicity seeking. First, it should be remembered that Bridgen is a vociferous supporter of Mike Veale, the weird former Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police who decided to plough limitless police resources into a fruitless attempt to establish grounds for believing the former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who died in 2005, had got away with child-sex crimes decades before (including Satanic Ritual Abuse).

Bridgen dismissed criticism of the investigation as “the Establishment” seeking to “shelve” investigations into historic VIP abuse, and as a “chilling“campaign against the police; and it is more than likely that he was the conduit by which leaks favourable to Veale reached the media (in particular, the Mail on Sunday‘s political editor Simon Walters). Veale also provided Bridgen with an advance copy of the final report into Heath, which the MP commended in the media before the rest of us were allowed to see it. And when Veale was recently censured after lying about how he had come to smash his police mobile phone, Bridgen was on hand to condemn “spurious and vexatious allegations”.

More disturbing than this, however, is the possibility of contact with Jon Wedger, a self-described “police whistleblower” whose allegations of police child-sex abuse cover-ups have become increasingly wide-ranging and lurid, to the point that he is now promoting and working alongside “Satanic Ritual Abuse” conspiracy theorists; Wedger’s website also carries a cut-and-paste of an article published by conspiracy website UK Column in support of Tommy Robinson – presumably added because Wedger agrees with it.

Wedger recently posted a photo of Bridgen to Facebook, with the following commentary:

I’ve been contacted today [26 October] by a prominent anti child abuse MP Andrew Bridgen. He is willing to start a Westminster debate to highlight the local authority cover ups regarding children’s homes.
I need factual evidence to present to him. I also need assistance. Any takers

This is a subject that is already currently being considered by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and it has also featured prominently in the media. It is difficult to see what would be gained by Bridgen holding a “Westminster debate” (presumably he means a Westminster Hall debate) on the subject, beyond self-publicity and the promotion of dubious conspiracy theories.

Of course, we only have Wedger’s word that he was indeed contacted by Bridgen, but it should be recalled that a year ago Bridgen wrote a letter “to the policing minister Nick Hurd asking him what support is currently available to officers who raise concerns over criminality within their force”. This was reported by James Fielding in the Sunday Express, and formed the climax of several articles by Fielding about Wedger and Maggie Oliver as  “police whistleblowers”.

Hurd’s response to Bridgen is not known, although Wedger has published a reply from Hurd to what appears to have been a similar query made more recently by his own MP Mike Penning (who is also known for his support of Wedger). Hurd wrote to Penning (who passed the reply to Wedger) that “Although I note Mr Wedger’s concerns, the police are operationally indendent of Government, and it would not be appropriate for Ministers or officials to comment on, or intervene in, a specific case, investigation or complaint”.

Footnote

Chorley is not the only journalist to have recently offered a scathing assessment of Bridgen; a recent interview with the LBC host James O’Brien in the Independent includes the detail that

Andrew Bridgen… and MP Nadine Dorries are picked off as “some of the most profoundly ignorant people ever to disgrace public life”.

As far as I am aware, Bridgen did not respond publicly to this, although Dorries accused O’Brien of a “creepy obsession” that she might report to the police and warned ominously that “We have begun collating comments etc”. This tired refrain is unlikely to be well-received by her local force – perhaps Bridgen should point her in the direction of Veale instead…