Sunday, February 23, 2014

Reasons to be Careful, 1-2-3

Imagined and Not the Real Tesco Plan
If you happen to be visiting my weblog from The Daily Mail, The Observer and Guardian website this morning to discover more about the story 'Rival Facebook campaigns stir up a storm in a seaside teacup,' then I'm adding a few links here to the relevant back stories in sequence and context. An effort to add a little clarity to a bizarre criminal justice farce:

The first, is from June 16th last year, which kicked-off the complaint and is the original statement from Sir Roger Gale on the decision by the Secretary of State on the Margate Tesco application. It was the comments attached to this, which led to a police interview under caution in January and a subsequent standards complaint to Thanet District Council that I had made those same comments, as opposed to simply acting as the publisher of the weblog.

The Real Plan - Tucked Away Right of Picture
The second entry, is the story, 'Under Caution,' where I recount what happened, following an interview by the police and the evidence they presented for taking the matter directly to caution, rather than requesting a simple interview.

The third story is 'Question Time,' where I ponder if 'Liking' a comment on Facebook, really could become a criminal offense in the Orwellian dystopia which appears to have overtaken me. This led me to ask the Guardian's Jamie Doward, whether liking a Facebook comment made by Nick Griffin was worse than liking one made by Nigel Farage? It's a vexing question, as I'm sure you will agree and I'm no closer to finding out the truth.

There are three principles at stake which led me to approach The Guardian. The first surrounds the rather strong circumstantial evidence, that Kent Police Commissioner Ann Barnes or her office, appears to have resurrected and somehow directed a police investigation that had already been dropped in the summer of last year; adding a more serious inquiry which took in me and two other local councillors, on evidence described as risible by a solicitor

The second principle surrounds social media and whether the law is capable of dealing with the many issues, such as cyber-bullying that surround it, both intelligently and proportionately.  Is 'Liking' a Facebook comment, really grounds for a criminal complaint?

Finally, a new and worrying phenomenon, if, like me you happen to be working for your community as a local councillor. Going to law on civil matters, such as defamation, is expensive but the public appear to have discovered that going to criminal law costs nothing and has a direct and disproportionate impact on the target of the complaint. Having a personal agenda and simply believing oneself to be the victim of a serious crime can be enough to prompt an investigation, with little or no personal consequence, should that belief prove to be exactly that, a delusion with no evidence to support it.


Bemused of Birchington said...

I could have saved myself £2.70 had I known you were going to reproduce the article in full. Guess you must have shares in the Guardian/Observer. (Seriously, it makes a change to read a different Sunday paper).

Is there any reason for not approaching the Telegraph with the news? And did the Daily Mail report the issue?

Simon Moores said...

I guess The Observer will be delighted to have had your financial support and thank you for taking an interest.

The Guardian has a record of taking an interest in principles of law, privacy etc while the Daily Mail will adopt a more entertaining style which may miss the very principles I'm trying to explore.

The Telegraph are not so easy to get at.

I'm hoping that this will encourage the debate it needs.

Barry James said...

Just one simple question:

Does a blog moderator have any moral or legal responsibility if, after reading a comment and then publishing it, that comment causes offense to someone reading it?

Simon Moores said...

A very simple answer Barry and that's the law defines the duty of the publisher and in regard to blogs and blogging was made somewhat simpler by the revised Defamation Act of 2013 and following a precedent case involving Google's Blogger.

Without going into great detail and I'm not a libel lawyer, the publisher falls under civil law, i.e. the Defamation Act. It would be prudent for the publisher to consider the substance of any comment but he is protected by the law if he acts promptly and expeditiously in reviewing and or removing any comment which may be the subject of a complaint. It's an absolute defence as I explained to the police officer and equally defends the principle of fair comment in law.

Thus, Ms Oldfield could have directed my attention to any remark she might have considered offensive. I would have been obliged to review and/or remove it. If I chose not to, then she would have had recourse in law under the Defamation Act.

In this case however, she apparently chose to lodge a criminal complaint of Conspiracy to Harrass, which sets a much higher evidential bar in law; not least of all, proving without any reasonable doubt, that a conspiracy existed between three councillors to bully and harass her online.

As detailed in this weblog, three pieces of evidence were presented to support the complaint, one being the simple action of 'Liking' a Facebook entry, where she is criticised for her misrepresentation of the size and position of the proposed Tesco development in Margate by Cllr Mick Tomlinson.

You are being distracted by something that falls within the remit of Civil Law, my objection is the fact that this is using Criminal Law and somehow, the Police Commissioner's Office is involved.

Barry James said...

Simon I understand the Law in this regard both Civil and Criminal however my point was both legal and Moral and the moral aspect was not answered.
Once the comments were published I do agree a complaint should have followed however should the off topic, and nothing to do with the subject of the blog article, been published at all.
This (IMHO) then would have been a non event

Simon Moores said...

Barry, you may have observed that justice is always portrayed as blindfold. It is the law and not morality which is open to examination and I would point you at either ECR or Michael Child's weblog as examples of what takes place when comment is unrestrained

Barry James said...

Are you saying that morality doesn't matter?

Simon Moores said...

No, I'm saying that morality has absolutely nothing to do with a complain against three local councillors with outstanding reputations for criminal harassment.

Stay focused on what this is all about; criminal law and not hurt feelings.

Bemused of Birchington said...

Surely a disclaimer similar to newspapers have that comments do not necessarily represent the views of the Blog Owner would suffice. Had comments been sent to the letter pages of the IOTG then provided they were not libellous then space permitting, the paper could have printed them. Of course a newspaper never publishes anonymous letters though it will withhold names and addresses if requested.

Barry James said...

Last comment from me on this subject and an obvious statement.

Had you not published the comments the allegation would not have happened however once the comments were published then LO should have made a complaint about them directly to you and you would have acted.

If the above is correct then I wonder whether you have any idea why LO did not complain to you at the time?

Simon Moores said...

I do have a disclaimer here and on the sidebar

Don Wood said...

No need to ask you to remove third party comments Simon if someone complains againts me I will go straight to Anne Barnes because then I can get some newspaper to get hold of the story and I can have my five seconds of fame before the newsprint gets used as chip wrappers. But then I have got a thick skin and blog comments are like water off a ducks back to me. Sounds a bit like telling teacher in primary school.

James Maskell said...

What a damp squib of a revelation this story was. The police wont bring charges. This is a non-story and should have been treated as such, rather than making a public show of it to ruin her name. This is pathetic.

Duncan Smithson said...

I must admit, I am critical of a local councillor - Alan Poole. He is deputy leader of Thanet Council. My personal opinion is that the man is punching above his weight. I have based this assumption on a great deal of primary, secondary and tertiary evidence.

I run a discussion page that has been through nearly 3 million feeds in eight months. Many of these points have been critical about Alan and his decisions at the council. Can I do this or not?

On one of the posts, a reader wrote (during the height of bingate) that they should 'dump their rubbish on Alans lawn and see how long it takes before its cleared up'. I took this as a joke but encouraged the reader to not take that course of action.

But am I responsible for this idea and comment? Infact, when Alan loses in 2015, will he be able to sue me?

Because morally, I feel justified in my public criticism. I think that Alan makes decisions that I analyse and disagree with.

I try to present an argument, with the facts as I see them and invite others opinions. Is this now immoral? What about if a customer has a bad experience of a shop - is it illegal and immoral to give them a voice?

Or have we only allow people that can follow an argument without resorting to tangents or personal swipes?

Simon Moores said...

Sorry James.. who is the subject of a police caution and a criminal complaint here?

Duncan Smithson said...

Morally, I found James post a little lacking. It was critical of everyone involved (all parties) and the use of the term "pathetic" is particularly downgrading. To say that either parties views are pathetic and they should not be able to stand up for their beliefs is offensive.

I used the term "diplomatic exit" on another site and that caused offence.

Someone described the labour PPC for north Thanet as "irritating and patronising". Will I get in to trouble for this? I find myself suddenly confused......Can I express an opinion? Can others??

Simon Moores said...

Clarification of my 11.37 comment. I am reminded Cllr Tomlinson referred to her indirectly in his Facebook comment and not by name

Duncan Smithson said...

Simon. What is your personal opinion on the newspaper reports? Do you feel your side has been expressed?

Simon Moores said...

I can't really complain. When you throw a matter such as this out to the media, then you have to be ready for what comes back, positive or not

John Holyer said...

The Daily Mail has picked up the story - the police do not come out well especially in the comments section.

Simon Moores said...

I have just 'Spammed' a comment and I really don't think readers are interested in allegations about councillors, so completely off-topic that they might best be enjoyed in the comfort of a rubber room!

Simon Moores said...

Browsing around the comments elsewhere, I read that the investigation must be on solid grounds for a number of reasons. Among them, I'm a councillor, I knew Sandy Ezekiel, some councillors have been known to drive Bentleys with personalised number plates, all councillors are corrupt, all Torys are liars and my weblog is not professionally designed.

I could go on but the so-called wisdom of the crowds appears to be wandering.

I'm sure I'l be reminded if I've forgotten anything

Bemused of Birchington said...

You forgot to mention that your blog is by far the best in Thanet, therefore that will probably count against you too.

Returning to an earlier theme on the same subject, the rank of the investigating policemen has come in for criticism. A thought which I haven't seen elsewhere is that it may have been in deference to your position within the community. Doubtless there will be examples arriving where a Superintendent has interviewed a suspect petty thief while a DC has interviewed a murder suspect, but I just insert it as a thought.

John Holyer said...

Simon Moores has been attacked therefore I do not consider it ureasonable for him to defend himself, and if that means going to the press then so be it. His accusers do not have the sole choice of weapons.

Speaking for myself, if I were falsely accused of a crime that brought the police to my door then I would come down on my accusers like a ton of bricks.

John Holyer said...

Bemused Of Birchington,

I take your point about the rank of the investigating officer, but must also take into account that Peter Checksfield was interviewed by a Detective Chief Inspector and Peter is not a Cllr.

Thinking of the ILS: were you at Henlow?

Bemused of Birchington said...

John, I was at GRSC RAF North Luffenham, Jan 1966 - Dec 1967, and June 1970 - Nov 1972. Always on BILS, Radfaults and annual servicing, air calibration etc.

Anonymous said...

Simon, how do you reach a comparison of Thanet being akin to North Korea over a minor spat? surely if you'd come to the attention of the authorities in North Korea there would be no cosy at home interviews and probably an long stay at one of their gulags if you avoid being executed.

Simon Moores said...

Simple answer... thrown to the dogs by the police commissioner rather than being shot

Simon Moores said...

Simple answer... thrown to the dogs by the police commissioner rather than being shot