IMPRESS dismisses complaint of intimidation, malice and invasion of privacy from child sex abuse survivor named in blog on Esther Baker

justice

In my view Justice done over Impress complaint

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IMPRESS, the independent press regulator,  has rejected a complaint from a child abuse survivor, who was named in a story on the Byline  site and  on my personal blog.

The ruling sets a precedent  for the regulator.  It ruled that survivors who rightly normally get anonymity,  but then decide to go public in the mass media cannot subsequently decide to ban other individual journalists from referring to them if no new information is published.

The dispute arose after a blog published by me on Byline and here which was critical of the treatment of Esther Baker in a  direction made by Alexis Jay, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

As a side issue the blog pointed out that survivors who go public are rare and cited in passing another child sex survivor who “bravely” went public in the Scottish Sun about his experiences after an 82 year old paedophile priest was jailed.

The survivor subsequently complained to Impress. The grounds of his complaint were :

“The publisher failed to preserve the Complainant’s anonymity as a vulnerable
witness;
“Publishing of the Complainant’s name was an act of malice and intimidation
and unacceptable conduct by a journalist; and
“Publishing of intimidatory reference to the Complainant was done in an
invasive manner.”

The publication, the complainant said had caused him  significant distress.

Byline and myself vigorously contested this.

The report says: “The publisher believes that victims of sexual offences and their
privacy should be protected, but, does not believe that this means that such victims
can selectively waive their rights of anonymity with respect to specific
journalists or publishers.
“The Author argued that the Complainant had made public, multiple times,
that they are a survivor of sexual abuse. The Complainant had been named
in the UK national press, the Washington Post, TV, YouTube, social media
and on numerous national websites.
” The publisher argues that, in these circumstances, a requirement to request
specific permission from the Claimant to publish material in the public domain
would amount to a form of targeted prior restraint and censorship, in breach
of its Article 10 rights.

“The Author refuted that the naming of the Complainant was in any way
malicious or any part of a campaign of intimidation made against the
Complainant.
“The Author believes that ‘it would be egregious if it is held that no one could
link to the article [already in the public domain] and discuss it without their
permission’. Therefore, the Author disagrees with the Complainant’s point
that publication had caused enormous distress.”

Impress called in lawyers to advise them on the naming and dismissed all the complaints made by the child sex abuse survivor.

“The Committee considered that merely referring to the Complainant in this
article did not constitute an act of intimidation in the course of journalistic
activities, particularly so in light of the fact the Complainant had identified
themselves to the media as a victim of sex offending.”

It went on :”The fact the Author had been copied into various emails from a third party to the Complainant,was not in and of itself evidence of intimidation in the course of journalistic activities.”

“The Committee noted that the article only cited information that had been
reported in other publications. Therefore, there could be no reasonable
expectation of privacy on the part of the Complainant in the published
information. The Committee considered that it had been reasonable for the
publisher to believe that the citation of this information (given its recent
widespread dissemination at the date of publication) would not significantly
exacerbate the Complainant’s grief or distress. Furthermore, the Committee
considered that in this case there had not been ‘intrusive newsgathering or
reporting’.”

Impress say no further action is necessary so the blog stays on both Byline and my own blog in its entirety. The full report is here.

 

Facebook to challenge sex offender’s right to privacy and excessive damages in Northern Ireland test case

Belfast High Court

Belfast High Court Pic Credit: BBC

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An extraordinary judgement which I reported last year  banning a Facebook page about a convicted paedophile and awarding  him £20,000 damages for harassment is to be challenged in the courts next week.

Facebook is challenging  this decision in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal claiming the damages awarded to the  sex offender were excessive and he could not reasonably expect privacy following his conviction for offences in the courts.

The case arose after  Joseph McCloskey set up a Facebook profile page called ” Keep Our Kids Safe from Predators 2 ” which posted information about a convicted sex offender called CG.

None of the information published  by McCloskey was private. It was all in the public domain at the time of CG’s conviction. CG’s solicitors complained to Mr McCloskey  who immediately removed all postings relating to CG.

The posts are said to contain threats of violence against the paedophile which judge took particular exception.

But the lawyers weren’t satisfied and went to court claiming the sex offender had been harassed on Facebook and his human rights breached by the publication on Facebook.

The judge found against the campaigner and Facebook and awarded the sex offender £20,000 damages for harassment.

Facebook is now challenging this judgement. There is an  excellent report on the Inforrm blog by trainee barrister Aiden Wills which goes into the legal details of Facebook’s challenge.

Facebook is particularly challenging the judge’s ruling that it should have had detailed knowledge and awareness of what Mr McCloskey wrote -pointing out that such a ruling would mean they would have to have detailed knowledge of every article put up on a Facebook site and whether it could be considered illegal. The case promises to be an interesting one.

UPDATE: The judge has reserved judgement on the case after a two day hearing. Joseph McCloskey did not attend the court as there was a dispute as to whether he was entitled to legal aid.

 

Google bows to EU law and removes right to search for delisted posts

erase past

Right to be Forgotten? Pic Credit: Index on Censorship.

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From Monday people in the UK and the rest of the European Union will no longer be able to bypass a ban on searching for information which an individual has asked to be removed from the net by Google.

Until now the removal of information by hundreds of thousands of people can easily be circumvented by searching on Google.com, the US version of the search engine.

However as the Inforrm blog reveals Google will block anyone with an IP address in Europe from seeing delisted posts. The full statement from Google is here. It will also be retrospective.

The decision is a victory for privacy campaigners though Inforrm thinks it may not go far enough for some.

Nearly 50,000 people  in the UK  are among the 400,000 who have requested for information to be removed. As Inforrm reports:

” Large numbers of delisting requests are now being made under the Google Spain ruling. Google’s most recent transparency report indicates that it has received 400,564 removal requests and has removed 42.6% of URLs covered by them.  Google has received 48,979 requests from the United Kingdom and has removed 184,115 URLs (38.6% of those requested).”.

While one can understand that people should have the right to remove false information from search engines what concerns me is  there is little transparency. One does not know who has requested the removal of the information and what information has been removed. Google just issues a statement to say that some posts are no longer available. Of course the post remains but people will have difficulty in finding it unless they subscribe to a particular blog.

Google has attempted with a FAQ to explain the main points behind the decision to delist – and there appears to be a view that there where there it is obviously not in the public interest or the person is a political  or public figure the request will be denied.

Google’s ban will not be foolproof – networks like Tor which is also used by the dark web – could mask the IP address of a person searching for the information. I suspect that investigative journalists will use this more as a new way of bypassing this ban if they want to do thorough searches.

 

 

Banned VIP child sex abuse memoirs: Supreme Court orders expedited hearing

There has been yet another important development in the extraordinary saga of a British court granting an injunction which banned a famous performing artist publishing his memoirs in which  he disclosed he was sexually abused as a child.

The excellent Inforrm blog reveals that the artist has won his case to appeal and the Supreme Court has granted an expedited hearing so it can be heard next month rather than waiting until the spring.

Inforrm reports : “The hearing of the appeal is listed in the week commencing 19 January 2015.

“As we reported last month, on 6 November 2014 the artist applied to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against an order of Court of Appeal dated 9 October 2014 ([2014] EWCA Civ 1277) granting an interim injunction to restrain the publication of a book which deals with his art form and his recovery from the sexual abuse he suffered in his childhood and his consequential mental illness.   The full application to the Supreme Court can be read here [pdf].

The application for permission to appeal was supported by a written intervention made by free speech NGOs, English PEN, Article 19 and Index on Censorship.

On 9 December 2014, Lady Hale, Lord Carnwath and Lord Toulson granted the artist permission to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision and ordered an expedited hearing of the appeal.

We had a post in which Dan Tench expressed “shock and disbelief” at the Court of Appeal decision.  A number of prominent UK writers, including Sir Tom Stoppard and William Boyd, signed a letter from English PEN protesting at the banning of the book.”

The full application to the Supreme Court is well worth reading as it shows the author wants to share his experiences of his abuse, the mental trauma he suffered and how he was driven to self harm but was later in life able to come to terms with what happened to him. It also reveals how his love  of music helped him overcome the trauma.

The ban was granted after his ex-wife sought it to prevent his son, who lives abroad, and suffers from a number of medical conditions, from ever reading it. But it used obscure case law which the artist says amounted to a severe curtailment of freedom of expression, hence widespread support from famous writers to get this overturned.

European Union seeks ” the right to be forgotten” web ruling to apply world wide

An important development over the battle of the ” right to be forgotten ” is highlighted in a report on the influential Inforrm blog.

The row centres round the European Court of Justice’s decision to allow people to get search engines to  remove references to them in their past even if all the facts are true.

The decision arose after a Spanish worker wanted information deleted from searches showing he was connected to a property auction to pay off social security debts in 1997.

The court decided that his privacy was infringed by people being able search out such information and the decision immediately led to 41,000 people, including a paedophile and a former MP, asking search engines to do the same for them.

However as nearly all the major search engines are American, Google, the biggest search engine, decided to only remove it from its EU sites and people could  still search the same information by logging on to an American site.

Now an EU working party wants this banned. It has ruled as Inforrm reports:

limiting de-listing to EU domains on the grounds that users tend to access search engines via their national domains cannot be considered a sufficient means to satisfactorily guarantee the rights of data subjects according to the ruling. In practice, this means that in any case de-listing should also be effective on all relevant domains, including .com”.

In other words, the Working Party has confirmed that …the attempt of Google to exempt its search engine at Google.com from the “delisting procedures”is misconceived.

To add to this the EU working party has said there will no requirement to tell the person who provided the information that this has happened – so bloggers and media groups will just suddenly discover that the article has disappeared in any searches – worse than just going behind a pay wall.

The groups does give data protection controllers much needed guidance on whether such listings should disappear – including information on whether the person is a public figure or a criminal. And it does not appear to extend to companies either.

However I am afraid I have little sympathy with any removal if the facts are true. I still see this as an attempt by people to cover up their past. It might be right if the information is a pack of lies but there are other ways to deal with this. It seems to me another restriction on freedom of information.

News: Artist in banned child sex abuse memoir case applies for permission to appeal to Supreme Court

For those following the banning of a memoir where a performing artist wanted to discuss how he fought to recover from child sexual abuse – this is a very important development and deserves to be tested in the highest court of the land. The legal significance of the ban could have serious consequences for publishing and freedom of expression – particularly as it was based on a real obscure piece of English law.

Inforrm's Blog

AnonymousBindmans LLP have announced that an application for permission to appeal has been lodged with the Supreme Court by MLA, the performing artist whose autobiography has been injuncted worldwide following a widely criticised decision by the Court of Appeal.

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Tweet Wars: How humourless Jobcentre Plus was humiliated by bolshie bloggers

People queuing outside Jobcentre Plus. Pic courtesy: The Guardian

People queuing outside Jobcentre Plus. Pic courtesy: The Guardian

For the last year an extraordinary war has been going on between the Department of Work and Pensions and  some of Britain’s  tweeters and bloggers.

The battle has been over the centuries old right to free speech, to send up self-seeking bureaucrats and insult and satirize government ministers and the heads of private companies profiting from public services. This example is very modern, the battleground is Twitter rather than over some pamphlet.

 The row began over a year ago when the Department of Work and Pensions used Twitter’s complaint procedure to lodge a trademark complaint against @UKJCP, a satirical  account attacking Jobcentre Plus.

The application came from one Jon Woodcock, calling himself brand and information manager – his actual title is senior public information publishing manager – objecting to the site using the Jobcentre Plus trademark.

 What was extraordinary was his reasoning. I quote from the document :

 “The @UKJCP account has been set up with deliberate and malicious intent to devalue and criticise the work of Jobcentre Plus. In addition, there are a number of rude and potentially libelous tweets aimed at UK government, elected politicians and the heads of large private sector organisations who are committed to working with government on reducing unemployment.”

Not surprisingly Twitter quite rightly rejected such a request.

But the ministry came back – this time I am told using a discreet phone call – specifically objecting to what are called PTs – parody tweets – which were frankly taking the Mickey out of Jobcentre Plus – but where quite clearly linked to information that showed it couldn’t possibly have come from them. Some were true. One was a link to an article showing Jobcentre Plus backed sending claimants to work at strip clubs and for porn film companies – providing they didn’t participate- which I ‘m afraid is correct.

There has been storm of protest from bloggers and tweeters who used Twitter’s appeal process to overturn the decision. The  account was restored on February 8 after ten days.

An official spokesperson from the DWP Press Office told me :

“The changes we’re making to the welfare system to ensure that work pays are important to many people, and we work hard to make sure claimants have access to correct factual information. 

 “We alerted twitter to an account that was falsely sending out tweets claiming to have been published by our official account. It’s for twitter to decide what action is appropriate – we have not asked for any account to be taken down or suspended.”

 An official spokesperson for @UKJCP told me:”I am sure @DWPgovuk has no basis to complain about anyone who does a Parody of a Parody Tweet …Some of what was tweeted by me after 9/1/14 was focused on letting followers know what DWP and Jobcentre rights they have. I take the view that the DWP inspired suspension of @UKJCP was not only to censor Freedom of Expression and criticism of the Government but an attempt to suppress the sharing of rights based information.”

What is interesting is that I have been told that NO minister – not even Iain Duncan Smith – asked for Jobcentre Plus  to close down this Twitter account,. The idea that ministers, MPs, and anyone running a big private business should be immune from rude comments or libelous views seems to have been taken by managers at Jobcentre Plus’s HQ in Sheffield

Sorry DWP there is a very long tradition in this country from John Wilkes and Liberty to Hogarth,Steve Bell and comedians like Mark Thomas, to poke fun and be rude and tear the governing classes apart. David Cameron is regularly portrayed by Steve Bell as a condom ( he doesn’t like it and has complained to no avail to The Guardian).

If Mps and big bosses don’t like it they should take out a writ and sue. But they know that under the coalition the cost of a writ has risen to £1600 and legal fees are phenomenal. And they know claimants aren’t worth suing because they could never recover their money. That’s why they would love the government to resort to censorship, particularly if they haven’t even asked them to do it.