Vendetta – 2

Today I must make good my very strong attack on Phillimore’s new persona as Saviour of the Internet, but that will not be difficult, given all the ammunition she had handed to me (and others). As I have already explained, she is abnormally aggressive, and she admits this. But what she omits to say is as revealing as what she does say.

She did not explain on her new website that for the past eighteen months (May 2016-October 2017) she had allied herself to some nasty and highly abusive political trolls, and encouraged them to harass me, for example, by derailing an event at which I was due to speaking by trolling the organisers, and by making malicious and clearly unfounded complaints about me to the BSB. 

Troll alliances

Her troll circle includes extreme conspiracy theorists Alan Goodwin, Clare Sheahan, and Louise Davis; an anonymous attack account styling itself Spastic Brienne, which she has encouraged; Darren Duckworth (who has a series of convictions for assault), and Esther Baker, the failed accuser in Operation Ruffle and also R v Laverty

Sheahan, Goodwin, and Baker have links to the defunct “fake news” agency, Exaro, notorious for spreading false claims about paedophilia in UK political circles. Exaro collapsed after those claims were shown to be false.

Phillimore acts largely as a mouthpiece for these crackpots and disinformation merchants, pretending that anyone who questions, rejects or ridicules their baleful conspiracy theories is intimidating vulnerable adults. That is nonsense, and obviously untruthful. 

Nor does Phillimore acknowledge that she engages in abuse and harassment online herself.  As I have consistently maintained, she is an aggressor. She also regularly uses strong language, so it is absurd of her to complain of its use by others. 

A right of veto

But more importantly, she fails to explain that her issues with me went much further. From the outset of her official complaining about me, she sought to exercise a right of veto over my freedom of speech. 

Thus, she e-mailed my chambers on 7 September 2016 a querulant complaint, which concluded with the astonishing statement:

If I do not hear from you, or Ms Hewson continues to publish statements I deem unacceptable, then I will have no choice but to refer this matter on [emphasis in bold added].

This is important, as it shows that she wished to act as the sole arbiter of what I could and could not publish. That was obviously ridiculous. But it demonstrates that from the outset, Phillimore’s crusade against me was founded on an entirely untenable and irrational premise. She has concealed this fact in her public campaign against me, no doubt because it would undermine her credibility.

What Phillimore calls harassment is not

On her new website, she provided absolutely no context for her own alleged experiences of harassment, which are presented in a vacuum. So I offer you an example of what Phillimore calls harassment. 

In January 2017, I became so exasperated at her continual complaining to my solicitors in a very overbearing manner, and her insistence that there was nothing that they could say in my defence, that I e-mailed her direct. She was wasting their time and my money, and I had had enough. I told her that I would instruct my solicitors not to respond to any more letters from her, stating:

It is evident that you are incapable of entertaining any perspective other than your own.

Guess what? She claimed that I was harassing her and demanded an address for service. No proceedings ever materialised. You can see from this example that “harassment” means anything that she does not like. Evidently, she did not like the fact that I was shutting the door on her continual pestering of my solicitors. 

She seems to be, as I later told the police, an attention-junkie. It is also revealing that, after I gave the police chapter and verse on her own nasty online behaviour, they refused to entertain any more complaints from her about me. Evidently she resented this, because it shut off another source of attention for her endless complaining.

Let’s look at her complaints, such as they are. She complains that her photograph was published. If she refers to her chambers photograph, she put that into the public domain herself. It is difficult to see how the publication of publicly available and accessible information can constitute harassment, and Phillimore does not elaborate.

She then claims: 

accusations were made about my intelligence, my appearance, my sexuality. All of this designed to terrifying me into shutting up. 

Again, she does not give any details. It is difficult to see what she is talking about exactly, or why she claims it was “designed to [terrify her] into shutting up”. 

The freedom to offend

Contrary to what Phillimore appears to believe, freedom of speech includes the right to offend and the right to be abusive, as Mr Justice Collins acknowledges in Livingstone v Adjudication Panel for England [2006] EWHC 2533 (Admin) at para. 36:

Anyone is entitled to say what he likes of another provided he does not act unlawfully and so commits an offence under, for example, the Public Order Act. Surprising as it may perhaps appear to some, the right of freedom of speech does extend to abuse. Observations, however offensive, are covered. Indeed, as Hoffman, LJ observed in R v Central Television Plc[1994] 3 All ER 641 at 652:-

“Freedom means … the right to say things which ‘right-thinking people’ regard as dangerous or irresponsible. This freedom is subject only to clearly defined exceptions laid down by common law or statute … It cannot be too strongly emphasised that outside the established exceptions … there is no question of balancing freedom of speech against other interests. It is a trump card which always wins.”

To be lawful, restrictions on speech under Article 10.2 have to be “necessary in a democratic society”. That is a high threshold. 

What is harassment?

Similarly, the law on harassment demands a high threshold before conduct, however unwelcome or unpleasant, becomes criminal.  In Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust [2007] 1 AC 224, Lord Nicholls said:

courts will have in mind that irritations, annoyances, even a measure of upset, arise at times in everybody’s day-to-day dealings with other people. Courts are well able to recognize the boundary between conduct which is unattractive, even unreasonable, and conduct which is oppressive and unacceptable. To cross the boundary from the regrettable to the unacceptable, the gravity of the misconduct must be of an order which would sustain criminal liability under Section 2

The Court of Appeal made clear that the bar on what constitutes harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is a high one, in Conn -v- Sunderland City Council, CA [2008] 1 DLR 324.

The facts were that a supervisor shouted aggressively at the claimant and to colleagues to find out who had been leaving work early. When they refused to tell him, he threatened to punch a window. Later, when he thought that he was getting the “silent treatment” from the claimant, he threatened to give him “a good hiding”.The supervisor also told the claimant that he was “a little shit”, and told another person present to “fuck off”.

The Court of Appeal held that the shouting did not come close to the threshold of the type of conduct giving rise to criminal liability under the Act. It also found that the threat to punch out the window, being directed at an inanimate object, was not as the law requires targeted at the claimant.Gage LJ observed at para. 15:

Mr Dryden lost his temper and uttered an unpleasant threat. However, so far as the first incident is concerned, in my judgment, it did not cross the boundary into conduct which can be said to be unlawful. The incident was no doubt an unpleasant one so far as the claimant was concerned. However, no physical threat was made; it (was) solely (referred) to property. There is in my judgment force in the submission made by Mr Porter that the remarks were addressed to three people and not just to Mr Conn; he was not targeted in respect of that remark. Although Mr Conn became agitated, as the recorder found, he found that neither of his two other work colleagues who were present were troubled by it.

Buxton LJ said at para. 18:

 ….the conduct concerned must be of an order that would sustain criminal liability, and not merely civil liability on some other register. Had the recorder had that requirement in mind when he came to this part of his judgment, it seems to me I have to say completely impossible that he would have concluded that the third incident, as it has been called, …. could amount to harassment. But what occurred is a very long way away from anything that, in a sensible criminal regime, would lead to a prosecution, much less to a conviction

Ward LJ asked at para.19: “what on earth is the world coming to if conduct of the kind that occurred in the third incident can be thought to be an act of harassment? ….The conduct here has not come close to harassment.”

As you will have seen from my last post, Phillimore only raised a paltry amount of money, and posted that she would delay any putative action until the Law Commission had concluded its review of the criminal law pertaining to online communications. She has not published any detailed commentary on the Commission’s Scoping Report published on 1 November 2018 on her new website.

Her only contribution has been to post the text of two talks which she gave to conferences concerned with domestic violence. I will deal with these in a later post. 

Sources

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2006/2533.html

https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/2006/34.html

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2007/1492.html

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