Town Hall bosses today faced a renewed call to stop using taxpayers’ money in their pursuit of the notorious ‘Mr Monkey’ internet blogger.
The website first appeared in 2008, making malicious claims about certain political figures in the borough.
South Tyneside Council backed a bid to discover the identity of those behind the Mr Monkey blogs on behalf of four plaintiffs who came under attack – South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm, Coun Anne Walsh, the late councillor David Potts and council regeneration boss Rick O’Farrell.
It instructed Washington DC lawyers McDermott, Will & Emery to find who was responsible for the website, with the firm producing a dossier which said Mr Monkey was most likely a two-person operation and that a libel action would be “highly successful” if pursued through UK or US courts.
But to this date – and at a cost of about £150,000 – Mr Monkey has yet to be unmasked, some six years after the site first appeared.
That has infuriated George Smith CBE, president of South Shields Conservative Association, who has called for immediate action to prevent “further misuse of council taxpayer’s money.”
Mr Smith believes the four the plaintiffs in the case – not the public – should have funded the legal action.
Town Hall officials say the legal action was taken because the council has a “duty of care” to protect employees.
But Mr Smith has written to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is to conduct South Tyneside Council’s annual audit, demanding it steps in.
He says: “Although any authority may indemnify individuals in ‘defending himself against legal proceedings brought by a third party’ they are ‘prohibited from indemnifying members or officers for the cost of taking legal action for slander or libel.’
“I will be objecting to these payments at the audit but you may wish to take immediate action to prevent any further waste of council taxpayers money.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “This legal action was taken because the council has a duty of care to protect its employees from the kind of intimidation and harassment caused by the wilfully false and defamatory statements published on the blog.
“South Tyneside Council is satisfied that Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 gives the power to take the action that has been taken.”
June Elsom, who stood as an independent for Cleadon Park in last week’s Local Elections, asked Northumbria Police to investigate the matter, but a force spokesman said there was no cause for a criminal investigation.
The spokesman said: “We have received correspondence raising concerns around legal costs incurred by South Tyneside Council in relation to the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog.
“Advice has been given that as it stands, this is not a matter involving criminality and there is therefore nothing to indicate a criminal investigation should be launched at this stage.
“Should another body looking into the matter decide a referral to the police is appropriate then an investigation would be carried out.”
As part of the council’s courtroom pursuit of ‘Mr Monkey’ a former South Tyneside councillor was hit with a whopping £40,000 legal bill last year.
Mr Khan had launched an American courtroom bid to halt the search for the controversial blogger, which he said was a waste of public money.
But San Mateo County Court dismissed his anti-SLAPP motion (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation), describing it as “frivolous”.
The council is chasing Mr Khan – who has always denied being behind the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog – for the extra legal costs it incurred as a result of his unsuccessful challenge.
A council spokesman said the authority was continuing to pursue that demand – although it is not known how much, if any, of the amount owed had so far been paid.
> As far as I was aware, Mr Monkey stopped publishing in 2009. Still online, though, at: http://mrmonkeysblog.wordpress.com
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2014
Labour’s Northern heartland is being urged to fight any plan for a 2015 coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2015.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery has hit out at suggestions that Labour could work with the Lib Dems if there is no overall control after the next General Election.
Polls have suggested Labour could take the largest number of seats but not have enough for an overall majority, rasing the prospect of teaming up with the Conservative’s coalition partners.
Mr Lavery, chair of the trade union group of MPs, said the thought of Lib Dems seeking a possible deal with Labour after working with the Tories “is enough to make my blood boil.”
In an article on the future Government, the MP said that Lib Dems suggesting that there should be a coalition with Labour needed to realise that “in areas like mine, that position simply wouldn’t be stomached, either by voters or activists. In the event of a hung parliament with Labour the largest party, we simply have to go it alone.”
He later told The Journal that Lib Dem voters should “consider where their loyalties lie” adding that he would welcome them into the Labour party “with open arms”.
Writing for the Labour List website, Mr Lavery added: “The green benches in the Commons are increasingly populated by the elite and the political careerists. A minority of MPs have a working class background. We are in danger of no longer reflecting the people we represent.”
> Way too late, mate. The majority of the Labour party are part of the elite and the political careerists. Maybe you ought to be leaving them, and setting up your own party ?
Mr Lavery’s Lib Dem attack came after Unite’s Len McCluskey said any new coalition would only keep the country “bogged down in the same failed consensus”.
Last night senior North East peer Lord Shipley accused Mr Lavery of failing to recognise the will of the voters.
Lord Shipley, a former Newcastle council leader, advises the Government on city issues and helps decide where to spends its multi-billion pound regional growth fund.
> And since the North East has been on the end of cut after cut, I think we can make a guess at just what kind of advice he gives the government…
He said: “Ian Lavery should remember that the voters will decide who forms the next Government. If no party wins a majority of seats it means the electorate does not wish any of them to govern alone. If Labour tries to form a minority government in spite of the voters’ wishes, they won’t last long.”
> No, it’s the old lie : voters will decide who forms the next Government. All voters get to do is choose their constituency MP. No-one voted for the current ConDem government.
Mr Lavery, an MP who has previously spoken out in criticism of the party, stepped down as an parliamentary aide to Harriet Harman in 2012 after refusing to abstain on a vote to cut public sector pensions.
In his piece Mr lavery again raised party concerns, saying Labour is not doing enough to fight for workers’ rights.
“Sadly we’ve long since stopped talking about repealing anti trade union laws, but a consequence of neutering trade unions we have seen real wages falling for most people in work. For 45 consecutive months wages have declined in value,” Mr Lavery said.
> The trouble is, there is no indication that, should they become the government after the next election, Labour will do anything to reverse the ConDem excesses – quite the opposite.
People like Mr Lavery will have to decide which side of the line they want to be.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 Feb 2014
Why It’s Now So Dangerous to Protest by Alison Banville (BSNews Editor)
In early 2011 I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about Mark Kennedy, the undercover policeman who had infiltrated an environmental group even forming a relationship with a female member. I addressed the question some had asked – why would so much time and effort be spent on a bunch of ‘tree-huggers’?:
‘All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.’
This is the crux of the matter: profits. Nothing can be allowed to threaten them, not least peaceful people who simply want a just world and who are providing ordinary folk with the dangerous example of a life not ruled by the Holy Commandments of ‘consume, comply, conform’. That is why the gentle ‘tree-hugger’ is considered an enemy of the state, and will be treated as such. The state will also employ any and all measures to ensure that peaceful and LEGAL protest becomes a move too costly for any ethically minded person to contemplate.
Below I present the case that the UK government, in collusion with the criminal justice system and the police, has already embarked upon a deeply corrupt, systematic campaign to ensure that eco-activists (and animal rights/arms trade activists etc) will be too fearful to claim even their most basic civil liberties for fear of the dire consequences others have already experienced:
The case of undercover cop Mark Kennedy’s infiltration of an environmental campaign group has led commentators, including myself, to highlight the worrying way in which the police appear to be defending corporate interests rather than the public’s.
As George Monbiot points out the role of ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, in running the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which managed Kennedy, should be scrutinized, especially in light of the fact that the former operates as a private limited company so that it is not accountable in any meaningful, democratic way.
It is right that we should question the apparent use of our police as a private protection force for corporations, but there is one sinister development that has been missed in this debate, and that is the subversion of the law in order to specifically convict campaigners participating in activities which threaten corporate profits. What is this subversion? It is the use of the charge of ‘conspiracy’.
Monbiot unwittingly touched on this when he mentioned that twenty of the people Kennedy reported on to his superiors were ‘convicted on the desperate charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass.’ But George was mistaken in thinking that this was simply the result of the police and Crown scrabbling around for any old charge that would secure a guilty verdict – that would have been bad enough. No. This was, in fact, part of a very deliberate and traceable strategy that has been used in recent years to deal with ‘problem’ movements of which this was just the latest example. The ‘conspiracy’ tactic is a weapon, sharpened and wielded in order to weaken those groups most effective in challenging powerful corporations. And what’s more, it has been used successfully against perfectly peaceful campaigners:
Sean Kirtley was jailed for four and a half years in 2008 on a conspiracy charge. He was part of an anti-vivisection campaign against animal research company Sequani. Sean carried out no violent act; he used no intimidation; it was never suggested that he had conducted himself in anything other than a completely peaceful manner at all times and, as far as Sean was aware, he had kept scrupulously within the law. But because he had updated a website with perfectly legal information, and because he had attended wholly legal demonstrations he was convicted of ‘conspiracy to interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research facility’ under Section 145 of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). Is that clear? – it was possible in this country for someone who hadn’t actually behaved illegally to be imprisoned for years because his lawful behaviour amounted to a ‘conspiracy’. Ingenious!
There was no outcry about Sean’s sentence because a reporting ban was slapped on the trial – and even if publicity had been allowed well, he’s just one of those ‘extremists’ isn’t he? To hell with justice. During the trial ‘evidence’ was presented to show how Sean and his co-defendants (all of whom were acquitted) had planned (legal) protests – the very act of planning to demonstrate being portrayed as somehow illegal. In fact, a host of totally lawful behaviour was offered to the jury as evidence of conspiracy.
Thankfully, after a campaign to free him, Sean’s sentence was overturned on appeal but he had already lost a year and a half of his life. After release, he reflected on the conspiracy charge saying, ‘the final nail that was hammered into the prosecution’s ‘argument’ was when they could not name anybody that I was supposed to have conspired with, so my conviction was quashed there and then….I did often ponder in those small hours in my various cells in various prisons who I may have conspired with – Jesus? The Holy Ghost? Superman?’
We might also reflect for a moment on the mindset of those who were happy to see Sean rot in jail for four and a half long years.
Footage of people at various legal protests has also been used in other cases to accuse them of being ‘lead conspirators’. In this way, it becomes dangerous to engage in lawful protest for fear of being convicted – which is exactly the point. Because to stifle dissent is the overarching aim here while police and politicians pose as neutral supporters of the right to protest. This is why in the recently collapsed Ratcliffe Power Station case the authorities waited to arrest 114 people in a Nottingham school when they had Kennedy’s information (him being a major architect of the plan) much earlier. Far better to deter a large group from political action than just a few.
Danny Chivers, one of the defendants confirms this also pointing out it was ‘the biggest pre-emptive environmental protest arrest in British history, and the starting point for a truly bizarre sequence of events involving a ‘conspiracy to commit trespass’’.
Here he nails the importance of the conspiracy aspect adding that ‘while Aggravated Trespass is a minor crime normally dealt with by a magistrate, anything involving Conspiracy has to go in front of a jury at the Crown Court’. This is the appeal of the charge for those employing it – it not only requires that no discernable offence actually be committed, it ensures a longer sentence which, in turn, acts as a deterrent. For the corrupt state fearful of the power of direct action – what’s not to like?
Chivers gives mention too to the draconian bail conditions given to those arrested preventing them from engaging in any LEGAL activities related to their cause. Again, this reflects the tactics tried and tested first on the animal rights movement, and this is significant because the thorough demonization of this latter group has meant there has been a fatal lack of scrutiny of its treatment at the hands of the police and justice system which has allowed individuals such as Kirtley to suffer serious miscarriages of justice. Crucially, it has also emboldened the police in their efforts to apply these same corrupt methods to the environmental movement because, in the eyes of the authorities, the two pose exactly the same threat. To misquote Martin Niemoller’s famous verse:
‘first they came for the animal activists…..’
The gullibility of the public on this issue must be replaced with a vigilance determined to protect the rights of every fellow citizen. Justice is for everyone or it ceases to exist and only an alert and watchful people can protect it, as John Adams knew when he said that ‘liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.’
Because the truth is, a covert game is being played with protest groups in this country which requires that the general population (and media) readily believe the propaganda of establishment voices. This game has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the public and everything to do with protecting corporate profits. It must be exposed because those who are happy to see our legal system subverted and fundamental liberties sacrificed are the real danger to any free and civilised society. And that’s no conspiracy theory.
Source – BS News 18 Feb 2014
It’s farewell to your centuries-old right to free speech today, after your Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs won their bid to get the Gagging Bill passed by the House of Lords. It won’t go back to the Commons because the Lords made no amendments.
While you, personally, will be allowed to continue complaining about anything you want, you will no longer have the ability to link up with others to protest government actions in any meaningful way as such action may breach Liberal Democrat and Tory government-imposed spending limits. Your personal complaints will be deemed unrepresentative of the people.
You will still be able to have your e-petition on the government’s website – if you win enough signatures to have it debated in Parliament – ignored by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats and Tories have even managed to rub salt into the wound…
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As many of you are aware from the original post, I am the founding director of Disability Enabling and Empowerment Project (Leic’s) (DEAEP); this project came about from a discussion I had with my daughter and my best friend (both disabled) regarding how we three would manage to get through the ESA/DLA assessments and other such troubling appointments, without the mutual support of each other.
Currently we have written all the paperwork necessary to run a 10 week part time course, and have been desperately trying to find a venue to pilot this in Leicester, thanks to Unite community this is likely to start mid April ; we’re also investigating how we could offer the same as an on-line course. The course will be free for anyone willing to then, pass on the skills by supporting others through the trials of assessment or other similar stressful situations.
Like everything else…
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