Judge bans a Facebook page exposing paedophiles and awards £20,000 damages to convicted sex offender

An extraordinary ruling by a Northern Ireland judge will lead to a chilling effect on people using the internet to expose convicted paedophiles and give hope to sex offenders that they can make money from people and organisations attacking them for their crimes.

The  Belfast case has been picked up by the excellent Inforrm blog which gives a detailed legal analysis of what happened from Lorna Skinner ,a barrister at Matrix Chambers.

The facts appear to be these. 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. A similar page was set up by RS the father of one  of CG’s victims.

CG’s lawyers complained about the postings on both sites.

Inforrm says: ” Broadly speaking, each consisted of the publication of a photograph of CG together with information identifying him as a sex offender. This was followed by further posts and/or comments from viewers of the material consisting of verbal abuse, threats, and information as to identification and location.”

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 postings on RS’s page were removed by Facebook, in each case some time after receipt of a complaint. 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.

As Inforrm reports his lawyers said” the material posted amounted to a misuse of private information, was in breach of Articles 2, 3 and 8 of the ECHR, amounted to harassment of him contrary to the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and that each of them were guilty of actionable negligence. For good measure he also asserted that Facebook was in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.”

What is extraordinary is the ruling from Mr Justice Stephens, the judge. Even though the site had been taken down the judge approved an injunction against to protect the privacy of other sex offenders and paedophiles who had been named by contributors to the page.

As Inforrm reports ( my emphasis): “The Judge found that Mr McCloskey’s purpose in setting up the profile/page, which on his evidence had 25,000 friends, was to destroy the family life of sex offenders, to expose them to total humiliation and vilification, to drive them from their homes and expose them to the risk of serious harm.”

Inforrm adds: “As a result, CG was awarded damages totalling £20,000. An anti-harassment injunction was made against Mr McCloskey and a mandatory injunction was made against Facebook requiring it to terminate the entirety of the “Keeping our Kids Safe from Predators 2” profile/page including all material referring to other sex offenders as it “is doing damage to other individuals and is clearly unlawful”.

The full judgement is here for those who want to read it.

Quite rightly the wide terms of such a ban – particularly in relation to the Data Protection Act – is questioned by the Matrix barrister. She points out : “The obvious fallacy of this approach is that sensitive personal data covers areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, for example: “David Cameron is the Conservative Prime Minister, who comes from a traditional English background”. Similarly, it is difficult to see how, absent the application of a DPA-style [data protection act] analysis, CG could sensibly have argued that his image, or the fact of his conviction for sex offences was, or had become, private information.”

I regard this ruling as excessive and dangerous. While the threats of violence against the paedophile seem to have contributed to the judge’s findings, a complete  ban on the site is out of proportion. Also the judgement reveals that Mr McCloskey’s own mother was the subject of repeated child sexual abuse, which led him to set up the site. The site was  comprehensive in tracing all N Ireland paedophiles.

Suppose for example, to take a current case, Tony McSweeney, just convicted  for indecent assault, is sent to prison and subsequently let out on licence. Should the Roman Catholic Church have the right to remove everything from websites about him which was revealed at the time of his conviction? And should he get damages if people reveal this information, I think not.

Tony McSweeney abuse trial: The shame of Richmond Council

-tony-mcsweeney

Tony McSweeney: A paedophile priest. Pic Credit:rapevictimsofthecatholicchurch.files.wordpress.com

While the latest horrors over Jimmy Savile dominated the headlines,a Roman Catholic priest became the first person to be convicted as a paedophile under the Met Police’s Operation Fernbridge. The investigation into both the notorious Elm Guest House and a Richmond Council children’s home, Grafton Close, saw Father Tony McSweeney convicted on a specimen charge of indecent assault and three charges of making indecent images of children on his computer. He was cleared of three other charges of indecent assault. The trial would have been much bigger if not for the death of his co-accused John Stingemore had not died just before facing prosecution. Stingemore,as my colleague Tim Wood who reported the trial for Exaro shows, was portrayed by McSweeney as a paedophile. and it emerged in court that Stingemore had already been convicted as paedophile for the sexual assault of Peter Bornshin, a resident of Grafton Close home. The trial reveals two shocking facts. First it shows that yet another paedophile Roman Catholic priest – McSweeney will be sentenced on March 27 – has escaped justice for some 35 years and been able to work as a pillar of the community across the East of England. He has even gathered a  bit of celebrity stardust- marrying the boxer Frank Bruno – and when caught with child  sex abuse images he made on his computer he was a member of the scouting movement and worked with the Norwich City youth football team. Second is the shame it has heaped on Richmond Council which failed to act at the time to halt these crimes and has been in denial ever since this investigation began. It is quite clear from the court proceedings that Stingemore when in charge of Grafton Close was able unchecked to take boys out of the children’s home to his Bexhill flat where they were abused and employ his paedophile friend McSweeney – who also accompanied boys to his flat – without anyone taking much notice. One might be tempted not to heap blame on the authority if it was not for the attitudes of leading political figures and officials to recent  events. Sir David Williams, the former Liberal Dem leader in the wake of this scandal told me he did not believe there was any child sexual abuse in Richmond and it had all been got up by the press. Tell that to the jury at Southwark Crown Court. Two other prominent Liberal Democrats  councillors at the time now peers Tim Razzall and Jenny Tonge appeared to be in denial or did not want to talk about it. And  Louis Minister, then Richmond’s  director of social services, now retired in Malta, denied he had ever heard of Elm Guest House and said he knew nothing of what happened at Grafton Close. Only with a trial imminent did he recover his memory loss. And there are leading Richmond Tories who knew at the time- an issue I am still investigating. Contrast the last 35 years. These ambitious councillors, a number of whom I have met as a lobby journalist in Parliament, have led comfortable, prosperous lives heaped with honours and public recognition. While the survivors – the people unfortunate to be sent to be protected at Grafton Close – whom I have met  as an investigative reporter at Exaro, have in the main led fractured, impoverished lives. Many have difficulty coping, relying often on benefits only to be hounded by the DWP. One,Peter Borshin, the worst case scenario,  sadly committed suicide after his experiences which went on to him being committed to Broadmoor. No peerages or honours for them. I would hope after this tragic saga Richmond will have the grace to review its procedures to ensure that there is not a current repetition of those events 35 years ago. Perhaps the judge who  in this case has indicated that ,McSweeney will get a  custodial sentence will instruct them to do so.

Cameron: Bash the Russians, send in the troops but keep out the Ukrainians

Ukraine in crisis Pic credit: http://media.worldbulletin.net/

Ukraine in crisis
Pic credit: http://media.worldbulletin.net/

As the crisis in Ukraine deepens David Cameron is taking an increasingly belligerent line against the Russians. He is now sending a token number of troops and promising  greater European Union  economic sanctions unless Vladimir Putin backs down.

This policy may well be right and is likely to be  popular, though people might be wary of armed involvement. As he is reported in the Daily Mail on Friday telling Govan shipyard workers :”In terms of what Britain has done, we were the first country to say that Russia should be thrown out of the G8, and Russia was thrown out of the G8. We have been the strongest adherent that we need strong sanctions in Europe and we’ve pushed for those, achieved those and held on to those at every single occasion.” Now we are the first to send some troops.

Not so well reported has been Britain’s views on the  £2.2 billion support  package agreed by the EU including the UK to help Ukraine. As well as agreeing this large sum of money to help the Ukraine the package included measures to cover one of the most controversial areas of EU policy – the relaxation of immigration controls.

As I report in Tribune this week Britain actually signed up to deal which allowed the abolition of visa requirements for Ukrainians across 26 countries in Europe..

Among the measures the EU agreed is to abolish all visa requirements for Ukrainians seeking to come to the EU for any 90 day period in the Schengen zone. This covers 22 countries in the Eu and four others, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein ,Only the UK and Ireland have a permanent opt out.

The agreement said: “Mobility is an important area where the Commission believes meaningful, visible, short-term steps should be taken.

“While a number of them depend on the political decisions of the Member States, the Commission is willing and ready to pro-actively facilitate swift and efficient coordination in this area.

It added : ” The Commission fully recognises the importance of mobility and people-to-people contacts for Ukrainian citizens and will support Ukrainian efforts to move forward the visa liberalisation process as quickly as possible in line with the agreed conditions of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.”

For other countries the EU agreement says: A “ Visa Facilitation Agreement is in operation between the EU and Ukraine and the Commission encourages Member States to fully exploit its potential. It gives Member States the possibility of choosing from a series of measures, including waiving visa fees for certain categories of citizens. In addition, the Visa Code gives the Member States additional options to waive the visa fees for further categories, such as, for example, children.”

When questioned the Home Office was adamant that it need not follow any of these guidelines. A spokeswoman said the agreement was equivalent to “a memorandum of understanding” between the EU and other member states outside the Schengen area and the UK need not implement anything.

At present the Home Office charges 129 US dollars (nearly £84) for a basic visa for Ukrainians to enter the UK for up to six months including children. Students are charged 234 dollars (nearly £152) and anybody seeking 10 year visa are charged 1150 dollars (nearly £747 ).

What is interesting about this is how David Cameron and Theresa May in the pre-election frenzy  have already  implemented a very tough policy on immigration to rival UKIP.

Such a move might well be popular – and there are real concerns – not least by unions like Unite – that fruit farmers were very keen on having Ukrainians over here as a source of cheap labour.

However I think we should know that Cameron’s warm words to help the desperate plight of the Ukrainians do not apply to having a single poor Ukrainian in Britain. The clampdown has begun and the troops, a token 75, are going in.

In praise of Dale Vince and Ecotricity: A green entrepreneur backing Labour

Labour donor: Dale Vince Pic Credit: ecotricity

Labour donor: Dale Vince gave £250,000
Pic Credit: ecotricity

The disclosure that an entrepreneur has had the temerity to back Labour with a £250,000 donation has led to the usual  scramble in the national media to discredit the man and his company, Ecotricity. The Telegraph has recently done a thorough job  presenting the multi millionaire as a tax avoider, a greedy guzzler of state subsidies set up by one  former energy secretary, Ed Miliband, and owner of a castle. Presumably since Ecotricity doesn’t appear to advertise in The Daily Telegraph they felt brave enough to publish.

What is entirely missing from the article – and this  is surprising as the Telegraph champions competition –  is  support for a company challenging the energy monopoly. No mention of what his company does for ordinary people – which  you cannot get from the big six privatised and mainly foreign-owned giants who make millions from our gas and electricity bills.

I use Ecotricity for both my gas and electricity. One of my reasons is that I would rather spend my money with a company that has a real track record of investing in renewable energy than fossil fuels.

But take that aside – even though many on the right hate wind farms and believe global warming is a myth – Ecotricity has other plus points. Without wishing to act as an advertisement for Ecotricity – this site has no advertising – it seems to me, whatever faults Dale Vince may or may not have, at least his firm tries to offer the consumer a  better deal.

For a start the Telegraph ignores the fact that unlike any of the big six Ecotricity is  recommended  alongside other small companies by Which? as one of the better service providers.It came first for customer satisfaction as well.

Second it employs people in Stroud,its own HQ to deal directly with its customers.This compares with one of the big six I used in the past that had its call centre in India and lost my account when I moved house.. For nearly a year I wasn’t billed for electricity on my  new Berkhamsted home. When I raised this in India the officious   Eon/Powergen call centre worker demanded I sorted out all the paperwork myself – which I refused to do – and then desperately asked for an address   “any address ” he said to bill me. I was tempted to give him a false one in New York City to celebrate the follies of outsourcing and globalisation but honesty got the better of me.

Unlike the big six Ecotricity accepts direct debits for the actual amount of gas and electricity billed – you don’t have to pay a monthly overestimate for what you might use – a great scam allowing companies to take too much money off you for unused energy and use your loan to boost their own profits.

Fourth, Ecotricity is planning to cut prices by 6.2 per cent this May and promising more later in the year  – more than any of the big six and they never raised their prices in the last tranche either. This is something I have to remind the cold callers from the big six desperate for you to switch to them.

Fifth Ecotricity  gives you a good return on the money if you  invest in them.. It offered seven per cent  (7.5 for customers)before tax and its second issue offered six per cent gross (6.5 for customers) on its oversubscribed bonds – far more than the  four per cent  the” generous” George Osborne  is offering  pensioners in the run up to the election.

Some financial advisers have told me they can only offer these good rates of interest because of taxpayer subsidies. But it seems to me that the subsidies for cleaning up nuclear power waste – provide five times more money for the big six energy providers than the sums going to Ecotricity. Even the Telegraph acknowledges that.

But in a pre-election frenzy no right-wing paper  seems to want to acknowledge that anybody backing Labour can offer better value for money.

Child Sex Abuse: Green light for Goddard inquiry with caveats from MPs

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

Dame Justice Lowell Goddard got a glowing  endorsement from Keith Vaz, the Labour chair of the home affairs committee, last week after she appeared before his committee in a pre appointment scrutiny hearing.

Although Theresa May, the home secretary, made sure the committee could only endorse not approve the appointment, MPs this time decided that the best decision was to end  the controversy which dogged the past two chairs of the child sex abuse inquiry who both had to quit.

As Keith Vaz said: “We were impressed by the outstanding credentials of Justice Goddard, and the open and transparent way in which she gave evidence to the Committee. We believe she has the necessary skills and dedication to carry out this complex task effectively.”…

“We are confident that Justice Goddard will establish full independence from the Home Office and that she will shape and lead the inquiry in the manner she decides, but with proper consideration for the survivors. This is an important moment for the Inquiry, first established 221 days ago, and is an opportunity to renew the process after two false starts. We wish her well.”

 The actual report by MPs was less favourable that Mr Vaz’s glowing testament and raised a number of issues that should be addressed.
For a start it pointed out that the decision not to appoint any survivor to the committee meant that the promised advisory survivors committee must be beefed up.
 As it said : ” We can see the logic of Justice Goddard’s comment that survivors did not need to be represented on the Panel, but only provided that a parallel Survivors’ Forum is established on a formal basis, with strong links to the Inquiry Panel. Its remit, status and relationship with the Panel should be clear from the outset and it should be properly funded to provide the necessary support to its members.”
 To my mind this means proper resources and also the same due diligence applied to new members of the panel to ensure those appointed to the advisory panel are suitable for a difficult job.
Second it raised the question of Home Office dominance of both the secretariat and the running of the panel and rightly insisted that more outsiders should be on the secretariat and the chair should be shown to be totally independent in panel member appointments.
 It also said that to provide continuity some existing members of the dissolved panel should serve on the inquiry and that perhaps it should consult more widely – citing the success of Hillsborough and Leveson in dealing with victims, which means Dame Justice Goddard should talk to both Lord Leveson and the Bishop of Liverpool about how they handled their inquiries. It is also right that its remit does include Kincora – which was a national not as purely Northern Ireland scandal – and makes sure there is proper liaison between the Scottish and English/Welsh inquiry investigations. It has been pointed out to me by a reader that the committee is silent on Jersey – where I am suspicious there has also been a big cover up of  child sexual abuse.
Frankly this inquiry has got to show it is really independent and not a Home Office creature before people can really trust it – after so many false starts.
The inquiry will also sit in a febrile atmosphere with more damning disclosures about what happened in Britain in the 1980s. I know from the work I and my  colleagues are doing on Exaro that we only have just begun to investigate the scale of the scandal and there is much more to come. And it probably going to take more than three years to unravel it.

NO survivors on the Goddard child sex abuse inquiry panel

Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

The Theresa May experiment to appoint survivors to the new inquiry into historical child sexual abuse is over.

Both  the new ” non establishment”  chair Justice Lowell Goddard in her evidence to the Commons home affairs select committee and Graham Wilmer,a former member of the panel, in a letter  disclosed today on Exaro confirm this.

As Lowell Goddard said: “There are inherent risks in having people with personal experience of abuse as members of an impartial and independent panel.”

Frankly the row and bitter campaign by some organisations, l am afraid like the Survivors Alliance, against people appointed to the panel has ended in excluding survivors voices in the writing of the report. They have shot themselves in the foot.

They will obviously be some appointed to an advisory panel – but no one should kid themselves – that they will have the same influence as a member of the panel. It will be up to the judge to decide how often and how much they will be consulted but up to her and her QC adviser, Ben Emmerson, to decide what  will appear in the report. A radical experiment in setting up an inquiry to deal with one of the nastiest and most persistent blots in British public life – the exploitation of children by paedophiles – has been killed  with the help of the very people who suffered that fate.

As Graham Wilmer wrote: “I wanted to inform you that I will not be making any application to be part of the new Goddard inquiry, either as a panel member or as part of any survivors’ advisory group, in whatever form that may take.

“My reasons are these: firstly, I am led to understand that the new panel will not include any survivors, so making an application would be pointless in any case.”

He also blames what he describes as “the clarion voices” of people who falsely claim to represent those who suffered sexual abuse in their childhood, “and the aggressive and abusive tactics of the lone-wolf campaigners, together with the questionable motives of some lawyers and others who claim to represent the interests of survivors.”

There will still be people appointed to the panel but it is now clear they will be professional experts none of whom have had any experience of child sexual abuse themselves.

In my view this a very great shame – it was very difficult to achieve. But survivors will be able to speak to the inquiry and also to the new People’s Tribunal now in the process of being set which has survivors on its steering committee.

Theresa May: The courteous assassin

Theresa May: Pic courtesy: The Guardian

Theresa May: Pic courtesy: The Guardian

The description of how Theresa May handled the demise of the child sex abuse panel  – reported by me on Exaro at the weekend- shows the ruthless home secretary at her most combative and courteous rolled into one.

Determined to put months of indecision and  two mistaken  chair appointments behind her-  she took the most radical and surgical action she could do. She sacked the lot of the panel and started again. She had already.heavily hinted in her letter to the panel last year that this could happen.  But she softened the blow  with pleasantries and hand shakes and some genuine kind words.Never have so many people been so thoroughly stuffed in such a courteous way.

This streak of ruthlessness is why Theresa May is now  a serious contender for the leadership of the Tory Party.You can read a good profile of her here by Guardian journalist Gaby Hinscliff. Her famous statement that they were the ” nasty party ” may have stuck  a sour note with some supporters. But she know how to be nasty  and nice simultaneously.

She made sure they didn’t feel the blame ” You have done nothing wrong” she told them. But she didn’t spare them the pain – they heard they were going in shocked silence.She said they could re-apply but I will be amazed if any do. And it was followed up with the disclosure  after they left that Ben Emmerson, the QC to the inquiry, was staying and a tough email warning everybody on the panel to shut up or be sued.

In three months time there will be a general election. David Cameron may or may not win.But Theresa May already has her eye on the leadership. She is not yet in poll position – but she is making sure  she will be a challenger by secretly organising the ground work and also instructing her staff to keep very quiet about who will support her..Not even to tell a soul over a drink in the pub – so I hear.

Then I suspect her track record at the home office will be a big issue – taking on the police, setting up this child sex abuse inquiry and taking hard lines on popular right-wing issues like immigration.

If anyone knows how to wield a knife – while being kind and courteous to the victim – Theresa knows. David Cameron better watch his back.