I want to start today by making it ab-so-lute-ly clear that what Grant Shapps sold and promoted under the pseudonym Michael Green was a series of low-rent scams dressed up as self-help and marketing products (example). Further, the manner in which they were promoted was demonstrably fraudulent (example). More journalists should be looking into that detail. It is the root of Mr Shapps’ embarrassment, and what led him to engage in the following further wrongdoing…
What Mr Shapps did recently that was so wrong was to use money and libel law to bully critics into silence, when he had no legitimate grounds to do so. It was an audacious abuse of power, and something that would normally trigger resignation(s) from any position of authority. I am here today to show you that Shapps engaged in a deliberate and calculated deceit in order to cover up an earlier deliberate and calculated deceit.
Let’s take a close look at the text that Shapps forced Dean Charles Archer to publish when that constituent dared to suggest that he had misled the public (more):
“I recently made a post suggesting that Grant Shapps MP had lied over the use of a pen name. I now accept that such an assertion was entirely false and that Mr Shapps MP has at no time misled over the use of a pen name. Indeed, I now understand that he openly published his full name alongside business publications making it clear that he used a pen name merely to separate business and politics, prior to his entering parliament. Since I was not in full possession of the facts I was clearly wrong to make that post. I wish to apologise (unreservedly) to Mr Shapps MP for any harm or embarrassment caused.”
More recently, Shapps has issued statements suggesting that there was some form of minor/inadvertent overlap between his career as a ‘marketing guru’ and his job as an MP, and that denying it was merely an error, because so much time had passed that the overlap slipped his mind. Focusing on a recent radio interview rather than this event where he bullied a constituent into capitulating with threats of legal action, the following statement was issued on his behalf by the Conservative Party:
“Like many authors and journalists, Grant wrote with a pen name. This was completely transparent: his full name and biographical details were permanently published on the company’s main website. Given that this was a decade ago, and was mentioned during the cut and thrust of an interview, he referenced that his writing career had ended when he became an MP: in fact it ended shortly afterwards.”
If you look here, here and here, you will see three different profiles of Michael Green from external websites (i.e. websites Shapps has not been able to delete or censor). All of them use the same stock photo of a man who (a) is not Grant Shapps, (b) is younger and more handsome than Grant Shapps, and (c) has considerably more hair than Grant Shapps.
(Please also note the text bragging about his status as an MP who “actually flies his very own personal plane and also lives in a fabulous mansion”. More on this later.)
There is also the small matter of ‘Michael Green’ not merely billing himself as an author, but as ‘President (of) How To Corp’ (a “limited liability company registered in the United Kingdom”). This screen capture is from one of Shapps’ own websites:
But if the ‘HowToCorp’ website itself made it entirely clear who Shapps was, then no harm done, right? Well…
Were Grant Shapps’ full name and biographical details “permanently published on the company’s main website”?
In a word: no.
When all of this blew up in late 2012, Grant Shapps was careful to remove the many, many sites he used to sell his spivvery, including the main site ‘howtocorp.com’. He also took the added precaution of excluding a list of relevant domains from the Web Archive. Normally, this would make it impossible for anyone to go back and check his assertions about what used to appear on this website or that, but there’s more than one archive available, and Mr Clever Clogs here used them to check up on a few things.
I can confidently state as a fact, that yes, at one time, when you visited the main page of howtocorp.com, if you scrolled down to the bottom, you would be able to see a link to ‘Michael Green Biography’. Further, the page it linked to did assert that ‘Michael Green’ was a ‘pen name’.
1. This link/page was removed after Grant Shapps was elected to be an MP
2. The page itself (when it existed) made NO mention of Grant Shapps by name. And here’s the relevant evidence that Mr Shapps tried to hide from us:
(Psst! I won’t be showing him where I found it just yet. Last time I did that, he was in a terrible hurry to hide the evidence I was linking to, and I’m not done browsing through it yet.)
Did the name ‘Grant Shapps’ appear “alongside business publications” published in the name of Michael Green?
In a word: no.
The following are all domains owned/operated/promoted by ‘How To Corp’, and I have checked archives/copies of the relevant websites/products in detail, and I can confidently state that none of the following web sites/pages made any mention of Grant Shapps by name alongside any of his so-called “business publications”. You know that old saying ‘three strikes and you’re out’? Here’s thirty:
The best that could be said on the ‘transparency’ front was that these sites all included a prominent and visible link back to the website ‘howtocorp.com’, which at one time did assert on a single page that ‘Michael Green’ was a pen name, but made zero mention of the name ‘Grant Shapps’, even when it did exist.
(Interesting fact: The fee for a one-hour telephone consultation with ‘Michael Green’ of michaelgreenconsulting.com was a mere US$297 . Also, this was one of many sites where ‘Michael Green’ billed himself as “the owner of the World’s Largest Internet Marketing Forum”.)
When Grant Shapps became an MP, did his work as ‘Michael Green’ end “shortly afterwards”?
In a word: no.
Grant Shapps has at one time made a vague claim about his wife continuing to operate the business in his absence and perhaps even being Michael Green herself from time to time sometime after May 2005, but the audio I linked to in this article clearly dates to August 2007 (more than two years after he became an MP), and there’s no question about it being Shapps himself posing as Michael Green in interview.
Speaking of interviews, here’s ‘Michael Green’ bragging about how easy it was to balance his two workloads in a ‘product’ titled ‘Diary Profits’ (also featuring ‘Peter Twist’):
PETER: Now I think what I always like to point out about yourself is that before
people start saying things like, ‘Oh, I’m so busy. I’m on holiday’ and everything
— I’ve got to explain that you were involved very heavily in public life so this
kind of a — possibly quiet time for you where you don’t have to be in parliament
and such so.
MICHAEL: Well, there is that, but I mean basically this is a hobby for me. This
is — when I want to — it probably sounds like a strange hobby for some people
— but when I want to get away and I want to relax from the daily hustle and
bustle of politics and what have you — then for me — for my weekend or
whatever when I am not doing that stuff — this is relaxation for me. This is how
I relax. I do internet marketing to relax. How about that?
There’s also little question about Grant Shapps himself being the author of the ‘product’ titled ‘How To Bounce Back From Recession’. I secured an original copy of this document from howtobouncebackfromrecession.com before Shapps managed to throw most of his shady past down a memory hole, and the properties of the PDF file give a creation date of late 2009. By now we’re more than 4 years past the date when Shapps became an MP; almost a full term.
As for any contention that any overlap was inadvertent and easy to forget, it is quite evident that Shapps was as ‘Michael Green’ cashing in on his status as an MP rather than accidentally allowing the two roles to overlap. Plus…
Did Grant Shapps merely make a ‘mistake’ in the ‘cut and thrust’ of an interview almost a decade after the original event(s)?
In a word: no.
Firstly, this defence ignores the legal bullying, which was careful, calculated, and quite deliberate.
Anyone who has struggled and fought as a self-employed person building up their own business would take some offence from being lumped in wiith those who get elected and as a result of their position, accept paid consultancies. I hope you’ll accept that what I’ve done is entirely different. Just for additional clarity, my print biz now operates without my direct input, so I am a full time MP and completely focused on Welwyn Hatfield.
Interesting debate. The point I was trying to make is that I’m a full time MP. That’s what I do. Those who take the train in the morning will sometimes see me going to London, though my schedule is different everyday due to the unusual business hours at parliament. Before I get on the train I’m working in the constituency on day to day case work, either from home, the constituency office or out and about visiting people and places in Welwyn Hatfield.
In terms of outside interests, I don’t have anything that takes up any significant time. In the past three or four months I have visited my print business just once for a meeting which lasted around one hour. That’s it! I’ve worked hard for 15 years to specifically get the business running without my input.
Naturally when it comes to declaring for the register of interests I will mention my print biz (which as founder, I am still a Director of) and my online marketing company that I run alongside. Salaries are not actually declared in the Register, which is not intended to be a wealth index, but out of interest, I draw very little salary indeed and will be remunerated by dividends at the end of the year if my print business makes money (not a given as anyone in print will tell you). Nothing that I do outside being the MP takes up any more time than say running this forum as a hobby for example and probably far less time than that, as I’ve described.
Shapps was denying being anything other than a full-time MP all the way back in 2005, while at the same time posing as ‘Michael Green’ and busily creating new scams targeting dumb and greedy Americans. If you read the exchange, you can even see the throwaway comment about his “online marketing company”, then someone bringing ‘Michael Green’ up about 6 months later; Shapps responds to this query by changing the subject and defining such queries as ‘personal’. He does not return to the topic.
Thought that dealing with the serious problems of the break-ins in Brookmans Park were more important to post on than a discussion about my personal business, which I’ve properly declared in the members interests – without which we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
So there you have it; Shapps was actively avoiding the issue while engaging in a pretence of transparency all the way back in 2005. It’s not a mistake he made in recent days a decade after the fact, it is an ongoing deceit that he has maintained for a decade.
If it were otherwise, he would not have gone to such extraordinary (but ultimately futile) lengths to hide his tracks.
There is nothing in the recent statement in defence of Shapps that stands up to any scrutiny. A man of any honour would resign. A party of any integrity would force the issue. But the sad fact is that Shapps is a greedy and dishonest liar, and a valuable member of a deeply tribal group that rewards such behaviour.
On this note I will close by declaring an interest. Recently I passed a confidential letter to Grant Shapps for the attention of the Prime Minister. My letter was about a rather personal and sensitive issue: Conservative fundraising executives who had used false identities to make anonymous allegations of child rape for political gain. Shapps not only refused to take any action himself, he went on to share this confidential letter with people who had no business reading it. He has since refused to answer any questions about that, so I won’t pretend for a second that I’m not enjoying any of this.
In recent months, Grant Shapps has been issuing threats of legal action against some people who dared suggest that he was running ‘get rich quick’ schemes under the name Michael Green while he was an MP. Shapp’s aggrieved contention was (a) that there was no attempt to deceive, as this was merely a ‘pen name’ that he used, and (b) that he stopped acting as Michael Green when he became an MP.
On the first point, I have only ever seen evidence of Michael Green being described on the relevant websites as ‘a Member of Parliament’, and certainly not specifically identified as Grant Shapps. We would be able to go to older versions of his websites and check if Shapps and/or his wife hadn’t deliberately excluded the howtocorp.com domain from the Web Archive, and in any case the existence of text bragging that Michael Green is an MP rules out any accidental overlap between his two lives. Grant Shapps was deliberately cashing in on his status as an MP, and he is preventing us from seeing older versions of his site that might allow him to demonstrate that he did so merely in the spirit of transparency.
The new line being wheeled out today by Shapps and other Tory high-ups such as Jeremy Hunt is that this is was all sorted out a long time ago and this is merely a Labour-led plot to undermine that nice Mr Shapps because they fear his campaigning abilities (*cough*) and/or because they “hate business”.
It was after seeing this that I began to take a renewed look at the business interests of Grant Shapps, his wife Belinda Shapps, and his sister Marla Coutts. What I recalled about earlier versions of this ‘web empire’ was confirmed on the first site I checked. Sites like ‘auctiongirl.co.uk’ are clearly registered as if the operation and its key operators (Belinda Shapps and Marla Coutts) are based in the US, and not the UK. This raises questions about what/how any income/profits/earnings are declared in this country; the Tory spin about Shapps being a ‘wealth creator’ depends rather heavily on his family generating wealth in this country and paying a full and fair amount of tax on any associated income.
All of this is mere background to today’s story, but as that story unfolds, I will produce a full shopping list of websites in the Shapps ‘wealth creation’ empire, and I invite bloggers and journalists who are interested in the tax/earnings question to explore the many sites involved at their leisure.
UPDATE (17 March) – I was in the process of researching domains in the shopping list I mentioned (which you are still welcome to browse) when I discovered evidence giving Mr Shapps some deniability about the fate of one specific domain (‘savenewbarnfield.com’). I am voluntarily withdrawing the associated text purely because there is now significant room for doubt, but I’m sure you’ll be delighted to learn that what I found instead was much, much juicer:
[TL:DR – Tories running the Department of Education sought to harangue and taunt their critics anonymously like playground bullies. Here is the evidence they tried to bury.]
For over two years, an anonymous Twitter account endorsed by the Conservatives sought to denigrate, discredit and abuse critics and opponents of the former Education Secretary Michael Gove. Given that the Conservative Party Chairman (and shyster) Grant Shapps is highly tolerant of abusive sock-puppets in the party ranks and isn’t above sock-puppeting his opponents personally, I am of the opinion that people far-too-readily assume that a senior figure like Gove didn’t risk having a direct hand in the account himself.
I recommend this informative timeline and the following articles if you are unaware of the significance of this account and its authorship:
The account was downright childish and abusive in tone, and often challenged critics of Gove to ‘get a real/proper job’ rather than waste any time subjecting his department to scrutiny (not a wise narrative to press during a recession, especially when you are spouting party/political propaganda instead of focusing on the job that the taxpayers are paying you to do).
The morally impoverished authors were also known for cringe-worthy use of a #winning hashtag (see: Charlie Sheen), repeated characterisation of opponents as ‘lefties’ and ‘comrades’, even a comparison of some critics/opponents to Hitler and/or Stalin… and throughout, nauseatingly effusive praise of Michael Gove and his bold mission to reshape education in his divine image.
This archive is a near-to-complete* record of everything tweeted and retweeted from its inception (Jan 2012) through to the date of Michael Gove’s humiliating ‘promotion’ to Chief Whip (Jul 2014). Upon the news that the Grand Headmaster had been demoted, there was a short silence, a flurry of tweets announcing the cabinet changes to be a glorious victory for Michael Gove and his loyal staff, then a very long silence followed only by sporadic tweeting until the end of that year, when all prior tweets were carefully and deliberately erased… because it simply wouldn’t do to be answerable for childish and abusive attacks on opponents, now would it?
(*It does not include any tweets that were deleted on/near the day of publication, and this is a common tactic of bullies with or without sock-puppets: they like to hit people and run away.)
Obviously, with the account so thoroughly cleansed of evidence (see also: Jeremy Hunt), it is difficult to determine the full context of some tweets and/or access any wider conversations, but I thought that hard-working taxpayers deserved to keep some kind of record of the Tory propaganda they paid for when Gove and his squadron of flying monkeys were running the Department of Education.
On that note, I will leave you with one of the final tweets from one of the anonymous authors who spent over two years accusing their critics and opponents of rampant dishonesty (and anonymous bullying, naturally):
It’ll take all you Blobbers a lot more than 4 yrs to glue pieces together & by then computers will have fired you! #Won #MissionAccomplished
[Note – Just for the record, in formatting these tweets for publication, I noted characteristics of the text that demonstrate that many of them were not tweeted ‘live’, but were first drafted in Microsoft Word. A key example: some of the nastier attacks on Suzanne Moore. Make of that what you will.]
Yesterday I attended a rally for Hacked Off. While there, I observed Alex Wickham enter the room and take a front-row seat in the press box before thumbing away at his handheld device.
Wickham and his cohorts like to downplay typical everyday victims of tabloid excess, and instead press a narrative about a small gang of celebrities trying to restrict free speech so they can keep their dirty little secrets. Knowing Wickham to be a deeply tribal and unapologetic tabloid ‘journalist’ who had previously taken every opportunity to demonise Hacked Off and their supporters, I was curious to see how he was reporting this event.
I accessed the Twitter feeds of the two main accounts he uses, and observed him in action.
First, he took this photo of Hugh Grant and (using the same device) live-tweeted it to the @MediaGuido account (12:56pm):
I was not at all surprised to see Wickham pressing the celebrity angle, or to see him using mutliple Twitter accounts in this way. I was even less surprised when he escalated to more overt attempts to reject one argument and instead press his own false prospectus (1:06pm):
"The thing that drives Hacked Off is the abuse of ordinary people with ordinary lives" says Cathcart, alongside Hugh Grant and John Cleese
The above was a gross and deeply offensive mischaracterisation of what was being said to the audience, and how they were reacting to it. Brian Cathcart compared a range of media owners/editors to the man behind the green curtain in The Wizard of Oz (his exact words: “the squeaky little figure, or the squeaky little line-up of figures…”, and later “tear away the curtain and we see the squeaky little figure of Paul Dacre; let’s keep it that way, let’s keep them out in the open”).
The “rapturous applause” Wickham describes in response to some crass personal assault on Paul Dacre is pure invention (if not a gross distortion of the end-of-speech applause that everybody has received at the end of every speech at every political rally since the dawn of democracy). The Orwellian reference to the “obedient audience” is entirely over the top, and typically so.
Further, Wickham was totally engrossed in this task and typing his distortions while John Cleese was speaking about a long list of everyday victims of tabloid abuse and intrusion. The only report of any of this from Wickham was Cleese’s opening mention of the role played by celebrities in this debate (1:10pm), followed by the moment that Mr Cleese became momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the inhumanity he was reading aloud, with the clear suggestion being that his was an entirely emotional and therefore flawed argument (1:11pm).
You are invited to listen to the actual event rather than a cherry-picked moment of it written by a man so crassly preoccupied with his task of distortion that he didn’t even look up and acknowledge that any of this was being read out at the time:
Note that the above two tweets neatly bracket a long list of victims that Wickham is determined to gloss over, and that the second tweet throws two words together and attributes them as a description of the press in general. Here’s the text of what Cleese actually said after reading a long list of examples of specific and undeniably monstrous, sociopathic acts:
“So what do we say about this monstrous behaviour? And what is (so) monstrous about it for me is the almost complete lack of contrition on behalf of people who do these dreadful, sociopathic things.” – John Cleese
If responsibility for this behaviour was laid at anyone’s feet, it was at Rupert Murdoch’s, but given how closely Wickham is associated with The Sun on Sunday, it is unlikely that this is a point/debate that he would wish to address on anything but his own twisted terms.
Getting back to those terms, later in the piece, Cleese compared the field of journalism to other fields that would like to regulate themselves (builders, accountants) and to those that used to regulate themselves, but no longer do (lawyers, doctors). To illustrate his point he made a joke that murderers would probably like to regulate themselves too. That murder is not an acknowledged profession or field (in this country) should be clue enough to most people that a joke was in progress, but Wickham was quick to seize on it and present it as a standalone comparison (1:13pm):
John Cleese compares journalists to murderers at Hacked Off rally: "murderers would like to regulate themselves too"
Now have a listen and decide for yourself what was actually said. Also note that John Cleese wraps up this point with talk of the people who lie about Hacked Off seeking to muzzle the press (trust me: we’ll get to this soon enough):
Here’s a transcript of the relevant section of the audio for those of you in the cheap seats:
“Of course they want to regulate themselves. We’d all like to regulate ourselves, wouldn’t we? But it would mean without appropriate oversight, builders, accountants, murderers; they’d all like to regulate themselves. And murderers would make a good case! They’d say ‘We’ve murdered a lot of people, we know people who’ve murdered people. We are best qualified to regulate (murder)’…”
“Yes, they want to go on [laughs] regulating themselves. Oh dear. The press editors simply want the freedom of the press – to be free to do what they damn well like, without independent oversight. Of course, things used to be different. Remember the lawyers, they used to have the Law Society to regulate themselves? Doctors used to have the General Medical Council. That’s all done. The only group that now regulates itself without independent oversight is [laughs] is the press. And why? because the politicians are more frightened of them than they are of anyone else, right? [sounds of agreement, then applause] But, you see, a lot of us don’t trust the press to regulate themselves without oversight any more than we don’t trust the murderers.” – John Cleese
Some other people spoke, Wickham’s distortions continued, and then the Chair (Evan Harris) spoke to the audience about one of the tweets by Wickham that I had brought to his attention:
Wickham is audibly mumbling when first challenged, but he clearly says it was “a direct quote” twice before not only being invited to speak but being urged to speak up by the Chair, when he finally says something the whole room can (almost) hear:
“I don’t understand the problem. It’s a direct quote. It was exactly what he said.” – Alex Wickham
This earned an immediate and vociferous response from one audience member concluding that he was a “cretin”, but this was putting it rather generously as it assumes that Wickham misquoted John Cleese out of ignorance alone before falsely stating when challenged that he had quoted him verbatim.
But it is clear from the audio that not only did Wickham misrepresent what John Cleese had said, he also made a false claim about having quoted him word-for-word when he had done no such thing. Wickham even challenged the Chair when his actions were described as presenting words out of context. Once again, he got to have his say, and this is what he said:
“How can it be out of context? It’s a direct quote.” Alex Wickham
So that’s twice that Wickham has been permitted to speak his mind, and twice he has refused to vary from an entirely false assertion that he had quoted John Cleese verbatim.
Listening to the audio, you will also hear a very strident Australian (*cough*) pointing out exactly how he had presented words out of context, even if one were to accept his argument that he had quoted John Cleese verbatim (which he had not done). At the very end you will hear the Chair once again invite him to identify himself, and you can also hear that by now the crowd are keen for him to do this, too. The specific calls for him to stand are for him to stand and identify himself. When he refuses to do this, at the very end of the audio, you will hear this moment, which also appears int he 15-second snippet of video that Wickham is now using to ‘prove’ that he was denied the right to free speech:
But Wickham was not refused his say; far from it. Neither was he robbed of his right to free speech. Wickham was not gagged or manhandled out of the room for daring to speak his mind; he was merely challenged, identified, then politely invited to leave, or sit and listen from that point on (i.e. after squandering multiple opportunities to explain himself). Wickham chose to sulk and portray himself as a victim on Twitter, starting with this (1:53pm)
Evan Harris and John Cleese are now shouting at me
The audio I have published here covers the entire exchange, as opposed to the 15 seconds of it that Wickham and the Guido Fawkes team seek to legitimise by citing the Press Association as the source of the clip (‘never mind the quality… feel the width!’). At no stage does Evan Harris shout at him. At no stage does John Cleese shout at him. This did not happen, before, during or after the event. But Wickham is banking so much on his assertion that it did happen that he has pinned this tweet on his profile.
(‘Look at me, everyone! John Cleese shouted at ME!’… and obviously I’m paraphrasing for effect here, so no letters, please.)
This didn’t happen either (1:57pm):
Well that was awkward. Room asks me to "stand, stand" to explain tweets. I do. Evan Harris: "sit down, we're not giving you a platform"
The audio makes it clear that Alex Wickham was repeatedly invited to stand to identify himself, something that he repeatedly refused to do. This is quite apart from the fact that he took any further opportunity to speak to again repeat the false assertion that he had quoted John Cleese “directly”, when he had not.
Wickham then when on to falsely assert that John Cleese had called him a liar:
"I don't know how you sleep at night" screams a man at the front at John Cleese calls me a liar #whatisgoingon
John Cleese would not have been wrong or unfair to describe Wickham as a liar – because this tabloid tea-boy is a shameless and unapologetic liar – but what Cleese did was jokingly invite him to tell lies about him (“You’re absolutely free to tell any lies you want about me.”). So, Wickham lied about John Cleese calling him a liar!
Wickham then went back to his oh-so-crucial narrative about Hacked Off being an enemy of free speech, again giving a wholly misleading account of the event and what was actually happening when he was asked to stand and identify himself (2:00pm):
And therein lies the problem for Hacked Off. Room asks me to stand. I stand. Evan Harris tells me to sit down "not giving you a platform"
And it was at this point that Alex Wickham appeared to tweet about himself in third person using the @MediaGuido account (2:00pm), describing himself as a ‘top tabloid journalist’ and likening the audience to a gang of children descending into savagery:
The Hacked Off lot are very Hacked Off that we sent top tabloid journalist @WikiGuido to their event. Like Lord of the Flies for Journalism.
Wickham has since asserted that both Dr Evan Harris and John Cleese have accepted his version of events as accurate, but this assertion is based on further distortion and invention.
Alex Wickham was allowed to attend, but it was a trust he abused. He was allowed to report, but he gave a wholly distorted account of events. This was not “a direct quote” as Wickham repeatedly stated. At no time did John Cleese utter these words in this order:
John Cleese compares journalists to murderers at Hacked Off rally: "murderers would like to regulate themselves too"
Further, after the kind of behaviour that would earn one immediate ejection at most events, Wickham was challenged and invited to explain himself, but chose to give a false account of what he had done, and then give a false account about being denied the opportunity to speak.
(Surely, Alex, you remember speaking. You must have sensed your lips flapping, the sound waves leaving your body and the bullshit dripping off your chin.)
I will add to this that if you dare voice any dissent in the comments at the ‘Guido Fawkes’ website, you are shouted down by a series of anonymous comments before being invited to go and complain on your own blog. It turns out that Alex Wickham can’t even hack being asked nicely to leave and do the same. So he’s a hypocrite as well as a liar.
Alex Wickham, Harry Cole and site proprietor Paul Staines owe John Cleese a full retraction and an apology for giving a distorted account of what he said and how he responded when this came to light. They also owe Evan Harris, the speakers and the entire audience a retraction and an apology not only for the initial distortions, but for later giving a distorted account of what Wickham did, what he said, and how those gathered reacted to his audacity.
However, I am guessing that the only response we will see to this article is the usual round of tabloid obfuscation and intimidation designed to shut me/others up and discourage the one thing these people fear most: attention to detail, and timely and irrefutable deconstruction of their hastily-woven fictions.
UPDATE (27 Feb) – At one stage, someone tried to explain that the ‘stand up, sit down’ event did not happen as Wickham described (and it didn’t). Of course, what Alex Wickham seized upon was any suggestion that ‘stand up, sit down’ did not happen at all (when he did actually stand up and sit down), so on this basis – brace yourselves – Alex Wickham is claiming that the audio I have published here proves his version of events, and further asserts that this is the “end of the matter”. No, I am not kidding. Here’s a direct quote, complete with context, and you can click through for more if you have any doubts:
Some might also note that Wickham doesn’t actually link to the audio that ‘proves his version of events’, or even hint where it might be found. This demonstrates his attitude towards accuracy… and his audience.
Over the weekend, the Sun on Sunday columnist and former Tory MP Louise Mensch began beating the drum for war in Iraq. The intensity and bloodlust was striking, and stood in stark contrast to the thoughtful quote in her Twitter bio:
It is also worth noting how ignorant and downright childish some of her tweets were. At one stage, Mensch began tweeting in Arabic, hurling abuse at alleged/perceived supporters of ISIS* that ranged from ‘your leader is fat’ jibes (seriously) to the kind of ‘cave dwelling’ and ‘goat fucker’ slurs that have strong, offensive and damaging racial and cultural overtones whether you direct them at a specific group or not.
(*NOTE – Some of these so-called ISIS operatives used words like ‘fag’ and ‘dude’, indicating to most reasonable people that they were more likely to be a teenage troll operating not out of a cave in Iraq, but their Mom’s basement in Iowa.)
Critics of this behaviour were characterised by Mensch as ‘terrorist sympathisers’, or ‘apologists and lefties’ who risked aiding and abetting the enemy.
I recorded not only the outburst, but the reaction to it (i.e. by logging mentions of her name/username in Twitter). Mensch was getting a lot of support from the kinds of people who will tell you that Barack (HUSSEIN!) Obama is a secret Muslim, but the majority of Tweets on Saturday morning especially involved people who were genuinely concerned that Mensch was (a) the victim of a Twitter hack, or (b) experiencing some kind of breakdown or drug/alcohol-fuelled episode. Any judgement on the latter aside, it is worth noting how many observers regarded her output to be so extreme that they could not believe that this dedicated controversialist had posted it herself… at least, not while sane and sober.
Keeping in mind that while there are outrages that ISIS (or IS) are responsible for, much of what Mensch was posting during this outburst was (at the time) unverified, wholly inaccurate, and/or in many cases entirely fabricated.
Zelo Street has some further detail here.This post exists mainly to call Louise Mensch out on one single fabrication in the hopes that she will finally retract it, not only to correct a shocking libel against the two people pictured, but to bring comfort to the tens of thousands of people who are needlessly concerned about the fate of one of the young girl involved.
Here are the two main tweets of concern. The first (bottom) is a retweet, the second (top) is where Louise Mensch repeats the monstrous lie in her own words:
While the man pictured is (or perhaps was) an advocate of the Islamic State (IS) and may or may not be involved in the current armed conflict, in this picture he is not an invading soldier, but the host of a ‘family fun day’. At this 2013 “Ramadan event for children”, there was an cream-eating race, a tug-of-war… and a competition to accurately recite religious text, in which the young girl pictured was involved.
Now, if you share any concern about religious indoctrination of young children, we are totally on the same page. I personally own a bible that was given to me at age 8 in reward for accurately reciting the 10 Commandments, and I treasure it in much the same way that a soldier keeps the bullet that didn’t kill him. You can be as OK or as upset about the religious component as you wish to be, but it does not change the fact that the girl in the following video is upset only because of a mere error and/or stage fright.
Let’s be especially clear about two things: the man pictured has not just announced his intention to marry a young girl, and the event has not taken place in the recently-overrun city of Mosul. To claim otherwise is to engage in a lie with a dark and insidious purpose that also has strong, offensive and damaging racial and cultural overtones.
1. I am not getting into the whole ‘was Mohammed a paedophile?’ thing; it is sufficient to know that accusations of paedophilia carry a certain resonance in this context, and anyone claiming expertise in Islam and/or the West’s role in conflict in the Middle East should know it.
2. The idea that ISIS are invading cities and raping children is a lie that is clearly designed to provoke the kind of shock and fear that removes any question about the need for an armed response.
Over two years ago, in April 2012 to be precise, I became aware of a Twitter account by an anonymous tabloid journalist: @tabloidtroll.
While maintaining pretensions of whistle-blowing, @tabloidtroll actually sought to attack those outside the industry who highlighted or criticised wrongdoing within it. This included campaigners for press reform, critics of tabloid excess, and even police officers who dared to arrest journalists alleged to have engaged in such excesses to a criminal degree.
Psychological projection was evident from the outset. In a series of circular arguments, the author engaged in trolling, abusive and circumstantial ad hominem attacks on a range of targets and justified these attacks with allegations that his targets had engaged in trolling, abusive and circumstantial ad hominem attacks on himself and/or others. Those who dared to object to such treatment were accused of seeking to bully the author into silence.
Relevant distortions became increasingly bold and pronounced over time. For example: an objection to the treatment of Milly Dowler’s family would be characterised as ‘trolling journalists with a dead girl’.
There was also a clear pattern of targeting critics first with the allegation of bias, then of abusive behaviour, and ultimately some form of financial impropriety, which was usually used as a premise for contacting their employer(s), client(s), donor(s), etc. – all based on nothing but piss and wind.
Very early in the piece, I obtained IP evidence that demonstrated that a tabloid journalist by the name of Dennis Rice was the main account holder. I then confronted that journalist about my findings.
Dennis Rice responded by saying: “My lawyers will deal with anything anyone would be foolish enough to print – alleging or otherwise – that I am (@tabloidtroll)”
But I never did hear from those lawyers, even after publishing my findings. Instead, Dennis Rice made a complaint to Thames Valley Police alleging that I had stalked and harassed him and mishandled private data. The @tabloidtroll account was then used to announce that I was under police investigation. When this investigation closed without action Rice simply made another complaint and repeated the process. Thames Valley Police are very clear that I was “never a suspect” but they declined to investigate any potential waste of police time on the grounds that Rice had not wasted enough time for it to be worth their time.
(Note – Rice uses the word ‘stalker’ according to his needs. As @tabloidtroll he accused me of electronically stalking him because he received an alert that I had viewed his ‘Dennis Rice’ LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile, he has demonstrably sought to intimidate other Twitter users through detail he claims to have obtained from LinkedIn, the Land Registry, and even the Electoral Register. Further, these messages assuring others of my guilt – based on his highly inventive reports of a police investigation in progress – appeared alongside allegations that critics of certain other tabloid journalists had forgotten about the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence.)
Also, while publicly challenging me to publish the relevant IP data and thereby ‘prove’ my case, Dennis Rice was first researching and then contacting the employers of (a) parties who had offered to verify my findings, and (b) parties who merely spoke about the quality of the evidence in principle. Rice wrongly alleged that they had mishandled his private data and ‘enabled a stalker’, and to some parties he pretended police involvement to the extent of threatening a potential visit by police to their workplace (i.e. if the employer did not provide an ‘alternative method of contact’ for the accused party). Let me clear on this point: Rice was using a clumsy form of social engineering in order to mine/blag personal data that was none of his business and using an allegation of improper handling of data to do it.
Rice sought to undermine these findings with a series of inventive but wholly flawed arguments, but in the end he settled on the first of a long series of threats (made as @tabloidtroll) to visit me at my home and sort it out ‘in person’. I made it very clear to Mr Rice that any such visit would be inappropriate and unwelcome. He responded by accusing me of cowardice and actually using this to justify his actions; he was not seeking to intimidate a critic, he was facing up to a coward who had sought to intimidate a critic.
Some equally inventive distortions were used to play on my dispute with the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries. Thinly-veiled death threats were being published about me and justified with the false allegation that I had stalked that MP. Rice portrayed my complaint about this as a death threat against Dorries, and several further threats to visit my home followed.
Another party who saw an opportunity to use Rice against me tweeted a public message suggesting that I might be a child rapist. I used a polite private message to ask why they might do such a thing, but the author portrayed my behaviour as ‘abusive’, telegraphing the report to Rice, who of course followed up with a series of threats to turn up and my house and ‘confront the coward’.
By this stage, it was not any mention of his name that set him off, but my mere presence on Twitter. I had stopped blogging and stopped engaging on twitter for weeks and then months at a time. The moment I dared show up online, the threats would commence based on some allegation or another. At times, even the mere fact of my absence would be used against me, as in this example:
TABLOIDTROLL: “Hide all you like, you despicable woman stalking prick, but know I’m coming for you, and its going to get bloody :-)”
Rice had also used the entirely false allegation that my in-laws had bought the house next door for cash as justification for publishing a list of names of people in my extended family. The claim was that I was somehow living a life of privilege while maintaining pretensions of being a working class hero or some such nonsense.
I asked Rice to cease and desist from the outset, pointing out that what he was publishing was as intrusive as it was inaccurate. Rice responded as @tabloidtroll in the following manner:
TABLOIDTROLL: “Message to TT’s stalker about his latest gutless plea: Make Me.”
Seeking a path for legal correspondence that would not lead to similar outbursts, I emailed the lawyer Mark Lewis*, who I knew had acted for Rice at one stage. I asked Lewis if Rice was still a client. Rather than answer this question, Lewis simply forwarded my email on to Rice with a chummy ‘Hope you’re OK’. I know this because Rice then began forwarding the email to multiple recipients and presenting it as evidence that I was harassing him.
Meanwhile, Rice’s attempts to portray me as a privileged outsider extended into associating me with the banking scandal. Rice was so intent on this that he first began referring to my “banker father in law”, but when he subsequently found out that the relevant party had died recently, he immediately switched to referring to my “banker’s widow mother in law”.
You are invited to imagine the emotional impact this had on grieving family members.
Behind the scenes, I had placed my faith in Surrey Police… who proved to be utterly useless and totally ignorant about the relevant technology. Judging by his own account, when attending an interview, Rice showed Surrey Police some tweets that were made on the @tabloidtroll account while he was volunteering in some capacity in a prison (i.e. and therefore without access to a laptop or mobile). The investigating officer simply could not fathom that a tweet might be scheduled for future publication, or that someone might be roped in to tweet on the author’s behalf. Worse, Surrey Police did not regard it to be ‘proportionate’ to investigate the account or its authorship through Twitter, and they even struggled to appreciate the significance of Dennis Rice writing to my employer three days prior to his police interview threatening them with a grand exposé based on a series of absurd allegations.
After that interview turned out rather better than he had been expecting, Rice withdrew the threat, but the exposé turned up anyway… on the website of @tabloidtroll, obviously. In this hatchet job, Rice accused me of ‘betraying’ my employer and promoting my articles by using their facilities to magic them to the top of search results (i.e. as if they did not do so on their own merit, and as if my employers engaged in black-hat SEO). He also accused me of stalking my own clients. One example: Like hundreds of others, I boycotted Tesco products once to protest their position on ‘Workfare'; Rice described this as ‘stalking’ and wrongly claimed that I engaged in this ‘stalking’ while retaining them as a client.
None of this was true, but by now Rice had extended his threats to confront me face to face at either home or work, or even en-route. At one stage he openly offered to share my travel itinerary to any ‘victims of abuse’ who contacted him.
In was in the face of this ongoing escalation and continuing inaction by Surrey Police that I sought to detach myself from my employer before Rice began targeting my workmates as he had my extended family. Rice used visible signs of my departure to support an allegation that his report of my ‘stalking clients’ had led to some discovery or ruling by my employer that supported his argument.
(Nadine Dorries was kind enough to pretend the same thing at the time, and made a big show of contacting the CEO about the allegations, but refrained from publishing their response for reasons that are easy to guess at. Harry Cole and Paul Staines also saw fit to promote the allegations, and again their reasons for endorsing an anonymous hatchet job are no big mystery.)
Rice then used this in a new narrative designed to further undermine the original IP data linking him to the account (e.g. “Your friend Tim initially claimed to have incontrovertible IP address evidence then subsequently refused to show it. And as I understand it later left the employ of an IT firm after it was revealed he was tweeting abuse to the company’s clients, including one Rupert Murdoch**”).
Over the past two years, as @tabloidtroll, Rice has progressed from attempts to intimidate and undermine witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry to attempts to intimidate and undermine a reporter who saw fit to live-tweet the recent hacking trial: Peter Jukes.
Peter has repeatedly been treated/threatened with the same attention that I have enjoyed over the past years, and so far the pattern has remained exactly the same; through @tabloidtroll and associated hangers-on, Peter stands accused of bias, abuse, and financial impropriety. It is my understanding that Dennis Rice has grown increasingly anxious about this conduct being documented in Peter’s upcoming book Beyond Contempt.
Rice responded by using his @dennisricemedia account and his @tabloidtroll account to not only announce that I was under investigation for stalking Nadine Dorries, but even name a specific officer… something he really should have checked with said officer before publishing any such claim. Rice followed this up with a threat to visit the premises of my partner’s new business venture (to ‘look at the dodgy financials’), then assured me that if I did not ‘crawl back under my rock’, he would subject me to further attention.
By this time, myself and others had begun to ask questions about the extent to which the former NOTW editor Neil Wallis*** and one of his drinking buddies had involved themselves in this anonymous bullying.
Shortly after these two developments, for reasons that remain unclear, ‘@tabloidtroll’ announced that he was taking ‘a longish break’ to write a book about his experiences. Rice then rendered the account private and soon after deactivated it, thereby abandoning any pretence that it was maintained by multiple authors.
But Dennis Rice isn’t done. Not by any means.
I am aware of further correspondence from Rice (under his own name) where he seeks to intimidate his critics into silence with vague threats of legal action over unspecified libel(s). Said critics have been assured that their faith in my evidence is misplaced on the grounds that I am mentally unstable and under police investigation for stalking.
However, the more Dennis Rice behaves like this, the more he confirms what has already been said about his behaviour both under his own name and under the guise of @tabloidtroll.
It would be tragic to think that Rice actually believed anything he said about the effort being in defence of journalism; where he has not simply lied about or invented damaging evidence, he has wilfully distorted it or single-sourced it from discredited parties with an obvious agenda. One of the forgeries targeting Richard Bartholomew is so amateurish it’s embarrassing, but Rice is long past caring about such details.
Dennis Rice may well have something to be proud of in the 20+ years he claims to have been conducting journalism, but at present he is no more than a thug, and in the past two years he has amply demonstrated how tabloid journalists can and will behave if they are not subjected to some form of oversight.
(* “Dennis is a really great bloke. Old fashioned journalist. I know him well.” – Mark Lewis)
(** Rupert Murdoch has never been a client of mine, and he never will be.)
(*** I welcome any challenge/discussion about what I allege about Neil Wallis in this article, but I wish to stay well clear of anything potentially prejudicial given recent charges, so please understand the need to avoid that subject or any issue/topic likely to be associated with it.)
UPDATE (August 2014) – Dennis Rice was in such a hurry to delete the evidence that he left his old username abandoned… so 30 days later I was able to register a new account with that same username! It strikes me as somewhat hypocritical that Rice is bragging that he has screen-captured tweets of his targets when he has deleted all of the tweets made using the ‘tabloidtroll’ account (and rendered the account under his own name private), so I suspect that sometime very soon I will put the time in and upload all of his old tweets as a searchable database, and use this same account to announce/distribute the relevant file. Cheers all.
It may surprise some of you to learn that I have experienced a significant change in circumstances since I last blogged with any regularity.
For those who don’t yet know, I will spell it out for you: @humphreycushion and I have entered into a long-term partnership. With smooching and stuff.
I am such a fan of the aforementioned smooching that I have now moved to Mid-Bedfordshire, despite its reputation for having the most appalling MP in Parliament.
Speaking of outspoken narcissists and their spurious narratives, during this period of transition, I’ve remained largely quiet in the hopes that certain people would be discouraged in their attempts to portray me as a danger to themselves and others.
Short version: they weren’t.
It has in fact reached a stage where I see little point in allowing myself to be marginalised any further, so here I am.
“My business partners, who have nothing to do with me personally-he is just a business partner, with his wife-were very clear that, in going into business, they did not want to be brought into the public domain via my political position.”