“Sometimes, Robin, being certain is merely being wrong at the top of your voice.” – Batman
It was almost 6 months ago that I first wrote about my concerns about the behaviour of News of the World in the weeks after the disappearance of Milly Dowler. At the time, I also expressed some concern about the subsequent response to News of the World by Surrey Police. Since then, more information has come to light. It is not comforting on either front.
With the publication of this letter especially, it is now clear that police were misrepresented to a great degree in the 14 April 2002 article analysed in this post, not least because the News of the World all-too-readily gave the appearance of speaking on behalf of police, both in print and during their pursuit of tabloid fodder (even to the extent of claiming to be working in conjunction with the police when interrogating members of the public).
This does not put Surrey Police in the clear. Far from it.
As far back as 13 April 2002, Surrey Police were aware that News of the World had accessed Milly Dowler’s voice messages. Police report in this letter that they were told quite bluntly by one of the reporters involved that “NOTW had got Milly’s phone number and PIN from school children”. To this date there is no indication that any kind of investigation took place. Surrey Police, in their 17 Jan 2012 letter, skip from mentioning the extensive investigation into Milly Dowler’s disappearance to saying; “Surrey Police did not arrest or charge anyone in relation to accessing Milly Dowler’s voicemail”
I will return to this point toward the end of this post.
(Oh, and you will probably want to keep this same point in mind for a later post that I dare not even hint at right now. If you’re a long-time reader, you will totally plotz.)
This recently-released letter details correspondence where the police suspected the involvement of a hoaxer in a recruitment company’s phone call to Milly Dowler’s mobile phone more than a week after she had gone missing. By all indications, police couched their phrases accordingly. For example, in a core statement, Surrey Police said there was “the possibility that a hoaxer might have been involved.”
Now watch that suspicion portrayed as rock-solid belief in the resulting article (14 April 2002):
Within a week, Surrey Police had determined that the hoaxer plaguing their investigation was not involved in any approach to the relevant recruitment agency as described by News of the World. Neither was the mysterious phone message anything to do with Milly Dowler herself, or anyone who knew her; it was just an unfortunate coincidence. But News of the World would not listen. By this stage (20 April), they were “110% certain” that 13-year-old Milly Dowler had run away from home and was out looking for work on the other side of the country:
A day later (21 April 2002), News of the World published extracts from the personal diary of a 13-year-old friend of Milly Dowler (who should NOT be assumed to be the source of any phone details, and should NOT carry any guilt/blame for trusting these tabloid scumbags in any instance). Note how News of the World give the impression that they are revealing this intimate detail at the behest of police detectives. The opening paragraphs even risk giving the impression that access to this diary was offered/granted to News of the World by those same unnamed police detectives.
Also note that they spare a final inch to have an oh-so-subtle shot at Surrey Police. Keep in mind here that News of the World were at this stage “110% certain” that the police were looking in the wrong place for Milly Dowler, who they believed to be looking for work up north… when she had by this stage been dead for near to a month:
Let’s add to this that the line of questioning they aimed at a 13-year-old girl is bloody obvious. This vulnerable child is saying her friend would not run away because some sod from a tabloid has been asking if she’s really, really sure about that. The scope and cost of the arrogance of News of the World is breathtaking.
On that note, here’s the editorial from that issue (21 April 2002). The editor makes a point of mentioning the possibility that Milly Dowler simply ran away. Based on what?
It is also worth mentioning that News of the World suffer here from that peculiar tabloid ailment of being quite unable to admit error or fault. There is no mention on 21 April 2002 of their being entirely wrong about the recruitment agency story a week earlier.
In fact, a week later (28 April 2002), they use the arrest of the hoaxer to give the impression that they were right about the recruitment agency/call article all along. The mention of phone calls in this passage adds to this illusion. I can assure you that in my experience this is quite common, and usually quite deliberate. I even know tabloid-style bloggers who behave in this way. I don’t like them very much:
Also note that once again the oh-so-superior News of the World have taken the time to have a shot at Surrey Police, portraying them as slow to respond if not incompetent. In their view, detectives were wasting their time on kidnap/homicide-oriented nonsense. News of the World were “110% certain” that 13-year-old Milly Dowler was alive and well and seeking work.
Where Surrey Police do deserve criticism is in their inexplicable willingness to be repeatedly treated as Rebekah Wade’s bitch.
I would very much like to hear a response from Sussex Police. I’d like to know more about the “routine review” of the Milly Dowler investigation described here and what it entailed. I would particularly like to know why Sussex Police failed to call Surrey Police to account for failing to call News of the World to account. I’m only a layman, but I rather got the impression that such reviews were meant to be some form of quality control beyond the influence of locals and any associated bias.
Well, my scanner had flatbed kittens last week, but in the end this minor delay turned out to be a very good thing indeed. Not only did Tim Bell fail to offer any challenge to my publishing quite clearly (and accurately) that he was a shameless liar and convicted public masturbator, he made it absolutely clear that he is entirely unrepentant about deceiving the public, and fully deserving of what is to follow.
So, before we go to the PR industry with this one simple demand…
PR companies/professionals should reveal the name any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, state this plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).
… we are going to warn the public about this shady operator and in doing so (a) reveal the limits of Bell Pottinger’s reputation-management capabilities (b) display the capacity of powerful lobbying tools now accessible to the general public, and (c) show quite clearly why PR/marketing professionals can no longer afford to conduct themselves in the way that Tim Bell has been for most of his adult life.
If you would like to join this lobbying group, all those who agree with the above stated aim are welcome, and from today I begin the first round of recruitment by inviting experienced bloggers especially to contact me with:
1. Name or nickname
2. URL of your main/personal blog
[MINI-UPDATE – Note I said ‘experienced bloggers especially‘. This does NOT equate to ‘experienced bloggers only’. New(ish) blogs will still carry sufficient authority to be useful, so don’t be thinking your blog is too insignificant or not good enough. So long as your blog is mature enough to have gathered a positive response or three, you should be good to go. Happy to make this clear.]
Shortly after, I will then send you a random* chapter from Mark Hollingsworth’s book The Ultimate Spin Doctor: Life and Fast Times of Tim Bell, along with a copy of the Index and Notes/References (for participants who may wish to explore a relevant chapter/publication for more information).
From there your task will be to publish an extract of the book from your chosen chapter, and write an original article to accompany it that attempts to put the material into context or otherwise educate your readers about its significance.
I’m greatly tempted to list some of the wonderful revelations lurking in this book that have yet to become properly evident to Google and other search engines, but rather than ruin any surprises, I will simply ask you to imagine a version of Forrest Gump based primarily in the 80s and 90s, featuring a far less sympathetic lead character who staggers from one disaster to the next with barely a thought for anybody but himself and those who might contribute to his success.
It is about to become clear to anyone who searches for Tim Bell’s name why he should not be trusted with anyone’s reputation, and that the main reputation he has been working on all these years is his own ill-deserved reputation in reputation-management.
If you’d like to join the project, and you have a seasoned blog in good standing, please do get in touch.
PS – Yes, I am perfectly happy for anonymous bloggers to participate in this stage especially for as long as Tim Bell continues to pretend that it was (and is) acceptable for Bell Pottinger to edit Wikipedia anonymously and otherwise engage in secret lobbying. You will not be expected to withdraw your article should he suddenly change his mind on this front (not least because your actions will not equate to his unless you’re an opponent or business rival of Bell’s who just happens to have a long-standing anonymous blog in their arsenal), but personally I will cease handing out chapters to anonymous parties and linking to same should Tim Bell suddenly pledge to change the habit of a lifetime.
(*Where I am familiar with a particular blogger’s strengths, I reserve the right to choose a chapter that best suits their unique capabilities and/or their familiarity with some of the relevant names/issues.)
My scanner is having some emotional problems right now (it’s never quite recovered from the mammoth task of scanning all those Page 3 girls) so formal recruitment and data distribution for The PR Transparency Project will be subject to a minor delay.
In the meantime, I thought it would be appropriate for me to acid-test the waters with what I suspect will be one of the most contentious items from this 1997 book about Tim Bell and get it out of the way. Having read the book, I can assure you that there are many more items of greater relevance to any discussion about Tim Bell’s conduct as a PR/ad executive (more), so if we can all get past this and move on, that would be a very good thing indeed.
I post the following without comment or analysis. While the following passage only refers to ‘Bell’, it is definitely about Tim Bell, Chairman of Chime Communications (holding company for a portfolio of 35 companies including the Bell Pottinger group), and it is an accurate scan and verbatim* transcript of Page 45 from The Ultimate Spin Doctor: The Life and Fast Times of Tim Bell (ISBN-10: 0340696745). I did not personally witness the incident, and being only 7 years old at the time, I would expect Tim Bell to be rather glad that I didn’t.
EXTRACT FROM PAGE 45 OF ‘THE ULTIMATE SPIN DOCTOR: THE LIFE AND FAST TIMES OF TIM BELL’
This exhibitionism asserted itself somewhat differently in one of the most controversial incidents of his life. In the early hours of 21 October 1977, three days after his thirty-sixth birthday and close to the peak of his advertising career, Bell stood naked in the bathroom of his second-floor flat at 13c West Heath Road overlooking Hampstead Heath, and exposed himself to several women while masturbating. At 8.35 a.m. he was arrested and a month later, on 19 November 1977, appeared at Hampstead Magistrates Court. According to the official conviction certificate, he was charged with ‘wilfully, openly, lewdly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act. He was found guilty and fined £50 with seven days to pay. Curiously, this newsworthy case was never reported in the local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express and only his close colleagues at Saatchi’s knew of it. To his credit, Bell never flinched when the incident, which later assumed an importance of some magnitude, was raised. He admitted the conviction but denied that the event took place. He confided to a colleague that his lawyers, Butcher Brooks and Co. advised him to plead guilty to avoid a scandal.
[*Hyperlinks have been added. One to a Google Street View of the property involved, and one to the relevant Act. Text has not been altered.]
After his company was caught secretly editing Wikipedia on behalf of some very unsavoury clients toward some no-less-unsavoury ends, Tim Bell has had the audacity to project this wrongdoing back onto Wikipedia and Teh Internets as a whole:
James Thomlinson, head of digital at Bell Pottinger, apologised, admitting: “We did get some of the things wrong.” But he called for Wikipedia’s rules to be updated, blaming the wrongdoing on its “confusing” editing system and “the pressure put on us by clients to remove potentially defamatory or libellous statements very quickly, because Wikipedia is so authoritative.”
Lord Bell, who as Tim Bell advised Margaret Thatcher on the former British prime minister’s election campaigns, said he was sorry the situation occurred but was less apologetic about the content of the changes.
“As far as I am concerned, we have done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever … We did not make any change that was wrong, it’s a means and ends discussion,” he said.
He said he believed Wikipedia’s guidelines implied that “if you are a paid adviser, you must be lying. Obviously we find that offensive.”
He bemoaned the lack of a “regulatory body” to complain to online, where reputations can be destroyed “in one minute”.
Source: Financial Times (subscription required)
That last assertion comes to you from a shameless liar who has spent decades destroying the reputations of others covertly for personal and political gain, and this behaviour continues into the 21st century. What comeback did any of these victims hope to have against Tim Bell’s anonymised attacks? This is blatant projection from a sock-puppeting liar, I won’t stand for it, and neither should you.
Tim Bell’s straw man relies on the widely-held view that there is little-to-nothing wrong with lobbying on behalf of a client (OK by me), making factual updates to Wikipedia (OK by me), or attempting to put your best face forward in the top ten searches for your name/brand (OK by me)… but what Bell Pottinger have engaged in is secret lobbying, including some wholly unacceptable commercial updates to what is supposed to be a reference library, in an attempt to covertly influence both Wikipedia and the top ten searches for a series of names/brands.
It is clearer now more than ever that if we wish to change how things are done at Bell Pottinger, the person we need to reach is Tim Bell, and we are going to reach him through the top ten search results for his name. We are, at the same time, going to attempt to bring about positive change in the PR industry as a whole.
When I say ‘we’, I mean me and you. Yes, you. If you’re up for a bit of danger and detail, that is.
Speaking of the latter…
Lord Tim Bell is Chairman of Chime Communications plc, a communications group which owns Bell Pottinger Group plc* (aka Bell Pottinger), the multinational public relations company that bears his name, and follows his principles.
The problems Bell Pottinger have run into recently stem directly from Tim Bell’s long-standing resistance to transparency. He appears to think that secretly editing a reference library in favour of commercial interests in exchange for money is OK, and this ethical blind spot has been there since long before the web and Wikipedia became an issue. Mr Bell needs to learn that the age of secret lobbying is over, and while it may be difficult to change the mind of someone as obstinate as he, I think we have a jolly good shot at changing the landscape that surrounds him in the attempt.
I invite you to join an informal lobbying group with one simple demand; that PR companies/professionals declare any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, name and link to them plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).
(This, in much the same way that web users would expect them to declare the names of Twitter accounts under their control, for subtly different but fundamentally similar reasons.)
Once PR companies/professionals declare these editing profiles and link to them from their sites (and link back to their own sites from these same profile pages), we enter Wikipedia territory. There is a significant debate to be had here about whether these profile pages generally should list all of the previous profiles/edits at the outset in a clear declaration of interest, but with the exception of Bell Pottinger and other bodies operating under Tim Bell**, personally I think it a matter for PR bods and Wikipedians to negotiate between themselves. It is not within my power to grant amnesty for any past indiscretions, and that is at the heart of that particular debate about any company who has not yet been caught out; should their new account be impacted by any of their past activity, and what measures can be taken to clean the slate?
Getting back to the simple demand for transparency, we are going to face some resistance here from people like Tim Bell who do not agree about the need for it.
To counter this resistance, we are going to speak softly and carry a very big stick. But first we are going to seek to bring vital perspective to the debate about transparency while initially demonstrating the effectiveness of our very big stick.
Here we reach the part about making an example of Tim Bell.
Tim Bell is all about shaping reality more to his liking by using image, lies and illusions to make others behave in ways that get him what he wants. He earns money by claiming that he is an expert in reputation management and his underlings make all sorts of claims about their capacity to ‘cleanse’ the top ten searches for names and brands by means both fair and foul.
The current top ten results for ‘Tim Bell’ are presently dominated by absurd puff pieces where Bell is simultaneously described as “the most influential man in PR” as he nobly declines the title of “founder of modern PR”. (Interviewer: “Lord Bell thanks very much for your time today.” Bell: “Please call me Tim.”)
Seeing as Tim Bell rejects the concept of transparency outright, those of us who ultimately pay the price for his profiteering are going to have to impose some; we are going to displace much of the existing top ten with factually accurate and highly relevant material that Tim Bell would much rather faded into the distance. Note use of the word ‘relevance’ here; we do not seek to G-bomb anyone, but instead feed new and entirely legitimate relevance into the system.
On my desk is a copy of The Ultimate Spin Doctor: Life and Fast Times of Tim Bell by Mark Hollingsworth. The contents are at present largely invisible to Google and other search engines. That is about to change.
This is an unauthorised biography that Tim Bell tried very hard to prevent, and it’s a fair bet that Bell doesn’t want material*** from it populating the top search results for his name, not least because he is going to look like a hopeless manager of reputations if he cannot cleanse his own top ten.
Chapters from this book will be shared out to participating bloggers who are part of our lobbying group. Each will then write a post based on any short extract they may choose to draw from the chapter assigned to them. In this way, the 10 chapters will be shared among an unknown number of bloggers, and the top fifty or so searches for ‘Tim Bell’ will begin to take on new relevance.
(Psst! Chapter One of this book talks about Tim Bell pretending to be Australian in the hopes of bypassing the class system, and I sure hope I draw that one myself, but I expect the most popular chapter will be the one detailing Tim Bell’s conviction for ‘wilfuly, openly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act.)
Also, once I/we start releasing verbatim extracts from this published material, portions of it will begin to appear in Wikipedia, coalescing into legitimate points of reference on that page, which will probably remain the highest search result for his name.
(Note – One cannot legitimately participate in this lobbying group while editing Wikipedia entries relating to Tim Bell, especially not anonymously. It goes beyond hypocrisy; it amounts to a conflict of interest, it is not fair to the wider Wikipedia community, and it is wholly unnecessary; allowing what we publish from the book to filter into Wikipedia naturally will be more than enough.)
Please keep in mind here that we are talking about the online publication of material that has seen print without legal challenge. That said, Mr Bell may choose to exploit a little-known loophole in English libel law that allows him to challenge each instance as a fresh publication (see: The Bastard Duke of Brunswick) and if this does happen, then Bell can be expected to use any or all of the following methods to effect removal with the likely exception of #10 (consider yourselves warned):
I expect what is going to test if not defeat Tim Bell’s capacity for reputation management is the ability of any web user to conduct themselves according to his standards, and it is on this note that we come to the hook…
Those of us familiar with Teh Interwebs know that there’s a world of difference between your average Joe maintaining a single anonymous blog/identity and PR boffins using multiple false/anonymous identities on behalf of clients for money, and we can’t expect Tim Bell to learn that much in such a short time, but I am hoping that the prospect of dealing with an unknown number of anonymous account holders based in several different countries will help him to better appreciate his own position, if only to the extent of having him revise his policy on covert lobbying.
Admittedly, there is a danger that within the group of people who target Tim Bell anonymously but legitimately, there will be people with a hidden vested interest who use this exercise as ‘cover’ to engage in a little subterfuge for reasons of profit, politics or personal payback (i.e. to attack him illegitimately), but should Tim Bell change his mind and decide all of a sudden that he doesn’t think it appropriate to lobby covertly, then my support for anonymous briefing against him will fall away naturally, as will that of others.
Now that point is made, I hope you understand the primary reason why I do not publish the chapters immediately today, and instead provide Mr Bell with a single and short-lived opportunity to consider the scope of what I propose. It is entirely possible that the above has the potential to change his perspective even before it grows beyond the status of thought experiment. (And if he doubts my capacity to engage at this level, he should search for ‘Billy Brit’ and consider that it took less than a week to effect total pwnership of that brand in Google, at a time when Google moved a lot slower than it does today.)
Should Tim Bell fail to take advantage of this opportunity, we can go about making an example of the man with our consciences clear and our position unassailable. Should he unexpectedly take the opportunity to embrace transparency, the effectiveness of our very big stick will be clear to others, who will take note.
Either way, it will then be time to put the following repeatedly and succinctly to any and all in the PR/lobbying industry, and those operating at its fringes:
PR companies/professionals should reveal the name any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, state this plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).
The nature of this campaign should make it clear that these changes are in line with public expectations about what is fair and right. Those in PR who believe otherwise will, of course, be free to lobby for secret lobbying, and I wish them luck. They’re going to need it.
The landscape of PR is about to change. Clear boundaries are about to be set, and the covert lobbyists who operate outside of them are about to become far more obvious than they would prefer.
(Psst! If you’re a blogger and you want ‘in’ on the outing, recruitment begins shortly, and chapters will be distributed randomly soon after that. Please stand by.)
[*Also Good Relations, Harvard, Stuart Higgins Communications and Resonate, but I'm sure we'll get to those PR company names and Chime Communications plc too in good time if the fight looks like taking a while; we're talking consequences so natural that effort will be required merely to keep this powder dry. Then there are client names, and all the relevant client-specific ammo Bell Pottinger have yet to defuse because they refuse to name their past editing profiles or even admit to any wrongdoing.]
[**Tim Bell is prone to telling people what they want to hear in order to get what he wants. Should he ever announce a change in policy regarding tranparency, only complete disclosure of Wikipedia accounts/edits to date is likely to convince me of his sincerity in this matter. I am not inclined to take Tim Bell at his word, because it means nothing.]
[***Some people in PR, like some people in law, do not mind being portrayed as bastards. Often, bastards are needed by other bastards. But Tim Bell cannot afford to be made to look incompetent, or petty, or disloyal to clients who suddenly find themselves mired in scandal. Material covering all this and more is contained in Bell's unauthorised biography, and he won't want it out there, though he may be forced to pretend otherwise shortly.]
[It should go without saying that this principle should apply to anyone engaging in PR-like activity, including SEO companies/professionals offering any image-oriented services. I personally do not edit Wikipedia. At all. I advise clients against it generally and against covert forms of influence quite specifically. I recognise that mine is a rigid standard, but I do not seek to impose it. Rather, I seek to popularise a widely-agreed standard of transparency for those who do engage in Wikipedia editing as part of their PR efforts. Just tell us who you're paid to represent when editing what's supposed to be reference material, folks. It really is as simple as that.]
[Declaration of Interest: Due to a minor matter of libel against me that Carter-Ruck refuse to discuss, I have a vested interest in compelling Tim Bell’s chosen law firm to take part in any form of communication/negotiation. That said, this is only going to happen if Tim Bell does the most stupid thing imaginable and risks unleashing the Streisand effect. That said, I have good reason to believe that Tim Bell is prone to bouts of extreme stupidity, so better safe than sorry.]
Hi folks. I’m facing some delays on the Dorries matter (mainly waiting for evidence; the Met are 5 weeks late), but I’m sure we’ll be back on track shortly.
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 9:44 AM
Subject: “we do not actively target students as potential customers ”
If you do not target students, how do you explain the following Page Title and META Tags that are still live on the same page where you claim “we do not actively target students as potential customers”?
(*Please note that chevrons have been replaced with brackets to avoid any data display issues. Otherwise, code is verbatim.)
[title]Student Loan – Alternative to Education Loans | Wonga.com® Official Site[/title]
[meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" /]
[meta name="description" content="Are you a student? Need a fast loan? For loans in the UK, Wonga is the fastest! Wonga gets you cash within 15 minutes of approval." /]
[meta name="keywords" content="student loan,student loans,short term loan,cash,credit card,personal loan,loan,money" /]
[meta name="robots" content="index,follow" /]
[meta name="DC.title" content="Student Loan - Alternative to Education Loans" /]
source: http://www.wonga.com/money/wonga-student-loan/ (mirror – ‘view source’ to see the code)
You also claimed the following in that same statement on that same page:
“The previous article on this page was several years old and one of many brief pieces we have written about the broad subject of credit since we launched our online loans service. No-one was directed to this page, nor was it prominently promoted on the website.”
But there is a prominent indexable link to this page from your front page and every other page. It is one of only 13 links of this type, so it is clearly a high priority and promoted very heavily in SEO terms:
Payday Loans | Short term Loans | Cash Loans | Cash Advance | Fast Cash | Quick Loans
Quick Quid | Loans Online | Loans for bad credit | Borrow Money | Student Loan | Student Overdraft | Credit Card Debt
A similar page which also carries today’s statement targets queries about student overdrafts (a link to it is included in the list referenced above). This page ranks 8th in Google for queries for ‘student overdrafts’, and this is clearly by design and not by accident. According to SearchMetrics, you also currently rank 34th in Google for ‘student loan’ and 19th for ‘loans for students’.
Do you still wish to pretend that these pages were an accidental afterthought of no current significance to you?
Be warned that I am an SEO professional with over a decade of experience, and I am unlikely to react favourably to further distortions. Also, this is an open letter that I have published on my blog, so do yourself a favour and don’t waste my time by hiding behind the sofa and pretending that you’re not home.
As usual, you can expect updates to follow. Cheers all.
UPDATE – I think it’s best if I let the resulting correspondence speak for itself at this stage:
From: John Moorwood
To: Tim Ireland
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 10:23 AM
Hi. We will be removing the pages / links completely soon, we just wanted to have a message there temporarily to make a few points.
[John Moorwood ]
Sent from my iPhone
From: Tim Ireland
To: John Moorwood
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 10:26 AM
Yes, but the ‘points’ you make are demonstrable lies and distortions, and I have published an article saying/displaying this quite clearly. Do you seriously have no response to that?
UPDATE – Greg Power has noticed that Wonga.com are still actively bidding for queries relating to students and student loans in AdWords. This is completely distinct from their SEO efforts/excuses, and it is not something that happens by accident. Wonga.com are actively pursuing students and trying to flog them loans at a typical APR of up to 4214% while claiming that they never intended to do any such thing:
UPDATE – Take a look at this page from the Wonga site (spotted by Tom Hatton). It features an expensive-looking video that tries very hard to look like a news programme. The nice lady behind the desk encourages students to use Wonga.com in order to avoid “a nasty debt hangover after graduation”. (Hey, why risk “hefty overdraft fees” when you can simply take out a Wonga loan with an APR of over 4000%?)
Wonga.com removed the page very quickly after it was spotted/highlighted on Twitter, but if they ever remove the video itself, the text on this mirror of that page contains the entire script. I have also saved a copy of the video should Wonga.com ever care to deny that at the very end – during the fade-out – there is a blink-and-you-miss-it alert in news-ticker style text (spotter: Jon W). This text announces that “unauthorised” debt with Wonga carries a 46,000,000% interest rate. No, totally not kidding:
Wonga.com’s repeated claim that they did not intend to target students is a demonstrable lie, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
[MINI-UPDATE - I previously typed '47,000,000%' when the accurate figure (as per the screen capture) is 46,000,000%. Now corrected.]
UPDATE (16 Jan) – Errol Damelin, founder and CEO of Wonga.com, has been made aware that his staff lied about targeting student loans. He took no detectable action in response, and offered no reply; he simply forwarded my email to the same people who have been lying to the public. (Just for the record, should he later wish to pretend that he knew nothing about this at the time.)
UPDATE (16 Feb) – It is now over a month since this article was first published. Yesterday, I emailed the CEO of Wonga.com for a second time, and for a second time, I watched as the recipient merely passed the email on to underlings who continue to (a) ignore this evidence and (b) stand by a demonstrable lie:
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 8:47 AM
Wonga.com currently invest heavily in TV ads claiming that they offer “straight talk” about money. Meanwhile, they stand by what you know to be a demonstrable lie about targeting the student loan market.
It is over a month since I last wrote to you about this matter. I should warn you that I tracked my last email, so I know it was read by the recipient and then forwarded to the same team at Wonga who continue to stand by a demonstrable lie.
What does this mean? It means that you cannot claim to be unaware of the details*; you do not enjoy the luxury of plausible deniability.
This dishonesty and inaction in the face of due criticism is entirely unacceptable. I seek a response to my article (see link) and my original email (below), plus a fitting explanation/apology for my being stonewalled by your staff, even after I contacted you directly and pointed out that they were ignoring me and the evidence I had published:
A man in your position cannot afford to turn his back on evidence that his staff are misleading the public about their practices. I urge you to take this matter seriously and respond today.
(*Unless you’d care to take a page from James Murdoch’s book, and claim that you saw the email but didn’t read it.)
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Since the initial (dishonest) response, your staff have seen fit to ignore me rather than admit to any of the evidence I have uncovered that reveals they lied about targeting students.
Wonga.com definitely did target students, and there is evidence that they assigned budget to do this in SEO, in PPC, and even through video production:
So I dare to email you in your mighty tower of ivory and ask just what in the hell is going on at Wonga.com, and if you approve personally of (a) the targeting of students in this way, and (b) the dishonest response to the resulting backlash.
I would even go so far as to mention that you may want to cast an eye over your customer base and determine if there are any customers you have gained through your targeting of students who are currently accruing any significant debt with you; it’s a ticking time bomb.
PS – How do you justify a penalty rate of 47,000,000%?
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to scoop up more home-recorded VHS stock at jumble sales in search of treasure… treasure like the following, which I happened across late last year.
I discovered this on the tail end of a home-recorded VHS tape of Dirty Harry; a 1985 BBC special titled ‘A Change in The Weather’, along with (top) an ad for Miami Vice, plus (tail) the next day’s broadcast schedule, station ID, anthem & close…. then a full minute of Neil Pye’s favourite song; ‘Ooooooooooooooooh’
This one-off special focuses on the cutting-edge technology used by the BBC in 1985 to collect, transmit, collate and interpret weather/forecast data, plus the growing use of computer technology to design and present regular forecast summaries to the public.
At 07:30, there is talk of a new computer that does “over 400 million calculations a second”. This is on par with the cutting edge of technology at the time. The Motorola 68020, a 32-bit microprocessor released in 1984, offered 4 MIPS at 20 MHz (4 MIPS = 4 million instructions per second). 10 years later, in 1994, they released the Motorola 68060 which could handle 88 MIPS at 66 MHz, but by then Intel had overtaken Motorola and were poised to dominate the commercial market for years to come (first Intel Pentium chip, also released in 1994: 188 MIPS at 100 MHz). A modern X-Box has a chip that can handle 19,200 MIPS at 3.2 GHz, the latest Intel chip can handle 177,730 MIPS at 3.33 GHz (more).
From 10:01 are added treats for anyone who works in graphic design.
Hubris Bonus: Two years after this television special aired, BBC meteorologist Michael Fish and the Met Office came under fire for failing to forecast the Great Storm of 1987 correctly (clip).
I have just sent this email to Bell Pottinger:
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 8:45 AM
Subject: Your Wikipedia edits
I think the most charming thing about the Wikipedia account of yours that I uncovered was the author’s inclination to accuse others of being biased and/or of having a hidden agenda, when all along he/she was making edits according to a hidden bias/agenda dictated by money:
I have issued a public challenge for you to declare all of your Wikipedia accounts:
This is a public challenge to #BellPottinger to declare their Wikipedia accounts. Or I can ferret them out for you (eg http://j.mp/vv29KG)
Alternatively, as I suggest in my tweet, I can ferret them out for you and name them without your permission.
Updates as and when. As you were.
UPDATE (11am) – Tracking shows that my email has been read 4 times via an IP address specific to Bell Pottinger. I won’t say which IP address specifically, but I will say that it has an interesting edit history in Wikipedia. Still waiting for a reply.
UPDATE (1pm) – 7 times. Still no reply.
UPDATE (9pm) – Financial Times (REGISTRATION REQUIRED) – Wikipedia pulls Bell Pottinger-linked pages: Wikipedia, the online user-generated encyclopedia, has suspended 10 accounts associated with Bell Pottinger, the firm at the heart of a dispute over lobbying industry ethics, on suspicion there may have been a breach of its editing rules. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, told the Financial Times that it was conducting an internal investigation into changes made to the pages of Bell Pottinger’s clients in a case which has roused controversy over the methods used by lobbying companies to influence opinion… A spokesman for Bell Pottinger, which is owned by Chime Communications, admitted that its employees had edited Wikipedia pages on behalf of clients but said that it had “never done anything illegal”. “We have never added anything that is a lie and never tried to ‘astroturf’,” Bell Pottinger said, referring to the unscrupulous practice of faking “grassroots” support online.
Putting aside the old Tory fallback of “it’s not illegal” when caught doing something unethical, I would beg to differ on the matter of astroturfing, having seen many of the relevant edits myself; it is astroturfing from the moment Bell Pottinger pretends to be a concerned member of the public and not a paid PR representative, and they have done that often.
UPDATE (11:30pm) – TBIJ – Revealed: The Wikipedia pages changed by Bell Pottinger: Wikipedia last night confirmed to the Independent newspaper, which has published the Bureau’s investigation, that the ‘Biggleswiki’ account is one of the accounts its team has blocked pending the outcome of an internal report instigated by its founder, Jimmy Wales. James Thomlinson, head of digital at Bell Pottinger said: ‘Biggleswiki is one of a number of accounts that the digital team have used to edit Wikipedia articles. This account has been in operation for over a year. I would like to point out that while we have worked for a number of clients like the Prostate Centre, we have NEVER done anything illegal!’
UPDATE (8 Dec) – The Independent – The ‘dark arts’: Bell Pottinger caught rewriting its clients’ Wikipedia entries: Evidence seen by The Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) shows the company made hundreds of alterations to Wikipedia entries about its clients in the last year. Some of the changes added favourable comments while others removed negative content… In other cases, damaging allegations against clients of Bell Pottinger, which The Independent cannot publish for legal reasons, were removed from Wikipedia. The connection was first spotted by the blogger Tim Ireland, after reading the joint investigation into Bell Pottinger by the BIJ and The Independent, on Tuesday.
Well, I think I can give up on waiting for a reply from Bell Pottinger now.
UPDATE (8 Dec, 10am) – On reflection, there is still some work to be done:
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 10:09 AM
Subject: Your Wikipedia edits (again)
Dear Bell Pottinger peeps,
Thank you for not bothering with the courtesy of a reply, even though my email was read by up to 7 staff members. I feel as passed-around and neglected as the girl in the song ‘Pretty In Pink’:
I write to you today to let you know that with the Wikipedia-run investigation underway, my ferreting skills may seem more or less surplus to requirements (admins can see the IP data behind the relevant accounts, bypassing any need for good old-fashioned detective work), but we are not entirely done here.
I won’t pretend there isn’t a purely recreational aspect to this; I must admit that I do enjoy a good sock-puppet hunt, and I love watching your staff castigate others for not having a NPOV (neutral point of view), while they fail to declare that they are being paid to forward the view(s) they publish. I have also enjoyed extended bouts of health-enhancing laughter in response to your shrill assertions that you have broken no law, when what you have engaged in are unethical practices for morally challenged clients, clearly in violation of Wikipedia’s clearly-stated policy:
“Editing in the interests of public relations (other than obvious corrections) is particularly frowned upon. This includes, but is not limited to, professionals paid to create or edit Wikipedia articles.”
But the main issue here is this same pretence that you have done nothing wrong.
If you continue with your current dishonest line of defence and have the audacity to disguise this behind Wikipedia’s commitment to privacy, I will have no hesitation in pointing out the specific wrongs you have done myself, as I remain capable of revealing some if not all of these wrongs without compromising that privacy.
Alternatively, if you’ve genuinely nothing to be ashamed of, and everything you have done is above board, then there should be nothing preventing you from revealing the names of the 20+ accounts you have used to edit Wikipedia on behalf of your clients and/or toward your own interests (without declaring an interest).
So, over to you. Again.
PS – I also want to know if your refusal to communicate with an insignificant blogger means that I don’t have to worry about giving notice about the content of any upcoming publications about Tim Bell, just to choose one example not-at-random.
Updates as and when, as per usual.
Wikipedia are taking a much stronger position on this than I anticipated, but that list is incomplete, and Bell Pottinger will not look as if they are acting honourably if this data has to be sniffed out or dragged out.
UPDATE (4pm) – The Wikipedia team have been made aware of my leads. Throughout this event, my emails to Bell Pottinger have been read a total of 18 times by people at offices for Bell Pottinger and Chime Communications, but no-one at either office has granted me the courtesy of a reply. Not even a brief word about what they expect to see in advance from me about an article about Tim Bell. Oh well.
Meanwhile, Mr Bell has expressed his regret… that they were caught:
London Evening Standard – ‘Of course I regret it, I need it like a hole in the head, all this s**t’: Another allegation is that the company coordinated the rewriting of Wikipedia entries on behalf of clients. Bell maintains that “on the basis of what has been reported so far, I can see no example of people behaving improperly, though perhaps behaving indiscreetly.” I ask if he and his company have been damaged this week. “Yes,” he agrees, “we’ll suffer limited damage. It won’t last for long, but that doesn’t make me complacent. Every person here is searching their souls to decide whether they did something wrong or not.”
UPDATE (4:15pm) – I just received, and replied to, a depressingly generic response from Bell Pottinger. I am about to go into a meeting, but plan to at least blog my response later.
UPDATE (09 Dec) – BBC – Wikipedia investigates PR firm Bell Pottinger’s edits: The online encyclopaedia’s founder Jimmy Wales told the BBC the lobbyists had “embarrassed their clients”. He said a team of volunteers was looking at possible breaches of conflict of interest guidelines. Bell Pottinger admitted to editing entries, but said it had “never done anything illegal”. Mr Wales said he was “highly critical of their ethics”. “I’ve never seen a case like this. In general when I speak to PR firms they have ethical guidelines that would prevent this kind of conduct.” While anyone is free to edit the encyclopaedia, the site’s guidelines urge users to steer clear of topics in which they have a personal or business interest.
Late yesterday afternoon, Bell Pottinger released a statement that elicited the following responses from Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia).
Some press are now receiving a statement from Bell Pottinger that they followed Wikipedia guidelines. That is flatly false. (1) Bell Pottinger behaved unethically and broke several Wikipedia rules in doing so. The public record can be seen by anyone. (2) Bell Pottinger continuing to insist that they did nothing wrong at Wikipedia is a total farce. (3) – Jimmy Wales
I received a copy of that same statement. The relevant email appears in full below (minus the actual attachments containing the same data repeated in the text).
To: Tim Ireland
Date: Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 3:59 PM
Subject: FAO Tim Ireland – Bell Pottinger Wikipedia Response
We are sending you the below statement which we have sent to Jimmy Wales at Wikipedia and will send to others.
As mentioned in the statement below we are undertaking an internal review of our interaction with Wikipedia and we would also like to enter into a constructive dialogue with Wikipedia to avoid mistakes being made in the future for us and the wider industry.
London, 8 December 2011: Today’s Independent (8 December 2011) reports: “Bell Pottinger caught rewriting its clients’ Wikipedia entries”. We confirm that we have edited Wikipedia entries in the interest of accuracy of information for some of our clients.
The changes made by ‘BigglesWiki’ were made in accordance with Wikipedia’s guidelines, i.e. through the use of Talk and discussion pages, so that we sought the approval of the wider Wikipedia community before they were published. We also ensured that any additions to Wikipedia were based on facts that had already been reported in the public domain, so that these changes could be correctly referenced.
The issue of PR agencies and the wider media editing Wikipedia is something that we would welcome a further discussion on with Wikipedia. We are aware of Wikipedia’s guidelines that advise: “editing in the interests of public relations is particularly frowned upon”, but no more so than others using Wikipedia to publish inaccurate information.
We are undertaking a review of our interaction with Wikipedia to date, to ensure that we are collaborating with Wikipedia in the true spirit of the community. If we have fallen short of complying with the code and spirit of the community then we will change our practices.
We view Wikipedia as an essential and positive part of the modern media landscape and want to fully cooperate with the community in the future.
Finally we would like to bring to your attention three of the top tweets on Twitter throughout today:
@fieldproducer (Digital News Editor at Sky News): “It’s laughable that the Independent can attack Bell Pottinger for changing Wikipedia entries but not fire Johann Hari who did much worse”
@tom_watson (Labour MP): “Well done Tim @bloggerheads for catching out Bell Pottinger changing Wikipedia entries for their clients”
@justice4daniel: “Bell Pottinger’s senior executives described how they prepared Rebekah Brooks for her evidence to Parliament”
I immediately sent the following response:
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Date: Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 4:18 PM
Subject: FAO Tim Ireland – Bell Pottinger Wikipedia Response
1. I am aware of all of these tweets, thanks. I RTed every single one of them earlier in the day.
2. The use of ‘Biggleswiki’ or any other account (for commercial purposes especially) without declaring an interest is not in keeping with Wikipedia guidelines (see pillars below in 1st link, for starters) and ethical standards in PR that almost everyone else appears to understand (see #4 on ‘transparency’ in 2nd link)
3. Some editors that appear to be Bell Pottinger staff/agents, rather than seeking approval from the wider community, actually implied that it was others with a hidden agenda at times; a hostile move that’s not in keeping with the approval-seeking picture you paint. Do you have any response to this? I can provide specifics if you would care to comply with the request referenced below:
4. So you have NO intention of revealing all of the account names you used? Please be clear on this. You say you “want to fully cooperate with the community in the future”. Would you like me to run a petition calling for you to reveal all of teh relevant account names? Would that help convince you to belatedly declare an interest?
5. So you want NO notice of any of the contents in any upcoming article I may publish about Tim Bell? Please be VERY clear on this.
So far, no reply, but it looks like Jimmy Wales got something beyond this statement, as he tweeted this about an hour after it came out:
“Just spoke with Lord Bell. He agreed to let me give his staff a speech on ethical editing of Wikipedia. Seems prepared to apologize.” – Jimmy Wales (source)
Bell Pottinger will show that they haven’t learned a damn thing if they deliver a partial response and/or a self-serving half-apology late this (Friday) afternoon, because it will show they are still trying to play the public instead of responding earnestly to these concerns. If they are having difficulty with the concept of honesty, they should have someone explain to them that, from the moment they are dishonest about their identity – especially when it’s to the point of creating false identities (more here) – then the ‘accuracy’ of their Wikipedia edits during this deception is largely an irrelevance.
This story is bigger than Bell Pottinger’s antics in Wikipedia; it is about their flat refusal to offer transparency or even understand why it is important from any lobbying force in a democracy. This arrogant dismissal of the rights of the electorate to engage in an open and fair democracy is the reason why Bell Pottinger play footsies with the IPRA, but do not abide by the code fully… because they refuse to comply with this condition (referenced above):
(In the conduct of public relations practitioners shall:) Be open and transparent in declaring their name, organisation and the interest they represent; (source)
And I do not think I overstate their commitment to resisting the transparency we should expect of anyone in their position:
SpinWatch – Bell Pottinger exposes weakness of self-regulation: Only three years ago Bell Pottinger Public Affairs’ chairman, Peter Bingle, openly told a committee of MPs that he was opposed to transparency. Committee member Paul Flynn MP addressed Bingle: “You’ve worked for mass murders, racists, people who’ve oppressed their own people…Doesn’t the public have a right to know who your clients are?” No, Bingle replied, “the public has no right to know.”
I beg to differ.
More updates to come, folks. Watch this space.
UPDATE (3:30pm) – Bell Pottinger’s response, in full:
To: Tim Ireland
Date: Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 3:21 PM
Subject: FAO Tim Ireland – Bell Pottinger Wikipedia Response
Thanks for your reply. As you may have seen reported, we have been in touch with Jimmy Wales who has offered to come in and talk to our people about the correct way to deal with Wikipedia. We have accepted that offer and believe that is our best course of action.
I think it’s safe to say they they don’t yet grasp (or care to acknowledge) that the issue is bigger than their attitude towards Wikipedia.
UPDATE (13 Dec); I’ve submitted a comment under this post on a blog that includes a copy of a recent statement from Bell Pottinger. Like others, I’d like to have a word with them about their amendments to a reference page about skin cancer that removed instructions for self-screening and replaced it with a plug for a client who charges £40* a shot for an online screening service.
[*For the sake of accuracy, I should point out that the relevant client does offer prices as low as £19.95 ("Special Promotion. Limited period only") source: moletestuk.com/prices.htm ]
Hi folks. I will from today be publishing short extracts from the report filed by the officer investigating the letter of complaint and ’4 page report’ by Nadine Dorries to Bedfordshire Police. As I made clear from the outset, I am only inclined to publish parts of this report, for a number of reasons mainly concerning the privacy of others besides myself. There are also further details I am keen to reveal later, but only once I have collected all of the (available) relevant data.
If Nadine Dorries would like to object to any of the extracts released this week on the basis that she thinks/contends any passage has been quoted out of context (or even minus vital context), then I will happily take on any specific challenges she might care to make (yeah, like that’ll happen)… but even if she only makes her usual vague objections, she will have to admit having seen the report, and she can’t credibly stick to the lie she has been telling about what the report includes and concludes once she admits to having seen it.
So, without further ado, here comes today’s extract:
Conclusion: The description of Dorries’ letter of complaint makes it clear that this passage is about Carter-Ruck. Nadine Dorries’ own law firm acknowledges that I have committed no crime and one of her/their lawyers said so to police, which is how it came to be in this report.
Perhaps Carter-Ruck would care to explain the disconnect between their perception of this reality and how Nadine Dorries portrays the outcome of this same investigation, especially when she is not constrained by the need for careful wording on her not-a-blog*:
Today I had a meeting with Bedfordshire Police. They informed me that under caution and recorded on tape at Guldford [sic] Police station, Tim Ireland, of bloggerheads, has been issued with a warning under section two of the harassment act.
Nadine Dorries (source)
“One particularly obsessive man recently followed me round with a camera, whipped up online hysteria against me and eventually had to accept a police caution for harassment.” – Nadine Dorries (source)
I have asked Carter-Ruck to support their contention that I was skating on thin ice at any time, and they had no comment to make, citing client confidentiality. Mind you, at the time they were really very busy dodging questions about these extraordinary claims made to police on their behalf by their client:
“I have spoken to lawyers at Carter Ruck and they tell me that Tim Ireland is well known and that Guildford Police have dealt with a number of complaints regarding similar behaviour to others. He is apparently a well known computer hacker.” – Nadine Dorries (source/more)
Over to you, Carter-Ruck. Do I really need to invest in a lawyer to rate a response?
[*Carter-Ruck have also yet to answer my question about their having seen this report from Bedfordshire Police, so while I’m waiting I’ll put this additional question to them: Did Carter-Ruck advise Nadine Dorries in any way about the wording she used on her site in entries like the one above where she ‘merely’ gave people the wrong impression that I was issued with a caution (i.e. rather than lying outright, as she did in the Mail)?]
UPDATE (29 Nov) – Carter-Ruck responded with the following last night, thinking it would appropriately address any/all of my questions about this matter:
“We have no instructions to communicate with you…” – a lawyer for Carter-Ruck
Just between you, me and the rest of the world, I think they’re having themselves on just a bit.
UPDATE (07 Dec) – I have new evidence coming in, so I’m pausing the publication of evidence to hand. That said, Dorries can end this before Christmas if she wants. She knows what a retraction is and why one is called for in this instance. Otherwise, she (and you) can look forward to rolling humiliations well into the New Year.
[Psst! Over the weekend, Dorries announced that she would be closing her site that is not a blog in favour of “wider channels”. I expect to archive the site if she has any plans to disappear the evidence down a memory hole.]
Recently I’ve been blogging about the lies, distortions and delusions behind the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries’ attempts to have me prosecuted for daring to subject her expenses claims and abortion campaigns to an entirely appropriate level of scrutiny (latest).
In January 2011, during a police investigation that resulted from Dorries’ complaint/‘report’, some fabricated evidence emerged. It was quite damaging stuff. The anonymous originator claimed to have fished it out of my bin; a box of prescription medication made out to me (specifically a powerful anti-psychotic drug). Bedfordshire Police investigated its origins until they hit a dead end.
Yesterday, a right-wing blogger closely aligned to Nadine Dorries started publishing claims that I had sent him this same evidence under a false identity. His name is Harry Cole, he is widely mocked outside of his protective circle for billing himself as a ‘journalist’, and not just because of any lack of genuine experience, as you’re about to discover.
Harry Cole clearly described circumstances where he had been sent this material directly by email, and then been informed by what he described as a “reliable source” that I had fabricated the evidence against myself as part of an “attempted sting” to make him look bad.
When I asked him for a copy of the email he claims I sent him, Harry Cole refused. And not very politely, it must be said.
He later gave this reason for not wanting to discuss it any further:
“Ireland is deluded with his giant conspiratorial web, that I’m frankly bored of being slightly tangled in…” – Harry Cole (source).
So, to summarise; it is Harry Cole’s contention that I fabricated evidence against myself during a police investigation, just to involve him, because of my belief in an absurd conspiracy. And he is so bored with that conspiracy he imagines I believe in, he has no interest in cooperating with any attempt to bring the author of fabricated evidence to justice. (Even if he still believes me to be the author, what does he think is going to happen when I hand his evidence over to the police?)
I invite you to learn more about this matter by reading this post and delving into the resulting comments, where further details are shared, and events continue to unfold.
For the record, I do not name the individual I suspect of publishing the relevant material, nor do I wish to at this stage, but I certainly do not imply that Harry Cole or Nadine Dorries are the originators, just to remove any innuendo that may be read into this post by newcomers. I even made the latter crystal clear to Bedfordshire Police when they investigated the fabricated evidence earlier this year. Besides, in the context of this wholly unnecessary argument with Cole, the identity of the forger is irrelevant; whoever originated this material is dangerous, what they published was of interest to police, and it’s certainly of interest to me.
Harry Cole claims to have an email from someone offering this same material around. He claims I sent it to him. But he won’t send it back to me.
What’s his game? FFS, why is he still treating this like it is a game?
UPDATE – More detail for you: Harry Cole Withholds Evidence of Harassment against Tim Ireland Out of Spite
Well, I managed to keep that secret for over two years, but the jig was up this morning after one of the lads started tweeting at me last night.
[No harm done, mate. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and I should have been clearer about the need for discretion.]
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, for many, many years in my youth I was active in the Scout movement in Australia, and for the past couple of years I have been volunteering as an Assistant Scout Leader here in the UK.
Pardon any of the boring bits in the following. There are some people who will seek to exploit this information for political reasons, as you are probably aware. And we begin on that note…
1. This is why smears by certain Conservatives have been such a cause for alarm. I’m sure I do not need to explain why. It is also a major reason why I am so disappointed in my two local MPs (Anne Milton and Jeremy Hunt) who do know about this and have had it in their power this whole time to reign in their activists (if not their fellow MPs), but have instead chosen to dole out generic and unhelpful advice like “call the police if you have a problem” (Hunt). I am beginning to doubt their commitment to this Big Society concept they’ve been pushing. Or maybe they’d rather I wasn’t part of it.
2. Yes, this is what all those secret fire ceremonies were about. Now you know.
3. It’s also where I disappear to for extended periods each summer. Hey, why lie on a beach when you can dig a latrine?
4. It’s not an ultra-secret. There are even some fellow leaders in my Twitter stream. I met one at a local hustings. (No, not that one.)
5. Can I please ask that we all try to be discreet about the name/location of the troop? Mainly for the sake of other peoples’ privacy. Thanks.
(Note: I’ve greyed-out my ‘gang colours’ in the above picture for this very reason.)
6. Like most people in my position, I will be referring to myself as a ‘scout leader’ most of the time. I ask you to take this for what it is; shorthand. In any troop there can only be one Leader (kind of like Highlander, but with smaller blades and a fold-out can opener) so my official title is ‘Assistant Scout Leader’, but to most people outside the movement this sounds like I’m wearing a pair of training wheels or something, which is probably why so many people use the ‘shorthand’ version. As I plan to. I know it may seem ridiculous to most, but I need this paragraph to head off any pathetic ‘exposé’ regarding my credentials.
7. Some of you will obviously have questions about my being an agnostic. I can think of at least one woman who will want to shout that question from the rooftops as if it is of critical importance. I would like to take the time to articulate my position on this later, but for now, all you need to know is that the Scout Association in the UK acknowledges the difference between an agnostic and an atheist, and they do (quietly) recognise that a skeptic has a valid role to play in the spiritual development of our youth (more). It is a matter I’m happy to discuss, but I wish to take care about what I publish so I can further the progress that’s already been made, without rushing the issue.
8. Our movement needs leaders. (This means YOU, John Q. Skeptic.) I have been hoarding documentation of some really fun projects I’ve been working on, so now the secret is out and there’s no going back, you can expect me to start blogging some of the detail very soon, and being very noisy on the recruitment front in the process.
9. But don’t expect to see any ‘human shield’ photos on this blog. I will be blogging detail about the activities I’m been putting together, not the scouts themselves.
Cheers all. ‘ Dyb dyb dyb’ and all that.