MASONIC MET COPS HAVE PROVEN HOW CORRUPT THEY ARE WITH THE PHONE HACKING SCANDAL AT
THE NEWS OF THE WORLD. THIS IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOW POLICE POWERS ARE MISUSED TO ATTACK
ANYONE WHO DARES CHALLENGE THEIR BROTHERS EVEN WHEN THEY ARE HAVING AFFAIRS WITH MEN'S WIVES
FULL ARTICLE HERE
David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)
I do not know whether it is something in the water, but Enfield has recently produced constituents whose cases are of high national importance, which are challenging legislation, international treaties and guidance. I refer, of course, to my constituent Gary McKinnon, to Andrew Symeou in the neighbouring constituency, and to Ian Puddick, the subject of this Adjournment debate.
I do not wish to entertain the House with the salacious details of this case, which are at times complex and at other times bizarre and, frankly, quite frightening. I wish to explore the principles and practice involved in the case, about which the whole House will no doubt be concerned, as they are fundamental. My primary concern, which again the whole House doubtless shares, is with the principle of equality before the law—the principle that money and wealth should not be used to warp the course of natural justice and that equality should not be eroded in the age of the internet and super-injunctions, which have seen in recent times.
It is only right for me to start by explaining some of the details of my constituent’s case. In June 2009, Mr Puddick became aware that his wife was having an affair with her employer, who is a board member of a large reinsurance firm. He found on her phone explicit text messages from this man, which then led to his wife’s confession that the affair had been ongoing for some 10 years. In his emotional state, my constituent began calling clients of this large firm, informing them that their manager had used company expenses to fund an affair with another employee. When the manager concerned became aware of this, he hired a private security firm, linked to his organisation, to discredit my constituent and to build a case of harassment against him. Mr Puddick received a phone call from the chief executive of the security firm, who reportedly said, “Our pockets are deep…we will bury you”. How was he buried?
In August the same year, my constituent’s home, office and his company accountants were raided by 16 officers from the City of London police counter terrorism and major crimes directorate. They removed his personal computers, his mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and even his personal sat-nav and sent all this equipment to a high-technology crime laboratory for testing.
My constituent was subsequently arrested and decided not to have a lawyer. He then gave a full and frank confession that he made those phone calls to clients and he apologised for it. He was then charged and stringent police bail conditions were attached. On the first occasion he attended court, the bail conditions were relaxed as it became immediately apparent that my constituent was a man of good character and not likely to commit any act of violence or to make any threats. The court realised that the case needed to be dealt with proportionately.
I understand from my constituent that, to the surprise of the magistrates, when the officers were asked about the evidence that provided the basis for this case of harassment, it became clear that my constituent’s wife had not even provided a statement. Despite all the
extreme, disproportionate and expensive investigations that had gone on, which seemed to suggest a major crime, the one witness statement that one would have expected to have been brought forward did not materialise. Any right-minded person listening to the debate—and certainly those listening at the back of the court at which Mr Puddick first came into the public gaze—would have questioned why this was happening.
A trial was set for April the following year. Before that date the man who had had an affair with Mr Puddick’s wife resigned from his position, and the case was dropped. One might have thought that that would be the end of it, and that there would simply have been complaints to the Police Complaints Authority Independent Police Complaints Commission—as, indeed, there were—which would have been processed in the usual way.
If the case had ended in that way we would not have ended up discussing it here at 4.15 on a Thursday afternoon, but Mr Puddick was rightly appalled by what had happened, and particularly concerned about the disproportionate actions that he felt had been taken by the police. For reasons of his own, which one may understand and with which one may feel a great deal of sympathy, he set up a blog—www.ianpuddick.com—to which he uploaded a love letter that had been sent to his wife, as well as a video describing the disproportionate response of the police and questioning the actions of the private security firm. Entries to the website www.policeexpenses.com and other similar addresses were redirected to the original blog.
What then happened, in May 2010, seemed to my constituent to have come out of nowhere. He was arrested again, this time not by local detectives but by the City of London police murder squad. He was told by investigating officers that he could not put that information on the internet. He replied, “I am just putting out information that is true.” The response from the police, which might be considered chilling by anyone concerned about freedom of speech, was, apparently, “Even if it is completely true, you have committed a criminal offence.”
Mr Puddick was subsequently charged, again, with harassment, but on this occasion on the specific grounds that he had created and distributed three websites which were designed to discredit an individual both professionally and personally. He denied all the allegations, and the case went to the magistrates court in June this year. It was put to the magistrates that Mr Puddick was guilty of harassment through Facebook, Twitter and his websites, and it was partly because of those extra allegations that the case made national headlines. However, it was proved in court through cross-examination at an early stage that there had been no use of Facebook or Twitter.
I understand that an officer from City of London police offered the explanation that the counter-terrorism and murder squads had been called because of the level of distress that she believed my constituent was causing through his websites. One can only speculate, looking at other websites, on whether such distress constitutes grounds for using the precious and important resources of the counter-terrorism and murder squads. I am glad that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert is present to note my concern in that regard. My constituent was finally found not guilty of the charge of harassment on 17 June this year.
Having listened to that extraordinary tale, some may believe that it involves a purely operational issue which really belongs on the pages of the tabloids—where it did indeed appear in this instance—rather than in the Chamber. However, as I said at the outset, there is a key point of principle: the principle of equality before the law. As my constituent has stated on numerous occasions, if this could happen to him, it could happen to anyone.
I want to raise two key points with the Minister. The first is the apparent influence of wealth and authority on the implementation of the law. It seems clear that had it not been for the well-connected private security company and the high profile of the business involved, my constituent would not have experienced such a disproportionate use of force and response. If there is another reason, no one is aware of it. Indeed, it is interesting that the man who had the affair with Mr Puddick’s wife was even advised by police in Sussex—the county where he lives—that this was a civil, not a criminal, matter, and anyone looking at this case would say that that seems to be a very reasonable judgment to make. Despite that, City of London police were approached and the raid in May 2009 followed. My constituent argues that the second raid almost a year later, following the publication of the blog and website, was also based on information that came from the private security firm and outside interests.
We can go back into history—indeed, all the way back to AD 43, when there was the first recorded mention of equality before the law, by Pericles, and we can then eventually go on to the Magna Carta and other important integral documents in our constitutional law that establish that equality before the law is an important principle. Pericles stated:
“If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences…class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit”.
Those words and our fundamental principles based on the Magna Carta and established through international law and treaty obligations would seem to be all but forgotten when the 16 counter-terrorism officers from City of London police raided a residential property because, from the point of view of my constituent, who is a mere plumber, that seemed to be in the interests of more powerful and wealthy business interests, which were concerned about the effects on reputation and sought to challenge the concepts of free speech and the truth.
One could take a view about the appropriateness of how my constituent went about this matter. One could criticise that and say that it was not right, but questions have to be raised about the fact that those actions were criminalised to the extent that they were, and that the police decided to act in the way they did and used the resources they used, which is why the matter has come to this Chamber. This is a fundamental issue in the wider context of our legal system. As a practising lawyer, I have concerns, but this should be of great concern to all Members.
I do not need to remind the House of the recent super-injunction controversy and the complexity added to that by Twitter and the open-platform social media that provide a forum. The key issue in that debate was not merely the affairs and the scandals, but the fact that
our legal system sought to support, or some would say protect, those individuals of some privilege who were able, through wealth and influence, to seek to protect their reputations and their future incomes, regardless in some respects of the consequences and the human collateral damage.
It appears that my constituent’s experience is not an isolated one, since having secured this debate I was contacted by Dr Howard Fredrics, who is similarly charged with harassment because of a website exposing misconduct by officials at Kingston university. Even though, as I am also informed, Kingston police found no evidence of harassment, the Crown Prosecution Service went ahead with a case against Dr Fredrics, just as the CPS decided not to take account of Sussex police advice and a case was mounted against Mr Puddick. In both cases the common factor seems to be people and institutions of influence, and one would have to say that the concept of the rule of law has been challenged. Those are two examples, but there may be more, which might have gone unnoticed because of the under-reporting of magistrates court cases. The reason for this debate is that they should not go unnoticed by this House or the Government.
The disproportionate response to my constituent’s case raises fundamental questions, and we cannot cast them aside as an operational blip. The reaction casts a shadow over the way in which we respond to issues, not least issues of free speech. These issues are becoming much more complex, but they are so important. That applies to matters on the internet and online, and matters outside and offline.
The issues raised by my constituent’s case, which relate to free speech and the way in which the prosecuting authorities deal with enforcement, particularly in respect of the internet, are important and of wider significance. When dealing with cases of cyber-stalking or online harassment, it is important to consider how enforcement is applied and how the guidance really does affect these issues.
We need to recognise that there is no suggestion that Mr Puddick’s comments on his website were untrue. The prosecution because of his comments relied on the argument that the repetition and spreading of the factual points amounted to harassment. It is important for me to make it clear that I entirely agree with the Government’s policy and approach to this issue. The case law and policy make it clear that harassment is illegal online as much as it is illegal offline. We learn of some awful cases of cyber-stalking, and they should properly be prosecuted and punishable with the full force of the criminal law. If an individual persistently contacts or attempts to contact a victim and the court concludes that that conduct constitutes harassment, the police need to follow through proportionately to where the evidence leads them and a prosecution needs to follow, where appropriate. That should happen regardless of whether such behaviour occurs in person or through online social media.
I recognise that sound guidance is in place on dealing with cyber-stalking and harassment. I invite the Minister to consider, after this debate, whether that guidance is fit for purpose and whether it is appropriate, particularly given how it seems to have been wholly misapplied in the case of Ian Puddick. The Government are rightly examining areas of vulnerability in respect of young people and those with disabilities, who need particular
protection when it comes to dealing with the internet. We need to recognise that we have a particularly strong duty to those people, and it is right that the Government, in applying the guidance, are examining those areas. We also need to ensure that the fundamental principle of the equality of the law is applied across the board.
As is clear from the account that I have given, it is clear that the proper guidance and way to apply that guidance is far removed from what happened in Mr Puddick’s case. He was told that he was not allowed to put up his website because it, in effect, damaged the reputation of another individual and that that damage amounted to illegal harassment. Since this case has reached the public gaze, several commentators have remarked that if Mr Puddick had been found guilty, the floodgates would have been opened for a number of other such claims.
I am sure that other hon. Members, perhaps in an unguarded moment, would be tempted by the possibility of prosecuting the odd blogger who wrote an article about them with which they disagreed. I have had an attack website constructed against me. It is dedicated to opposing me and, some would say, to damaging my reputation, and colleagues would doubtless be able to give examples of different actions that have taken place. However, many of us would also recognise that there is a role and place for the law, including the civil law—there is no doubt that the law on libel and defamation has a role to play. I welcome the Government’s review into super-injunctions, which is examining how we can properly ensure that our approach to these whole areas of privacy, and libel and defamation are made fit for the modern-day purpose. I would also welcome a proper look at the current Crown Prosecution Service guidelines and how they apply in all the different circumstances.
I am calling for a level playing field—the level playing field that has been established over many years and that this country, rightly, is proud to promote and apply. I hope that my constituent’s case will set a precedent or at least be a marker to suggest that such websites and blogs should be properly considered in the context of an appropriate and proportionate application of guidance in both criminal and civil law. It is important that, as online technology develops rapidly, we ensure that the Government also allow for proper clarity in their guidance so that we do not face situations such as that which sadly caused detriment to Mr Puddick.
We also need to be particularly watchful when criminal law is involved. Cases such as Mr Puddick’s might be rare—we do not have the exact numbers—but we need to recognise that when there is enforcement by the police, liberty is lost and other consequences arise, we must be ever watchful and mindful of the serious repercussions and how they can chip away at, or even take a chunk out, of the fundamental principles that we all hold dear.
In conclusion, the issue in this case is not the affair that some people might have been interested in reporting on, and it is not about my constituent and his phone calls to clients. This is not about the man or the affair. The issue is whether Ian Puddick has made the case that large companies and private security firms have an influence that has led to a taxpayer-funded police force following what some might suggest was a taxpayer-funded crusade. Indeed, it was called Operation Bohan—I am not sure why it was named after Bohan, the son of
Rueben—and the whole operation was dedicated to this case, seemingly to silence his accusations because they might harm financial interests.
One could argue that if the complaint had been made to the City of London police by an ordinary member of the public—say, a plumber like my constituent—the estimated £1 million would not have been spent investigating and prosecuting the case. It would, I imagine, have been dealt with as a civil matter, worthy, if the police had been involved, of a quiet word from them. I say that the £1 million is an estimated figure, and Mr Puddick has been asking questions to find out the true costs. If possible, I would be interested in hearing at some point—I know the answer will not be available today—how much the police operation and prosecution cost.
Without any further information, it would seem that Operation Bohan flew in the face of the key principle of equality before the law by seemingly putting the interests of wealthy organisations above the free speech and basic rights of the everyday citizen. I do not say those words lightly. I have been a criminal solicitor for 14 or so years and have great respect for the rule of law, for our system of justice and for how it is properly applied day in, day out, by police officers and prosecuting authorities. When we see cases that seem exceptional and that are exceptional in their application of power, we must stand up for our constituents. It is worse for everyone, not just my constituent, that the operation was funded by the taxpayer. My tax-paying constituents—all of them—played their part in paying for the anti-terrorist officers, the high-technology laboratory and the extensive surveillance. Indeed, they also played a part in the Crown Prosecution Service’s seemingly doomed attempt to prosecute Mr Puddick.
My constituent is concerned about what he would call an apparent perversion of natural justice that must be identified, addressed and appropriately challenged by Ministers. The Government and the Minister are rightly big on accountability and I fully support that, but we also need to recognise that there must be accountability for the actions of the police and the prosecuting authorities. They must be brought to account in cases such as Mr Puddick’s so that we can ensure that another innocent member of the public is not awoken by an armed counter-terrorism unit acting, perhaps, on the whims of wealth and power.