Friday, May 16, 2014

Playing with Fire

Tesco's Bizarre
‘So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot.’  George Orwell.

Have your Volvo destroyed in Broadstairs by hooded thugs wielding baseball bats and as the local paper reports, you  may not deserve a 999 visit from the police but if someone alleges you have 'Liked' a Facebook page, you might find yourself in really big trouble. With all the considerable investigative resources of Kent Police and the Police Commissioner, leveled against you.

It’s not every day that the police come knocking at your door, asking to speak with you in connection with an allegation of a serious criminal offence and it’s not every day, that you receive a police caution in your own home, an event which is bound to cause some small concern to your family present.

Imagined Tesco
If you follow this weblog or read the Daily Mail, The Independent or The Observer, then you may recall this is exactly what happened to me and two other Thanet councillors, earlier in the year. The police,were  acting on a complaint from the summer of 2013, by Miss Louise Oldfield, the proprietor of The Reading Rooms boutique hotel in Margate, that I was involved in a ‘Criminal Conspiracy to Harass’ the lady. Subsequently, I even read on one news site that I had been arrested!

You may also recall, that the complaint against me, surrounded comments made by anonymous characters on my Thanet Life weblog,  I was informed a popular former mayor of Margate on his Facebook page, had challenged her artist’s impression of a Tesco development on Margate seafront, which was then subsequently ‘Liked’ by another councillor, who was also interviewed under police caution.

The Real Plan
Compared in the newspapers with North Korea, this bizarre story of politics and policing here in Thanet, was also presented, as a cautionary lecture on the perils of social media at the Local Government Association conference in London. It was discussed with a local government minister, a director of Facebook and was even taken-up by the influential Simon Davies, at the London School of Economics and described as 'A dangerous prosecution trend' on his weblog.

In every discussion, Kent police, given the questionable level of evidence offered to support their inquiry, were viewed as acting disproportionately; unwilling but diligent agents in the pursuit of a frivolous and possibly malicious complaint, reportedly pressed-upon them by the office of the publicity-hungry Kent Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes.

Simon Davies LSE
Last week and after four months of pressing for information against a stalled bureaucracy and helped by my Member of Parliament, Sir Roger Gale, the police finally dropped the criminal conspiracy and harassment complaint against me, for lack of evidence. This, without so much as an apology for the time and costs involved in pursuing it.

You may recall from the earlier stories on Thanet Life that two senior police officers had been working on this investigation since the autumn of last year and at great cost to the taxpayer. How much, I can’t tell you, as the police won’t reveal this under the Freedom of Information Act, (FOI) as an individual's complaint is involved. Neither will Thanet council reveal the cost of Ms Oldfield’s own FOI and subject access data requests, seeking any and all relevant communications between councillors.

So, it appears, that after many months of inquiry, Kent Police have concluded, that anonymous comments on my weblog are, as I told them on the day of interview, a matter for civil law and not criminal law. That ‘Liking’ a comment on Facebook, is not a criminal offence and, I assume, that challenging the position and style of an artists’ impression of a giant Tesco, development, placed adjacent to Dreamland, is truly what the former mayor of Margate said it is, at best an exaggeration and at worst a misrepresentation of the facts.

Furthermore and on the absence of any evidence, three councillors of long-standing and good reputation clearly did not, between them, seek to conspire against Ms Oldfield, in a directed and malicious effort to damage her reputation or business as initially suggested by the police. One might argue as a consequence, that she didn't need our help and did rather well on her own.

Ann Barnes - Kent Police Commissioner
But other important questions need answering too. The police inspector told all of us involved in the complaint, that when the police were approached last summer; no action was taken because the original allegation had no merit. But then, the office of Ann Barnes, our crusading police commissioner became involved.

In a reply to a letter to Sir Roger Gale on my behalf,  - see below - she denies any personal involvement in placing pressure on the Chief constable. A copy of an email, received under my own Freedom of Information request, shows that on 15th October, Ann Barnes’ office was clearly involved in encouraging the police to reconsider Ms Oldfield’s complaint.

“Dear Roger

I know you have recently been in contact with a member of my staff, and wanted to take the chance to update you on the matter relating to your constituent, Cllr Simon Moores.

I am sure you are aware that Police and Crime Commissioners are constrained in law from interfering with Chief Constables’ operational independence.  I want to be absolutely clear that in relation to this case, I did not ask or insist that the case be re-opened, or request that the Police interview the councillors involved.  For anyone to suggest otherwise is simply untrue.”

I have attempted to request the correspondence from the police side with the police commissioner’s office, (PCO) but this has been denied.

Also, correspondence between Ms Oldfield, other parties and the Police Commissioner, which would allow me to understand how this complaint developed, is also denied but it's clear that something happened in October 2013, as you may  see the attachments in the email from Ann Barnes office in the image.

The Police Commissioner's Office email Sent to Kent Police on Oct 1st
I now have several questions that remain unanswered and defy my efforts to use Freedom of Information legislation.

The first, is how a complaint surrounding the blog of someone writing on local issues under the name of John Hamilton, developed into a more serious allegation of a criminal conspiracy to harass by three prominent local councillors with evidence up to the best standards of a Soviet political show trial?

Why did Ms Oldfield, apparently intent on shutting-down any negative remarks or comment on social media, resort to making a criminal complaint, when in my own case, a simple email, call or polite request would have been sufficient for me to review comments and take action on my own weblog under the civil law and Libel and Defamation Act of 2013? What was her motivation, other than as the council solicitor commented, that ‘A criminal complaint costs nothing and immediately ties you-up, while a civil complaint is expensive and takes time.’


Political Show Trial 1930's
Once again, the judgment of Ann Barnes is called into question and this time on a more serious and politically-charged matter than the 'Tweets' of a juvenile youth commissioner. What was the true involvement of our PCO, who clearly denies any involvement in her letter to Sir Roger Gale but apparently open to contradiction by the account of an investigating police officer and a copy of an email from her office. This suggests to me that all is not what it appears. Did she not look at the flimsy evidence first and consider the implications of placing pressure to re-visit the complaint on the Chief Constable, who then, I'm told tasked two inspectors with investigating the matter?

Given the level of evidence and having cautioned them as potential suspects, why did the police keep three local councillors waiting for over four months, when a simple interview to assist them with the inquiries, would have been more than sufficient, from the legal advice I have received? The bar for a criminal complaint of this nature is set very high indeed in the courts, I'm told, so why pursue it, other than the fact that there was a political dimension?

Let me be clear. A criminal complaint to the police against a politician of any status is a very serious matter. Using it in pursuit of a personal grievance or political agenda against individuals is deeply worrying. If you happen to be a professional person or an individual enjoying a hitherto good reputation in your community, it can be potentially catastrophic and we have seen this of late with the recent trial of Nigel Evans MP and the ‘Plebgate’ farce.

In regard to Louise Oldfield one informed correspondent writes:

“I am very surprised at her approach to the police. She has sought to involve herself in the Margate High Street shops arena and also to object to Tesco.   I understand she adopted a similar role elsewhere before arriving in Margate.

She has busied herself becoming involved in every aspect of life with no real mandate from local residents.  I was shocked to hear that you were interviewed in this way. I expect that someone without such a high profile would not have secured police co-operation on such an allegation.”

This is perhaps an example of well-intentioned ‘Localism’ gone crazy. This is supposed to give greater powers to groups to determine the future of their communities. Instead, what I’m starting to see are small groups of activists using the legislation in pursuit of their own unelected ambition or agenda. This month, for example, the Margate neighbourhood plan came in front of Council’s Cabinet for a vote. This placed us in an impossible position on the Conservative side to comment on it, because Louise Oldfield leads it and we were still under caution at the time, remaining under the long shadow of a conspiracy complaint. As a result, the free and democratic process was successfully frustrated by the existence of a criminal complaint.

I should add here that this matter is not yet concluded, because Louise Oldfield also submitted a parallel standards complaint against all three councillors for the same complaint. This was held pending the result of the police criminal inquiry and now will have to go through process, even though the police have dropped the investigation and all at more cost to the Thanet taxpayer.

I still have no redress against any frivolous or malicious allegation of criminal behaviour in public life. As a consequence of this unpleasant ordeal and my growing loss of confidence in our justice system, I have no plans now to stand for re-election next year.

A second prominent councillor, friend and colleague will also be standing down. I’m sure that many readers from Thanet’s wayward political scene will be delighted by this news. I did not join local government to become a political punch-bag and the focus of frivolous or malicious police complaints but instead, to use my talents to help my community, here in Westgate; perhaps even to make it a better place to live and work.

Yesterday, we lost Manston airport and in return, we gained the implicit threat of a thousand new houses, which will be difficult to resist under present planning policies. Listening to Clive Hart's rather graceless speech in Council last night, where he told us that we 'Should never wrestle with a pig', the warning I will leave you with today, is that Thanet’s political scene has become a bitter, divided and deluded playground for fringe personal interests,and policies that have no real place in local government and still further frustrate attempts by some of us attempting to restore the waning  public confidence in local government.

The Tories and Tesco. See today's analysis in The Independent Newspaper

40 comments:

Peter Checksfield said...

I'm genuinely sorry to hear you're standing down Simon. After your heartfelt fight to save Manston you've really gone up in my estimation too...

Simon Moores said...

Thank you Peter. Appreciated!

Anonymous said...

As you know the Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission for the Arlington development was lost in High Court last year. At the time a request to the High Court for permission to appeal was also rejected

A request was then made directly to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal. However this was also rejected.

A renewed application for permission to appeal has now been made to the Court of Appeal. This application will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 17 July 2014.

William Epps said...

I am likewise sorry that you will be standing down having always regarded you as one of our more able district councillors. Nonetheless I do understand having tried myself to engage on the public forum of blog sites, only to be invariably insulted or called silly names by anonymous trolls.

I do agree the trend of democracy in Thanet in particular, is very worrying and all too frequently the agendas of vociferous minorities seem to take precedence of the wishes of the majority. Can I please ask, however, that you keep on blogging and telling it as it is rather than as a handful of people want it to be.

Could it be that at the rate local politicians are falling by the wayside, the leader of the council post May 2015 could indeed be Tim Garbutt with Christine Tongue as his deputy.

Anonymous said...

What a sorry state of affairs. Thank you for supporting Manston which I don't recall either Ms Oldfield or her new best friend Mr Thompson doing. I know many people are getting very fed up with the pair of them thinking they are King and Queen of Margate. Wish they'd both go back to where they came from.



Thank you for supporting Manston.

Michael Child said...

Serious implications for all bloggers here Simon, sorry to hear you will be standing down there are few enough able, communicative and energetic councillors of any party.

Duncan Smithson said...

I am glad this matter seems to be over. I hope I am not one of those playing in the 'deluded playground' - my intentions have always been pure. And I am sorry you will be standing down. You were one of the good ones in my book.

Tim Clark said...

I don't always agree with you, and I do think you have a tendency to talk down to the rest of us but you have not deserved this vindictive assault by whoever is really behind it. Westgate will be worse off without you - in reality reduced to one councillor since Mrs Scobie has still to find the place on a regular basis.

From your point of view it will be a relief from all the hassle, and will free up some of your time.

Good luck

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should talk with Cllr Driver, I believe he also has shared your frustration at being denied FOI requests

Anonymous said...

Don't always agree with your polital views but Thanet needs honest, sincere and hard working individuals such as you especially I suspect over the next few years. I appreciate how hard it is to bear the brunt of (especially on line) abuse but your experience would be a huge loss. Please take time to reconsider.

Colin C. Edwards said...

Truly sorry that you have had enough but totally understand why. I believe you are one of the tiny minority of councillors who had earned respect of those of us [of whatever political persuasion]who deplore the buffoonery of many others. Thank you for your informative and entertaining blog over the years.

Simon Moores said...

Thank you Colin. The blog carries on though because it's simply my own diary of events over the last decade.

I see elsewhere criticism that I'm supposedly 'hanging on to take the money.'

Let me be clear to everyone, I'm still a councillor working for my community and I have not resigned; the next local elections are in a year's time.

Lastly and for my critics, if I was in public life purely for the small allowance it pays, I certainly would not be taking-up my time as a concillor and would be spending rather more time perhaps in Dubai.

Solo Gays said...

I read 7:16's contribution with interest, noting Louise's case having been denied full appeal process several times. I don't think this in any way be taken that this diminishes their case. What I have learnt is that to take on Authority you need to show the human impact of their decisions in order to either bring on, or keep, local opinion on board, which you have done so well with Manston.

Perhaps this is something Louise and friends need to learn? I don't know? But it is certainly a state of affairs my mother and sick partner will be forced to confront in the full glare of the media, they are just so isolated at the moment. I can only hope reason will prevail and a successful intervention is forthcoming so that they will be spared all that.

I too am sorry about the pressure you have been under, but glad you are retaining your media presence and sharing your insights, because they are sorely needed right now.

Bemused of Birchington said...

Simon, I stumbled across your blog about a year ago and have been an avid follower ever since. Quite how you manage to fit all your activities in is beyond me, but as the saying goes "If you want something doing, give it to a busy man"

Tescogate should never have got as far as it did. The problem of today is that with all the social media platforms available any Tom, Dick or Harry can say almost anything they like and others will seize upon it as the gospel truth. Knowing this I am sure some people use it to further their own agenda, either knowing or not knowing the likely outcome.

People such as yourself, who hold public office, are now easy targets for those who would create mischief. It is all to easy these days to claim that offense has been given even if none was intended. In your case, and the two other councillors' it is easy to conclude that an agenda was being pursued that might have consequences for the Margate neighbourhood plan.

The decision not to stand again as a councillor is understandable and I am sure the decision was not taken lightly, but if you change yor mind please come and stand in Birchington North and help unseat the Independent incumbent. After all, despite living on the far side of Westgate your web address is www.Birchington.blogspot.co.uk

Anonymous said...

Re your tweet, you make the same mistake as Axelrod, there is only one L in Miliband. But I suspect he was getting his own back because the Labour party spelt his name Alexrod.

Simon Moores said...

Sorry .. understandable confusion with Millipede!

Anonymous said...

Simon, where in the linked article regarding damage to a Volvo is there any mention of hooded thugs wielding baseball bats? In the article I have read it makes mention of the victim waking to find his car already damaged. No persons are reported to have been seen. The number of offenders and there descriptions are unknown and the implement used to cause the damage also unknown. If the damage was still occurring at the time of the call or a description of the offender known this would undoubtedly result in an immediate police response. There is a big difference between an ongoing and immediate threat to life or property and a report of property which has already been damaged. The first warrants an immediate police response. The second would not justify an immediate response given the police have to prioritise there call demand and new calls involving immediate threat to life or property are reported throughout the night.

Anonymous said...

Dear Simon, I can identify with your frustration and sense of injustice. It is very difficult to defend an honest opinion when being falsely accused of intimidation and the allegation is made to the police. The fact that the accuser holds political office and should be well versed in the political rough and tumble of local life and therefore ought not to falsely cry "foul" appears to be lost on some people.
We have not always seen eye to eye but all the best with your endeavours.

Simon Moores said...

12:24. It's the very fact that the 'accuser' is a member of the public which led us to this point, making a serious allegation against those in political office. This is why the police took action.

In regard to the car damage, this is what was told to me so it may not be strictly accurate in contrast with the news story. However, the impression I now receive on a regular basis is that the police, rather than being the thin blue line against crime, are increasingly viewed by the middle classes as the instruments of political correctness in a society where traditional freedom of opinion and expression is very near death.

Anonymous said...

May I perhaps put the police action into perspective re the Volvo incident.

I was woken at about 01:30 on Easter Saturday morning by the sound of a helicopter clattering overhead. I looked through my bedroom window and observed a helicopter with searchlight on sweeping as far as I could tell over Birchington Square. When it moved away I returned to bed.

I am naturally an early riser, 5:00 being the norm. On the day in question I awoke at 5:12 and as usual I looked out of my bedroom window to see what sort of day it was. As I looked out I saw a woman walk past who was unknown to me who every few steps leant forward and put her hands on her knees. To cut a long story short I put a coat on over my pyjamas and took the car and went looking. I found her and called the police on my mobile. I was kept talking by the operator but the police arrived very quickly and told me they had spent six hours looking for her. So it is all about priorities and the life of this poor unfortunate woman is more important than a smashed up Volvo.

Anonymous said...

The matter should never have been investigated and the source of the problem centres around how police deal with complaints in general. It would appear the police standard practice when it comes to complaints – irrespective of their validity – is to apologise and then do all they can to indulge the complainant. The police are terrified of complaints and seem oblivious that the knock on of effect of this indulgence is to encourage frivolous and malicious complaints. In this case that meant investigating something which had no prospect of ever resulting in a prosecution.

However it should be noted in the case of a harassment complaint the matter isn’t helped by the fact that the offence of harassment is amongst the vaguest and most poorly drafted pieces of legislation on the statute books. The problem being that the offence is too open to interpretation and criminalises almost any behaviour that has “a course of conduct’ (in plain language, occurring more than once) and which the complainant argues causes them a degree of ‘alarm’ or ‘distress.’

I must also take issue with a couple of minor points of law in your blog. Firstly you make reference to “it’s not every day, that you receive a police caution”. To be questioned under caution is not the same as to receive a police caution and is misleading. If the police are to question you regarding a criminal offence the law states they must caution you, i.e. inform you that you do not have to say anything etc. To ‘receive a police caution’ is something different entirely and the common meaning would to referring to a formal warning given as an alternative to prosecution for a minor offence. This would only be administered at the conclusion of an investigation and where the offender has admitted the offence.

I also take issue with the following: “Given the level of evidence, why did the police keep three local councillors under a caution for over four months…” A person is questioned under caution and then the interview concludes. You are not ‘kept under caution’ and this has no legal meaning or basis.

You then go on to say “…when a simple interview to assist them with the inquiries, would have been more than sufficient”. Is your suggestion not exactly what the police actually did? You were interviewed by a police officer in your own home. Being cautioned prior to interview is an obligation on the police in the circumstances and explains your rights prior to being questioned. You were not arrested, you were not restricted by bail conditions and then at the conclusion of the investigation you were informed no further action was being taken. I do not see the difference between this and your own suggestion of “a simple interview to assist them with the inquiries.” If the police are to investigate a criminal allegation then interviewing the suspect(s) to make them aware of the complaint and to ask their account is the bare minimum that would be expected of the investigating officer.

Anonymous said...

Paul James said,

Simon, A couple of minor points that have always concerned me. First where can I find any record of TDC negotiations for the premium that the Lessees will pay the Council for the uplift in site value if they build, and where did the imagined tesco picture originate?

Simon Moores said...

Paul
If you examine the signature on the artist's impression you will see its Liam Nab. I am informed he is the partner of the lady who complained to the police

Anonymous said...

Simon,

I have seen the name McNabb on the elevation and also Causer who googles as an RIBA Architect. I hardly think the artist's impression is not scale. Causer could be in big trouble if it wasn't. I'm unsure why, if McNabb is related to the complainant that is of any relevance if the elevation is correct. You are implying that it is not by saying it is merely an 'artists impression'. You're 'real plan' is surely the artists impression!!

More importantly, TDC as the freeholders were considering allowing a major variation of the lease with the demolition of possibly three quarters at a guess of the site area. Before anyone goes to the trouble of even making a planning application, they would gain the approval of the freeholder beforehand or buy the site just as Ann Gloag did at Manston. Otherwise they could be pouring money down the drain or be open to an inflated demand for an agreement. I am sure Gloag would not have employed architects to draw the local plan for TDC, before securing the site, even with an tacit approval behind closed doors from Hart.

The decision to allow the Arlington development would have been taken when you were holding power and Hart was in fact opposing the proposed development. Can you tell me when this was please?

Paul

1 o'clock Rob said...

The image was created as although the planning applications are for Tesco, new shops and a hotel at no point has anyone shown any interest in building the hotel. An application to build something is not a guarantee that it will, just what it would be if it did get built.

If you then take it that no hotel will be built then there is a possibility that from the main sands the side of Tesco may well be visible.

We will not know how it will look until all the building work is completed and the Tesco opens, at which point either Simon or Louise may be correct.

All that aside I believe that Louise had no reason to do what she did and should have left well alone as she has done herself and her cause no justice.

Even More Bemused of Birchington said...

Off topic I know but Iris is waiting for a phone call from Ann Gloag.

Anonymous said...

… and I'm waiting to win the Lottery.

Anonymous said...

1 o'clock Rob. I don't think it was 'Louise' who did anything other than exercise her democratic right. No-one had the right to abuse her verbally or otherwise which it appears was the case. Until TDC confirm the formal agreement to vary the lease, this smacks of another back door deal and officers being leant on again. This is exactly the behaviour that Patterson reported to the GP Committee.

Anonymous said...

Even more bemused. We are all waiting with baited breath for confirmation that Johnston has achieved "no houses" and what Gale and Sandys couldn't. Personally I think it highly likely that if Johnston is waiting for Gloag, she will be waiting an awfully long time.

Simon Moores said...

You appear to be moving off topic here. I'm not quite sure if you are attempting to justify a criminal complaint against three reputable individual without any evidence beyond a sense of being offended by someone else's remarks on a blog reportedly based in Arizona!?

Anonymous said...

Simon, You haven't answered the question about the agreement to vary the lease.

Simon Moores said...

Off topic mate!

Simon Moores said...

And for further off topic interest this evening:

Dear All, Mrs Gloag phoned me back this evening and we have had over half an hour of conversation. I felt she absolutely appreciated our position in Thanet with high unemployment and the great economic value of having our own local airport. Her secretary will be contacting Annette tomorrow to arrange a visit to TDC in about ten days time. On a personal level I found Anne to be approachable and we shared the same history of campaigning on Women and Children's issues.

I feel I should now leave this with officers and Cabinet Colleagues until I return on Wednesday.

Kind regards, iris

Even More Bemused of Birchington said...

Guess a lottery win is on the way, but only 3 numbers, not the jackpot.

Tony Sykes said...

Simon so sorry to hear you are standing down.
We will be losing one of the voices of reason in the sea of turmoil called TDC.
Best wishes.

Richard Eastcliff said...

Cripes Simes! Your resignation letter is almost as long as Clive Hart's!

Even More Bemused of Birchington said...

Off main topic, but, the only way to sort Manston out is to hold a referendum within Thanet, should Manstan be an airfield, or a housing estate? If the majority is for an Airfield the everything should be done to make it successful I whatever guise it may appear. William Epps' idea appeals as in Duxford. RAF Gatow is now an aircraft museum too.

Even More Bemused of Birchington said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong but does Louise Oldfield have an appeal pending in the High Court? If so, on whose behalf is she appealing, and who is funding the appeal?

Even More Bemused of Birchington said...

Just read the comments in the local rag, sounds like a rant to me.

Simon Moores said...

I understand that there is a third appeal mid-July, briefly discussed with BBC yesterday but don't know who is funding this 'on behalf of the people of Margate?'