Tag Archives: harassment

Abuse on line: What are we going to do about it?

In April 2017  I wrote at length about my experiences of being harassed on-line. How my photograph was repeatedly published, how accusations were made about my intelligence, my appearance, my sexuality. All of this designed to terrifying me into shutting up.  I sought help from a number of agencies and received very little. For some reason, this kind of behaviour is still shrugged off as childish or inconsequential.

It isn’t.

I have more than usual resilience and an atypically combative nature. Even I have been shocked and frightened by what has been aimed at me. Particularly when my child is targeted.

I foolishly stated in April that this would be my ‘last word’ on the topic. I was fed up of so much of my time and energy being distracted by contemplating the ugly behaviour of some very disturbed people.

But they didn’t stop. They started publishing my address. They started to try and use outside agencies such as the Information Commissioners Office, as a vehicle for their harassment. They continued to make bogus and malicious complaints to my Chambers (it seems in the mistaken belief that I am employed by my Chambers and could thus be sacked).

I kept hearing more and more accounts of people -usually women – forced off social medial because of persistent and malicious abuse directed at them.

I made nearly 50 reports to Twitter about the people who were violating its terms of service; Twitter responded to agree that yes they had! then did nothing. The abuse continues.

On my Twitter feed this morning I see the following post from another woman driven off social media by intimidation and others publishing her private details.

 

 

Enough surely is enough?

If Twitter won’t act – maybe we can.  I am fed up of moaning about this, of nothing ever changing, of almost every day finding that I had to deal with insults, abuse and attempts at intimidation. This is particularly depressing when the main offender is a member of a regulated and protected profession – yet the profession takes an entirely relaxed approach to what has been persistently disgraceful and public behaviour for well over a year now.

So I have started this crowd funding project. How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. Lets start at the beginning. Lets get the groundwork  sorted for a clear legal challenge to either the failure of platforms such as Twitter to enforce their own terms of Service or against the individuals who so blatantly abuse the freedoms, privileges and responsibilities of having a voice.

Please donate if you can. But please do it anonymously – or you will run the risk of being targeted if seen to support this campaign.

 

Hewson: We have a problem – online harassment and how we just don’t deal with it.

EDIT DECEMBER 21st 2019. 

On Wednesday 18th December 2019 Ms Hewson was suspended from practice for 2 years with immediate effect after admitting two charges of professional misconduct. See this article from Legal Cheek for more details. 

I am not ‘glad’ this happened and I am certainly not ‘glad’ it took so long for the profession to do something about it. But I hope its over now.  If I continue to face harassment and abuse from this or any other individual that I can identify, I will take action in whatever arena seems the most suitable. 

I support freedom of speech. It is however subject to immediate and obvious limitations and the civil and criminal harassment laws are just one. 

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore. It is grimly apt that I publish this during National Stalking Awareness Week. 

Too long; didn’t read – SUMMARY

No doubt some will dismiss what follows as trivial:  ‘handbags at dawn’ type spats or an amusing potty mouthed barrister. Judge for yourself. I set out below the ‘timeline’ I prepared for the police covering what happened between August 2016 – March 2017. Its worth noting that from 4th September 2016 to early March 2017 I had no contact with Ms Hewson on or off line. so whatever was fuelling her, it wasn’t direct provocation from me.

I hope that the majority, after reading what I set out here, will agree with me – something very wrong happened here. It should have been dealt with, it should have been stopped. It was not.

This has potentially very serious ramifications. Ms Hewson’s continued pubic vilification and intimidation of anyone who displeases her, must have the impact to both seriously diminish public trust in the Bar and cause real pain and suffering to those individuals she targets. As little or no help is forthcoming from any outside agency, If her victims respond in kind out of fear or frustration, they will themselves be labelled  ‘abusers’. That is exactly what happened to me; the police have been clear I have lost my status as ‘good victim’ by responding on occasion.

The failure or inability of any external agency – be it Chambers, the BSB, the police or Twitter itself – to take any kind of effective action to control this behaviour, shines an uncomfortable light on our collective inability to respond to abusive behaviour in the internet age. Social media is hijacked by those who wish to display and promote their own personality disorders. We witness yet another example of the slow, lingering death of public discussion.

But as with every harsh experience, I have learned some valuable lessons. For example, I have learned that the law will provide me with protection only if I can afford to buy it. That my professional obligation to refer wrong doing to my regulator means nothing, as they will not act and will not explain their failure to act.

EDIT The BSB finally replied to me at 17.46 today. They do not accept they failed to act with expedition in investigating my complaint. They had to take time to consider whether or not repeatedly calling me a ‘cunt’ on line was Ms Hewson exercising her right to a private life. I will treat this justification with the silent contempt it deserves. 

As I cannot afford civil litigation – this is my response. This will be my final word on the matter. I have gazed into the Abyss for far too long already. There are some very sad and damaged people online and they do enormous harm to others – and themselves.

I hope that this post may help some others feel less alone. I hope it may also prompt some much needed thought and discussion about exactly how we manage our interactions on line. This online world is far too rich in opportunity for learning and discussion to simply hand over to the rule of the mad, bad or sad.

EDIT 14th March 2018 I am pleased to report that Hewson’s attempt to have the Metropolitan police deemed ‘irrational’ and unlawful in their issue of a ‘PIN’ or Police Harassment Letter, was dismissed – the court confirming that it is important to remember that Article 10 is a qualified right. See the judgment here. 

Truth, Lies and Intimidation

A brief background

In May 2016 I made the rookie mistake of engaging with Barbara Hewson on line, criticising her view that family lawyers were all collusive and inefficient.  I wrote a blog post about it .

Hoaxtead Research also wrote a very clear summary of our ‘dispute’ and how my mild banter and criticisms were met with a barrage of offensive and untrue on line publications from Ms Hewson, which she shared far and wide, purposefully designed to frighten and intimidate me.

So far, so internet. But it will stop soon I thought. This person is a professional. Surely she can’t keep doing this? But she did. After 7 months and after I had spent nearly £2K on solicitors letters, made numerous complaints to her Chambers, 12 complaints to Twitter, 3 complaints to the Bar Standards Board, and finally to the police, who issued a harassment warning notice against her in March 2017 – she is STILL going strong, like a demonic Duracell bunny.

See the timeline below for further detail, but a non exhaustive list of Hewson’s abusive behaviour directed at me since August 2016 to date includes:

  • repeatedly publishing my photograph with insults attached  – ‘fuck off madam’
  • linking insults directly to and about my Chambers
  • foul, abusive language – for example, calling me a ‘nasty C**t’
  • encouraging one of her criminal associates to email me and a senior member of my Chambers directly and threaten to report me to the police
  • publicly discussing my sexuality on line with a man who I know to be a sexual abuser of women and girls (this man then takes to Facebook and repeats that I am an evil lesbian and ‘pure shit’)
  • continually making references to my daughter when she knows full well that her tweets are ‘liked’ and ‘retweeted’ by at least one convicted and unrepentant paedophile.
  • inciting her followers to target me – ‘will no one rid me of this McCarthyite barrister?’
  • targeting anyone else she perceives as supporting me and publishing abuse directed at them via Twitter or sending threatening emails to them or their employers.

I have been subject to serious abuse, but others have fared even worse. They have wished to retain their on line anonymity but been ‘outed’ by Ms Hewson who has no problem at all with posting people’s real names and email addresses, despite her very keen appreciation that her own privacy be respected. One particularly repulsive example of this kind of behaviour was her repeated publication of photographs of the children of at least two of her adversaries, with insulting comments attached.

I note that some of those people on the receiving end of this, have themselves behaved in a reprehensible way and subjected Ms Hewson to repeated on line harassment and trolling. I do not condone this behaviour from anyone. I do not act ‘in support’ of them or at their behest – as Ms Hewson consistently alleges. I knew nothing of them at all until June 2016 when I began to take a keener interest in the nature and extent of Ms Hewson’s on line abusive behaviour.

Ms Hewson has a right not to be abused on line. Anyone who does so is wrong and should face consequences. However, to behave as she did was without any kind of rational justification, no matter what her claimed provocation. Many of the people she targets on line are vulnerable and have mental health difficulties. She surely has the financial and intellectual resources to seek proper, and less public, redress against those she considers to have defamed or harassed her.

Her justifications for her behaviour are varied and weak; Ms Hewson has repeatedly claimed the defence of ‘freedom of speech’ when insulting and defaming me, or that she is indulging in ‘parody’ or ‘satire’. I should not have had to spend nearly £2K of my own money to point out that I do not accept she can legitimately claim ‘satire’ for discussing my sexuality in public with a man known to have sexually and physically abused women and girls. Further, it is simply absurd to claim – as she does – that  ‘freedom of speech’ an absolute and unrestricted right. It never has been, and in any kind of healthy society never could be.

She has claimed that when she insults me it is as ‘writer’ not as a barrister – but recent BSB guidelines on use of social media for barristers has hopefully kicked that one into touch. We are bound by Core Duty 5 AT ALL TIMES – not to behave in a way which would cause public trust in the profession to be diminished.

On January 30th 2017 she extended her harassment of me to the national press making a variety of dishonest assertions to the Times, including that she had reported me to both the police and the BSB. This was a lie. But no doubt one believed by those reading the article, to the further detriment of my professional reputation and integrity. The Times published a further article on April 12th detailing allegations that she had sent death threats to a student. Ms Hewson is apparently going to sue the Times for defamation but the time of publication (April 25th) I have heard nothing further about that. I have contacted the Times and offered my support in defending any such action. Because everything I say is true.

A big part of why this has been so difficult to bear is the absolute breathtaking hypocrisy demonstrated by Ms Hewson. Whilst holding herself out as a warrior for Freedom of Speech and writing for the online journal Spiked whose guiding principle is ‘freedom of speech – no ifs or buts’ , Ms Hewson has been assiduous in her efforts to silence those who disagree with her by threats, abuse and other forms of intimidation.

 

A failure by Regulators to Regulate.

Unpleasant and abusive people on line are common. The real issue here, for me at least, is what this sorry saga has revealed about the ability or willingness of the BSB to do its job.

I have made three complaints; on 14th September 2016, 7th February 2017 and 6th March 2017. The BSB have requested I get further evidence from ‘persons of standing’ to back up my complaints. In light of how Ms Hewson behaves, it is unsurprising that none of the 9 people I asked felt able to help me. Some expressed serious concerns about the impact on either their mental health or their employment, should they make complaint against Ms Hewson and risk incurring her anger. I am sad that I do not apparently count as a ‘person of standing’.

Ms Hewson’s decision to take to the national press in her campaign of intimidation, led to the second of my complaints to the BSB in February 2017. However, my first was apparently not even put to Ms Hewson until the 30th January 2017, nearly 5 months after I made it. 

At the time of writing I have not the foggiest idea what is happening to any of my complaints as the BSB have not provided any information, despite repeated requests.

From information Ms Hewson herself put in the public domain in 2016, it is clear that the BSB are well aware of her activities and have been for some time. At least four people have complained since 2014 but nothing apparently has happened. There is – in my view at least – a very real risk that this failure to take any action against Ms Hewson has empowered her to believe that she is untouchable.

I know of no other profession that would tolerate this kind of disgraceful public behaviour from one of its regulated members. How would you feel if your child’s teacher conducted themselves on line in this way? Or your GP? I suspect you would be horrified. Why then are barristers apparently exempt from censure for such appalling and public behaviour?

I made a formal complaint to the BSB on March 23rd about their twin failures; to act with any reasonable expedition to deal with my complaint or to respond to my emailed queries. I was told that I would receive a response by April 25th. None has been received, so I publish this.

Where do I go from here?

I am told that to apply for an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act will cost me at least £10K. With regard to defamation,  the Monroe v Hopkins libel action was a sobering reminder of the costs those kind of proceedings are likely to incur.

I do not doubt that if I initiated civil action, I would win given the sheer weight and volume of the evidence I have against her – I have now over 500 archived links to her abusive publications on line, along with many emails sent to me and others. But when would I see my costs and/or damages? The little spare cash I did have as a ‘professional loser’ at the publicly funded family bar has now gone on just two solicitor’s letters that managed to stem for too short a time the flood of vitriolic and public attacks on me.

Would I have engaged with Ms Hewson back in May 2016 had I known the full extent of her unboundaried behaviour and that I would receive almost nothing by way of support or action from any other outside agency? Possibly not. But on reflection, I am glad I did. If this whole sorry tale can push individual Chambers and the BSB to greater recognition of the impact of social media and the need to engage with those who misuse it, then at least something positive can come out of this.

Although I count myself as a very resilient person, there have been times throughout this whole process where I have felt very alone and frightened. To be on the receiving end of such targeted harassment from a senior member of my own profession was, initially at least, terrifying. Over the months I have grown a thicker skin but what has really helped was being able to laugh at some of the more ridiculous and childish behaviours publicly demonstrated by Hewson. I remain grateful to those anonymous people on line who helped me gather evidence of her abusive behaviour.

However, while laughter is the best medicine, it does not combat the evil I have identified here, just makes it easier to live with. What has happened to me is happening to many others – some of whom are extremely vulnerable adults. I have witnessed over 7 months now, a disgraceful, public and persistent abuse of power and status; used to intimidate, distress and alarm. And a failure of our regulatory body to do anything about it.

You may not agree with me about how serious you think this is.

And you are entitled to disagree with me.

Unlike Ms Hewson, I will not stalk you, vilify you, abuse you or try to get you sacked if you do.

Time line of harassment by Ms Hewson from August 2016 to 31st March 2017

Mid August to early Oct Ms Hewson subjects me to almost daily harassment via Twitter, including publications of my photograph, details of my Chambers and making various comments that I am a ‘malicious crackpot’, ‘unhinged’ and is sympathetic to those who hold anti-Semitic views.

04/09/16 I cease direct communication with Ms Hewson via social media. All subsequent communications I make are to her solicitors

07/09/16 I complain directly to Ms Hewson’s Chambers. (they reply on 03.10.16 to say they cannot progress my complaint and I need to complain to the BSB)

14/09/16 I make direct complaint to the Bar Standards Board

20/09/16 The BSB confirm they have received my complaint on this date.

23/09/16 Ms Hewson has direct conversation via Twitter with a Mr E, wondering whether I am obsessed with her as a ‘lesbian thing’. Mr E then makes similar and further abusive comments both on Twitter and on a Facebook group. I am very alarmed as I know the identity of Mr E. He has been found by judgments in the family court to have sexually and physically abused his step daughter.

29/09/16 I instruct solicitors to send a letter before action – requesting that Ms Hewson refrain from any further mention of me on social media or I will apply for an injunction.

04/10/16 Unfortunately the letter does not have the desired effect. Ms Hewson late on 4th October, published a significant number of abusive tweets, referring directly to my proposed application and using derogatory terms. Ms Hewson has quoted tweets published by me in August, intending to imply that I am still engaged in conversations with her. This is dishonest.

05/10/16 My solicitors send a second letter before action, setting out very clearly why I am so concerned about her behaviour on 23rd September.

12/10/16 My solicitors send screen shots and archived links to Tweets to Ms Hewson’s solicitors in support of my letter before action, stating that if she does not cease her harassment of me, I will issue proceedings for an injunction. Ms Hewson then refrains from mentioning me directly. I have now spent nearly £2,000 on solicitors’ fees and cannot afford any further expenditure.

31/10/16 I make formal complaint to Wiltshire police about a very abusive email sent directly to my Chambers and two abusive comments left on my blog. I explain that I am concerned that Ms Hewson is directly or indirectly encouraging others to harass me, in light of her own long standing harassment of me.

11/11/16 I meet PC Sarah Greenman of the Wiltshire police at Bradford-on-Avon police station and we agree there is nothing that can be done as they cannot identify the individual who sent the email in October. However, PC Greenman says that if I had reported Ms Hewson’s behaviour of September at the time they would have considered taking a statement from me and arresting her

18/11/16 Around this date I understand the BSB refer my complaint to its Investigations and Hearings Team to look at possible breach by Ms Hewson of Core Duties 3 and 5 of the Code of Conduct.

24/11/16 Ms Hewson’s solicitors contact me to request that I withdraw my complaint to the BSB.

26/11/16 Ms Hewson recommences direct harassment of me on social media, apparently angered that I have suggested to Andy Woodward that he could contact the BSB if he was being harassed on line by a practicing barrister

03/12/16 Mr E attempts direct conversation with Ms Hewson via Twitter.

04/12/16 I email the BSB asking whether recent harassment from Ms Hewson can be added to my first complaint or if I need to make a fresh complaint. I receive no response to this request.

21/12/16 Some bizarre and inflammatory tweets from Ms Hewson saying that her detractors were ‘in the firing line’ and that ‘I hold the gun’. This tweet was reported to Twitter by many users, including myself, as posing a credible threat of violence. Ms Hewson then goes quiet again.
I email the BSB to ask again if I need to make a separate complaint about this or it can be included as evidence for my first complaint. Ms Lall says she will need to speak to her Line Manager and will respond in the New Year.

14/01/17 Ms Hewson’s direct harassment of myself recommences, including making direct reference to my Chambers. I have no idea why; I have not done or said anything to provoke her.

15/01/17 I email Ms Hewson’s solicitors requesting confirmation that I can serve any application for an injunction at their offices. I say I am very concerned that Ms Hewson is in contact with two men who have just been arrested for stalking Esther Baker and an unnamed journalist. These men are Simon Just and Darren Laverty.
I email Ms Lall in the following terms:
1. Do you require me to raise a separate complaint about this and other matters raised with you since November 2016, or can these issues simply be applied to my initial complaint of September 2016 as further evidence of a pattern of on going behaviour?
2. Could you confirm the likely timescales for investigation into my complaint of September 2016?
3. If I do apply for an injunction in civil proceedings against Ms Hewson pursuant to the PHA, or refer this matter onto the police, is the BSB likely to suspend its current investigations and/or delay making any fresh investigations until the outcome of the civil/criminal proceedings are known? I appreciate and understand that the function of the BSB is not to protect my personal safety and your investigations will necessarily take time. It may be that I have to take other action to protect myself and my reputation.
However, I am very anxious not to delay your investigations by any action I take as an individual. My concerns about Ms Hewson’s general fitness to practice are ever increasing and this clearly has implications for very many people other than myself, and to the reputation of the Bar as a whole.

16/01/17 I am emailed directly by Simon Just, who also emails a senior member of my Chambers. It is clear that he has been encouraged by Ms Hewson to do this and has read my email to her solicitors. Later this evening Ms Hewson emails directly a senior member of my Chambers, mistakenly believing he is my Head of Chambers. He forwards her email to me then deletes it and replies to Ms Hewson that he will not communicate any further with her about this.

17/01/17 Ms Hewson emails me directly saying that I am not to correspond with her or her solicitors. That evening I am informed that one of the people ‘liking’ and ‘retweeting’ her abusive tweets about me is Nigel Oldfield, a convicted paedophile. I become very alarmed.

18/01/17 Early this morning I telephone and email PC Sarah Greenman to say I wish to make a formal complaint as the harassment has started again and is escalating. I receive no reply so at lunchtime I ring the Wiltshire control desk who tell me PC Greenman is on annual leave but they will pass a message on.
Ms Lall telephones me that evening and asks that I provide further complaints from ‘persons of standing’ who are concerned about Ms Hewson’s behaviour.

19/01/17 I have a number of replies from people I contact, asking them to support my complaint about Ms Hewson, to say they are too afraid of reprisals. One fears for her job, Ms Hewson having contacted her employer and made a false allegation of misconduct.

20/01/17 Ms Hewson publishes on line part of my email to her solicitors. PC Greenman contacts me and asks me to make a report to the Metropolitan police as this is the area where Ms Hewson resides.

21/01/17 Early that morning I make a report to the Metropolitan police who refer me back to Wiltshire. Ms Hewson continues to make abusive and threatening publications on Twitter throughout the evening and late night, publishing part of my email to her solicitors and calling me a ‘malicious bitch’. PC Greenman replies to my email and we try to arrange a date to meet so she can take a statement.

22/01/17 Ms Hewson continues harassing me via Twitter – her ‘pinned tweet’ invites journalists to contact her regarding me. I email PC Greenman.
I email Ms Lall and request information by Monday 30th January about when the BSB will be in a position to respond to my complaint which they received on 20th September 2016.

23/01/17 In the morning I am contacted via email by Jonathan Ames a journalist for the Times who says Ms Hewson has sent him my email to her solicitors of 15th January 2017 and he asks for comment. I say it would be inappropriate as the BSB are investigating. At about 5pm her Twitter accounts are suspended after complaints from other users. She immediately sets up a third account which quickly degenerates into abusive harassment of various others.
I email PC Greenman

25/01/17 Ms Hewson’s third Twitter account is suspended. I email PC Greenman.

26/01/17 At 1.10 am Ms Hewson emails me directly. I forward this to her solicitors and ask them to remind her not to contact me, and I will treat such communication as further evidence of her harassment of me.

30/01/17 An article appears on page 3 of the Times, quoting my email. I have never given permission for my correspondence to be used in this way. I consider that Ms Hewson has now extended her harassment of me to the national press. I email PC Greenman again, requesting a date to meet to provide a statement. I email the BSB to request urgent information about the state of their investigation.

31/01/17 The BSB email me to say that they have sent a letter to Ms Hewson outlining my complaint against her conduct from May – Jan 17th 2017. She will have 3 weeks to reply.

01/02/17 Ms Hewson’s second Twitter account is reinstated but she ‘protects’ her account so only confirmed followers can see what she writes.

03/02/17 From about 9pm Ms Hewson unlocks her account and publishes a continual stream of derogatory tweets, including one that says, in reference to me ‘Will no one rid me of this McCarthyite barrister? What is wrong with her?’ This is – in my view – direct incitement to her followers. She is tweeting about my daughter. I report her to Twitter for the fourth time (I have since made eight more complaints).

04/02/17 On line harassment continues

05/02/17 On line harassment continues

06/02/17 I attend Bradford on Avon police station and PC Greenman takes a statement.
I make second complaint to the BSB that Ms Hewson is in breach of r69 of our Code of Conduct; she must not victimise someone who has made a complaint about her in good faith.

07/02/17 On line harassment continues

08/02/17 On line harassment continues. I forward screenshots to PC Greenman who replies to suggest I consider meeting with the Restorative Justice Team. I express scepticism but say I am willing to discuss the process with them.
That evening the on line harassment from Ms Hewson is probably the worst it has ever been to date. She compares me to Karen Matthews and says I am a liar and should be struck off. She denigrates my personal appearance. She includes my Chambers directly in her publications. She taunts the BSB directly.

09/02/17 I email PC Greenman and say I would be grateful if my statement could be finalised as soon as possible and forwarded to the Metropolitan police.
My Head of Chambers confirms via email that this matter will be raised at the Chambers Management Board meeting to consider what action Chambers can take against Ms Hewson.
A barrister colleague emails the BSB to express her concern about what she is reading.
Ms Hewson refrains from targeted harassment of me on this date.

10/11/02/17 Late on 10th February and in early hours of 11th February, Ms Hewson publishes large amount of abusive and derogatory material. This is even worse than her publications on 8th February. She is now including a colleague in Chambers, calls us ‘cunts’ and claims we are jealous of her. She tags my Chambers directly in her tweets. She says she is going to publish my complaint to the BSB on line as it is ‘drivel’.
This material remains on line until early evening of 11th Feb and Ms Hewson then deactivates her Twitter account.

12/02/17 At some point Ms Hewson restores her Twitter account, and announces via Social Media that she is retiring from the Bar. She then locks, unlocks and locks again her Twitter account over the next few days.
I attend Trowbridge police station at 1pm to sign my statement and dockets on evidence such as screen shots and blog posts.

13/02/17 PC Johnson of the Metropolitan police contacts me via my mobile to ask for information; he has not yet received any paperwork regarding my complaint.

14/02/17 The Management Board of my Chambers meet to discuss the activities of Ms Hewson.

15/16/02/17 Ms Hewson publishes variety of late night/early morning abusive tweets; including telling me I will ‘rue the day’, I am ‘dodgy’ and ‘evil’. And directly tagging in PC Greenman of the Wiltshire police.
I email Wiltshire police, the Met and the BSB. Ms Hewson has deleted these tweets by about 8am but I have screenshots and archived links.

17/18/.02.17 This evening my HoC confirms that Chambers will write to the BSB to express their dismay that the investigation into Ms Hewson is taking so long, in light of the abusive nature of her conduct and its impact (this letter is sent on 22/02/17).
Late this evening and early morning of 18th February 2017 Ms Hewson emails me directly; first by copying me into email sent to PC Greenman, demanding that I withdraw my complaint to the police; second she emails me directly asking to know if I am registered with the ICO. I forward both emails on to the police, the BSB and her Chambers, as Ms Hewson is using her Chambers address to send emails which I consider to be part of her continued campaign of harassment against me.
I send Ms Hewson’s Chambers a copy of this timeline. I consider it is important that they are aware of the full nature and extent of her activities as the implications for the reputation of their Chambers are serious. I ask if they can suspend or restrict Ms Hewson’s access to their Chambers’ email system.
Later that morning I am told that Ms Hewson has sent ‘cease and desist’ letters to 2 other barristers and a journalist, using her Chambers address in 2 of the 3 emails.
In one email she falsely asserts that I have chosen to publicise our dispute in the national press. I have done no such thing. This is a deliberately dishonest statement by Ms Hewson as the emails between myself and Jonathan Ames on 23rd January 2017 prove.
I obtain permission from one of the barristers and the journalist to forward copies of the emails they received to the police and the BSB. The emails have caused distress to all the recipients.

19/02/17 Linda Turnbull of the Standards Committee of 1 Grays Inn Square emails me to say that they will await the outcome of the police and BSB investigations of Ms Hewson.
That evening there is further relatively mild denigration of me by Ms Hewson on social media.

20/02/17 No on line harassment from Ms Hewson on this day.

21/02/17 From about 11pm further abusive publications; that I am associating with anti Semites, am hysterical and waste police time. My Chambers are directly included in some tweets.

22/02/17 I email the BSB with regard to my second complaint that Ms Hewson is victimising me for making a complaint and ask for clarification as to how to proceed. Do they wish me to make a fresh complaint for each new incident?

23/02/17 I am contacted by DC Adam Downs who leaves a message to say that my case has now been transferred to him at Islington. I email my updated timeline.
More on line abuse from Ms Hewson.

24/02/17 I speak to DC Downs around 9am and he informs me that he contacted Ms Hewson yesterday with a view to issuing her with a harassment warning notice and this probably prompted her abuse of me last night.
I confirm that I muted her account in September and blocked it in January and that I have frequently report her account to Twitter Support, to no avail.

25/02/17 Some mild denigration of me on Twitter in late evening/early morning of 25/26 February.

26/02/17 No on line harassment from Ms Hewson on this day.

27/28/02/17 Some mild denigration of me and direct tagging of Chambers but Ms Hewson does not mention my full name. However, she is clearly monitoring my social media output, as she engages in direct conversation with someone with whom I am having online disagreement and tells him I am a ‘monstrous’ example of feminism and a bully.
Later that day the BSB email to inform me that Ms Hewson has requested an extension of time to reply to my (I assume) first complaint, until 9th March. I reply to ask for a response to my email of 22/02/17 regarding the need to make a fresh complaint. I say that if I do not receive a response from the BSB I will make my third complaint on 6th March, relating to the dates from 06/02/17 – 06/03/17

01/03/17 Email from DC Downs to confirm that harassment warning notice will be served upon Ms Hewson by post, expected to arrive on Friday 3rd March. If she breaches it she will be arrestable.
No on line harassment from Ms Hewson on this day.

02/03/17 No on line harassment from Ms Hewson on this day
I email the Standards Committee of 1 GIS to inform them that Ms Hewson is to be issued with a harassment warning notice.

03/03/17 At 8.50pm I receive email notification from EventBrite that Ms Hewson has purchased a ticket to a conference on 9th June where I am clearly listed as speaking. At 8.51 she tweets that she is going to this conference ‘see you there?’ I am alarmed by this as there is no reason for her to go to this conference other than to attempt to make physical contact with me. She posts various tweets in which I am named.
I email DC Downs and ask that the police now give serious consideration to arresting Ms Hewson as this harassment has occurred after service of a PIN.

04/05/03/17 Late on Saturday night and early Sunday morning Ms Hewson publishes further derogatory tweets, and directs one to my HoC. I forward these to DC Downs.
On Sunday morning I have a telephone conversation with DC Downs who say he has received a 9 page email from Ms Hewson to say that the Met are breaching her human rights. He then emails me to say

I have reviewed these screenshots. Because twitter is a public domain everybody has the right to express their freedom of speech. This is regulated by twitter themselves. Unless you are physically mentioned with the @ sign to your direct twitter account, this does not qualify as harassment of malicious communications.

The harassment warning has been served to Ms HEWSON and remains in place.

Unless there are any direct messages or tweets with the @ sign to your account the police cannot take any further action. However, please continue to record tweets which you believe are aimed at you for any civil proceedings you wish to take.

06/03/17 Having received no response from the BSB to my email of 22nd February and 28th February, I make my third complaint that Ms Hewson continues to victimise me for having made a complaint about her.
The BSB then email after I have posted this complaint to say that I can submit new evidence in support of my first two complaints, rather than make a fresh complaint.
Later that evening/early morning of next day Ms Hewson posts some derogatory tweets about me using my direct Twitter handle. She also contacts the Head of my Chambers Family Team directly

07/03/17 I email DC Downs to request confirmation that the Met will take no further action against Ms Hewson and ask for copies of the PIN and my statement. I am considering applying for a civil injunction as a litigant in person.
Further derogatory tweets later that evening/early morning 8th March including the allegation that I make ‘vexatious, incessant, untrue and malicious’ complaints.

08/03/17 Ms Hewson is challenged by another Twitter user for re-publishing a tweet where this user was called a ‘cunt’. She points out that Ms Hewson is ‘targeting and harassing’ me in a ‘persistent’ way which looks ‘vindictive, malicious and obsessive’.
Ms Hewson refrains from any further harassment of me on this date.

09/03/17-29/03/17 Ms Hewson’s account remains protected and she steadily reduces the number of people ‘following’ her on Twitter from approx. 3K to approx. 100
I am not aware if she publishes anything derogatory about me or my Chambers.  The 9th of March was supposedly the date by which she was to respond to the BSB regarding my complaint but I receive no information about this and to this date remain entirely unaware of her response.

24/03/17 I am emailed by a student, Mehul Desai,  to say he is very distressed that Ms Hewson has been sending him threatening emails very late at night and has contacted his University. Ms Hewson is demanding that Mr Desai remove the publications he has made via Twitter of her correspondence.
I understand that Mr Desai also makes complaints to the police and the BSB about Ms Hewson’s behaviour.

30/03/17 Late at night on 30th or early in the morning of the 31st, Ms Hewson unlocks her accounts and makes derogatory remarks directed explicitly at me, another barrister and my Chambers. She also publishes my photograph again.

31/03/17 I consider making further complaint to the police but when I check Ms Hewson’s account around noon I note that it is protected again. As no one but her now (significantly depleted) numbers of followers can see what she publishes, I decide that I will not report this but will keep an eye on her on line activities and see what develops over the next few days, with a view to making a fresh police complaint if the public harassment continues.

It’s still going on – but enough is enough.  I can only hope now that with her much reduced following and the considerable publicity about her activities, my reputation is protected from her continued denigration. 

Some strategies for dealing with on line harassment.

This post arises out of a recent discussion on Twitter about effective strategies for dealing with on line behaviour from others that you perceive as harassing or threatening. This is the product of my years of exposure to some very harsh on line environments. I hope its helpful, but of course, it is the result of my own particular experience, it may not resonate for you. In which case, ignore it. Or add some comments and suggestions of your own. 

I have been active on ‘public electronic communications networks’  (for e.g. Twitter) since 2011. My communication style has changed over the years; I hope for the better. I am have become less sensitive to challenge and better able to set appropriate boundaries around my own and other’s behaviour.

At the same time, I have become increasingly concerned about the way people chose to communicate on line. Abuse, aggression and harassment are increasingly common. Those in charge of social media platforms appear to have limited ability and/or willingness to control it.

The upsides of social media are significant – without Twitter for e.g. my opportunities for exposure to other disciplines would be greatly reduced. it would be a shame to lose the opportunity offered to share and explore ideas with many others because you are driven off the internet by the aggression or abuse. So, it’s worth spending some time to think about how you handle people who are abusive on line.

Freedom of speech is a vital component of any civilised society and protected by Article 10 of the ECHR. You are going to have to put up with some exposure to those who say things you don’t like. But the right to freedom of expression is not limitless. The freedom to say outrageous things is not (as some would appear to assume) a duty or a compulsion to say outrageous things. The limits to freedom of speech are rightly set by the law; for example, you cannot defame someone with impunity, you cannot racially abuse them or threaten to rape them without consequence.

Those more extreme abuses of freedom of speech are easy to spot. What causes the problem is that one person’s robust and necessary contribution to a debate can be interpreted by another as offensive or harassing.

So what can you do to improve your on line experiences and/or deal more effectively with those people that you find offensive? I am not suggesting by ‘resilience’ that everyone simply ‘toughen up’ and simply laugh off or ignore disgusting behaviour on line. On the contrary, I believe that such behaviour should be challenged and I am confident I have the necessary personality traits to enable me to engage in such challenge without disproportionate cost to my own emotional well being. But challenge and confrontation doesn’t work for everyone and every situation; you will need to consider other strategies and approaches.

I offer some below.

Know Thyself

Know yourself. Why are you on line? Who is your audience? What do you want to communicate? If you are engaging in debate about controversial issues or ones that encourage polarised and strong views then you are going to meet people who don’t agree with you and who won’t be shy about saying so.  If you find it difficult to deal with disagreement or confrontation in real life, the impact of this will be magnified ten fold on line. The combination of anonymity and distance from the recipient of abusive behaviour – ‘the on line disinhibition effect’ – often results in an increase in the intensity of people’s reactions.

Know what you are dealing with

The increase in intensity of reaction is of course a two way street. What you perceive as abuse or harassment, may be a reflection of your own strong feelings about a topic and your resistance to being challenged, particularly if the challenge is made in a blunt or aggressive way.  As much of interaction via social media is written, a significant part of necessary information we need to understand another’s intent is lost; most particularly tone of voice and facial expressions. It is not surprising therefore that the nuance of a discussion suffers. Combine this with what appears to be the natural human predisposition to discern threat where none exists and it is not difficult to understand why so many on line engagements go sour so quickly.

I think problems with on line communications involve 4 broad categories of people, and its important to try and identify which is which, as this will inform the remedy you chose.

  • The Trolls – the true dark side of social media are those who have no genuine wish to communicate but instead gain satisfaction or sense of purpose from abusing others.
  • Ineffective communicators –  those who genuinely wish to communicate but who are overwhelmed by emotion or circumstances that they cannot do so effectively.
  • Ineffective response to challenge – those who are particularly sensitive to challenge and react accordingly.
  • Basic misunderstanding – those who would have had little difficulty in communicating face to face but who misinterpret each other’s motivations on line due to absence of social cues.

 

But protect yourself

Criminal remedies

If the behaviour on line is serious enough to make you afraid for your safety then inform the police. Recent initiatives indicate that the police hopefully understand the need to engage more effectively with internet ‘hate crimes’ but we are still all finding our way and the responses of various police forces may vary in speed and effectiveness.

Harassment is both a criminal offence and a civil action under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The police can ask offenders to sign ‘Police Information Notices’ or ‘Harassment Warning Notices’ to show in possible future legal proceedings that a suspect was aware that their behaviour would count as harassment.

In general, ‘harassment’ is behaviour that a reasonable person would agree would cause you distress and alarm. The offence of harassment occurs where:

  • there has been a “course of conduct” (not just one event); and
  • the perpetrator knows or ought to know that their conduct amounts to harassment.

The police can also consider the Malicious Communications Act 1988 but as the age of that Act suggests, it wasn’t drafted with social media/online harassment in mind and is not a particularly useful tool.  See this guidance from the CPS about prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media.

 

Some strategies to deal with behaviour that probably isn’t criminal

If the behaviour you are worried about however, is not so serious that it is likely the police will consider it a  criminal offence, then you have to make a judgment call about what is going on and what you are going to do about it.

Have you considered the intensity of your own reaction to an on line challenge and are confident that others would agree that the other’s behaviour is unacceptable? For example, they use foul language, derogatory terms or repeatedly contact you after being asked to refrain. Being subjected to this is emotionally draining and often very upsetting. You owe it to yourself to set and enforce boundaries to protect your own wellbeing.

I suggest the following strategies

Ignoring

This is often the most effective strategy for a wide range of offensive on line behaviour. Many who troll do so to feed off the emotional response of their victims; the more upset you get and the more you show it, the better they like it. Ignore them and they will often move on to another victim.

I personally don’t like this strategy as it doesn’t sit well with my inherent combative tendencies and I don’t see why they should get away with it. However, in some circumstances ignoring is objectively not a sensible strategy, if it allows people to claim you do not take seriously criticism of your activities or integrity. You may have no choice but to engage.  I therefore I often try the strategy of polite/persistent engagement.

 

Polite/persistent engagement

This has proved remarkably effective over the years. The true troll will get bored or annoyed very quickly and move on. Those who have genuine motivation to engage but who have been temporarily swept away by the intensity of their own reactions, can often respond well to this and I have managed to form some relationships of at least grudging mutual respect by this method.

As Lindy West comments

I feed trolls. Not always, not every troll, but when I feel like it—when I think it will make me feel better—I talk back. I talk back because the expectation is that when you tell a woman to shut up, she should shut up. I reject that. I talk back because it’s fun, sometimes, to rip an abusive dummy to shreds with my friends. I talk back because my mental health is my priority—not some troll’s personal satisfaction. I talk back because it emboldens other women to talk back online and in real life, and I talk back because women have told me that my responses give them a script for dealing with monsters in their own lives. And, most importantly, I talk back because internet trolls are not, in fact, monsters. They are human beings—and I don’t believe that their attempts to dehumanize me can be counteracted by dehumanizing them.

But its time consuming and requires patience. You are going to need to be confident that you can do it otherwise you are simply increasing the burden on you.

 

Refer on to other agencies

If its getting bad, you have the option to refer a complaint to the social media provider. For information about Facebook complaints procedures, see here; for information about Twitter see here.

I have never tried this, however, anecdotes from those who have, suggest that this isn’t going to be a very effective or swift remedy.  Is there anyone you can raise a complaint with – such as the moderator of a forum discussion or the administrator of a Facebook page?

(EDIT – I have now tried this and complained to Twitter. My complaint has so far been ignored so I am now even less confident this route will have any success generally. Twitter, in particular is a social media platform that appears to elevate ‘freedom of speech’ above all else, even when that ‘speech’ is designed to do little else but cause alarm and distress).

Some professions – such as barristers, solicitors and social workers – are ‘regulated professions’ which means you could complain directly to their regulatory body about their behaviour on line, if of course they are identifiable. For more information about such complaints, see this post.

Civil law remedies

You have the option of applying for an injunction/damages under the Protection from Harassment Act or seeking to persuade the court that you have suffered defamation.

You will need to be very confident that it’s worth it. No legal action should be undertaken without serious thought. It will bring with it financial and emotional consequences, even if you win. I discuss defamation in more detail in this post. Its worth quoting again from Mr Justice Warby:

Defamatory imputations can cause injury to feelings which is out of all proportion to the harm they cause to reputation. That, so far as the earlier publications are concerned, is this case. So far as the later publications are concerned, and more generally, Mr Economou has made the error of seeing this case from his own perspective as a victim, paying too much attention to the impact on him and his feelings, and giving insufficient consideration to the other perspectives, indeed the other rights and interests, that demand and deserve consideration.

As I know now from bitter personal experience, even sending a few letters from your solicitors to theirs is going to cost thousands of pounds.  The cost to your emotional welfare may be yet higher as even contemplating such legal action can absorb much of your time and energy. Don’t even start unless you have a clear idea of what it is likely to cost you. Trying – and failing – in court can also carry the risk that you have to pay some or all of the costs of the other side.

Getting evidence

If you are being harassed on line hopefully you can get screen shots’of any abusive posts/tweets etc. ‘Screenshot’  is the term used to for taking a picture of whatever is on the screen of your computer/phone/tablet etc. You don’t need any special software as all devices/operating systems should let you take a screenshot.

However, it may be that a screenshot by itself will NOT be considered good enough evidence. You will need to be able to show that the screenshot is genuine and you haven’t tampered with it. One way to do this is make sure that you have the URL for each screenshot. This is an acronym for ‘Uniform Resource Locator’ or a ‘web address’. It specifies a location on a computer network and a mechanism for retrieving it. Or you can use the web archive/wayback machine to save the URL.

I am grateful for the advice of one reader ‘Mr X’ who has provided the following advice to help you get useful evidence about any online harassment:

http://getfireshot.com/using.php#editing << that is the program I use for my screenshots (Fireshot) – it’s a bit hard to explain in an email how to take the screenshots. I basically find the tweet I want to capture by clicking on it, when you do that, at the top in the browser is the tweet url (https://www.whatevertweet.url etc) use fireshot to capture the tweet, in fireshot there are tools, I use “capture visible area”, then use “crop” tool, so I end up with just the tweet, then I highlight the tweet url (which is on your browser window), right click “copy”, go to the screenshot and choose where I want to put the url text, right click “paste” – then I save it. It took me a while to get the hang of this program – now it takes me a few seconds to do the screenshots as I’ve used this program for 7yrs!!
The web archive/wayback machine is what takes the time – this is the link https://archive.org/web/web.php – if you look towards the right hand side of the page there is “save page now” and the box where you paste the url link into, the webarchive starts to save the page “as is” – once it’s saved there is a new url which has “webarchive etc etc whatever url” – sometimes it can take up to 4mins to save one tweet, you can’t put multiple urls at once, they have to be done individually.
I don’t know what operating system your computer is, but there is a Windows feature called “snipping tool” – I use that sometimes when I don’t need to put the url’s on screenshots.

Take care of yourself

Don’t engage in on line debate/discussion if you are feeling particularly angry or upset about something. Take a break, check that you are not tired or hungry. Don’t make any quick decisions, don’t respond hastily –  unless of course it is so serious you need to call the police. Don’t use offensive language or bring yourself down to their level. it is very difficult for outside agencies to ‘un pick’ who is the main offender when both parties are engaging with each other using abusive terms.

Further reading

Lindy West ‘What happened when I confronted my cruellest troll’ 

Anna Merlan ‘ The cops don’t care about violent online threats. What do we do now?’

The Guardian Experience ‘I was an Internet Troll’.

Google’s response to a defamation claim

Psychology Today ‘No Comment: 3 Rules for Dealing with Internet Trolls‘.

Inforrm article about the case of Smith v Unknown Defendants [2016] EWCH 1775 ‘Defamed by Persons Unknown’. The court awarded damages in defamation of £10,000 – but did Mr Smith ever get his money?

Article by NZ barrister Steven Price ‘The Defamation Minefield – 12 Steps to help you avoid it’

What you need to know about gathering social media evidence 

The National Stalking Helpline 0808 802 0300

Fascinating article by J Nathan Matias about what Victorian efforts to deal with food adulteration can teach us about developing tools for dealing with on line abuse.

Online harassment research guide – research on understanding and responding to online harassment.

Growing social media backlash among young people – report in the Guardian 2017

Excellent Twitter thread on why this platform tends to shy away from dealing with issues of abuse on line