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FoI request regarding an 'activist list' in the Sunday Times Magazine in May 2013

Discussion in 'General ME/CFS News' started by AR68, May 9, 2018.

  1. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I recently asked the Metropolitan Police Service about the existence of an 'activist list', alleged in an article by the late Michael Hanlon, that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine in May 2013.

    Putting it briefly, I was told in two replies that I needed to supply "further information".

    I find this answer, how can one put this, unsatisfactory.

    Here is the exchange between myself and the MPS FoI unit: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/status_of_reported_activist_list#incoming-1154870
     
  2. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Maybe your request wouldn't be entirely clear to someone who had no understanding of the context?

    I suspect that there would be exemptions for the release of a list of names like this anyway, as presumably it would count as personal information for people whose names were listed. An alternative approach would be to request information about yourself, stating that information about such a list has been released to journalists and that you have reason to believe that your name is included on the list. Asking about this would get around the personal information exemption, and might provide another way for them to confirm or deny access to such a list.

    https://ico.org.uk/for-the-public/personal-information/
     
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  3. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Very fair point.
     
  4. Hip

    Hip Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    If you read this post and some of the discussion in that thread, it would seem that the ME/CFS activist list was likely compiled by Simon Wessely himself, rather than the police. This because Hanlon wrote in his article that the list "is at the disposal of the authorities". So that suggests Wessely may have compiled the a list, and the police may not have a copy of the list themselves.

    I remember reading that the list of activists was divided into three categories: militant, radical and active. The precise definitions of these categories I never saw, but I imagine that militant means someone who is aggressive and confrontational; radical means someone who has extreme or strongly opposing views; and active perhaps means they are an activist, but are not militant or radical.
     
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  5. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I'm not sure that I'd conclude that Wessely was behind the list, having gone over Hanlon's text again. Hanlon has been somewhat ambiguous but it looks to me that the most likely source of the list would be the MPS, although it's in no way conclusive.

    We know for a fact that social media is monitored, as that came out in the PACE FoI Tribunal two years ago (which I attended) and I know that Wessely's wife, at the very minimum, searches Twitter for mentions (as I had a tweet from her; the only way she could have discovered a mention was to search) but I see less proof in Hanlon's article that Wessely compiled a list. Although it wouldn't surprise me.
     
  6. Hip

    Hip Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    So how do you interpret the phrase "is at the disposal of the authorities". To me that says that the list has been compiled, and is available to authorities such as the police should they request it.

    It is also logical that Simon Wessely would be the best person to compile a list, as he reads the ME/CFS forums, and is probably familiar with the members who make lots of negative comments directed at him. Whereas if the police were to try to compile such a list, it would take hundreds of hours work, going through the long history of the forums.

    But I guess it is possible that the list may exist in police files somewhere.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
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  7. adambeyoncelowe

    adambeyoncelowe Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    So his wife cyberstalks people for any mention of her beloved? I'd be far more worried about that than a bunch of patients (rightly) getting angry at their mistreatment and how they've been fobbed off for decades.
     
  8. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Seeing as that article was trying to make 'activists' sound as scary as possible, my guess would be that the police had little interest in this 'militancy', and instead the list was just drawn up by researchers who mistake criticism for 'abuse' and then provided to some uninterested officer.
     
  9. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I'm assuming there is a list but bear in mind that Hanlon is dead so we simply cannot question him. If he was alive there's no suggestion that he'd enter into dialogue over such matters.

    The very existence of such a list was what I questioned the MPS over.

    As much as I do not trust Wessely, and I know that he is essentially the 'star' of the article, we have no definitive proof that he is the author of any such list. Doesn't mean to say that he's not responsible, mind you.

    According to Hanlon the MPS does have a unit to monitor such activism:

    "There is, I am told, a specialised unit at the Metropolitan Police dedicated to monitoring the threat"

    so it suggests to me, *if* Hanlon was correct, that the MPS would not be above spending a few hours compiling a list. Again, I'm not saying that they themselves did, it's just that it's almost being assumed that Wessely did. And we have no cast iron proof of that.

    Either way, and as much as I didn't trust Hanlon (he approached me for an interview for the article in November 2012 but I was, for once, wise enough to completely ignore him, not answering his email), I'm assuming that there is a list. We just have to fully confirm the existence of it. Easier said than done etc.

    A few questions would no doubt follow if we we able to get confirmation.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
  10. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Well, certain groups of people in this equation have recent history of exaggeration (wink emoji)
     
  11. Hip

    Hip Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    To be fair, when death threats are made, it's quite a serious situation. So I would not say Hanlon's article is an exaggerated one, although it unfortunately was one sided. The article did not touch upon the connection or collusion of Wessely, White and Sharpe with the disability insurance corporates — an industry which behaved absolutely immorally towards ME/CFS patients, and is as much to blame for the way ME/CFS has been dismissed as an "all in the mind" condition as Wessely and Co are.


    Regarding the list: the assumption may have been that the source of the death threats could have been one or more people who were criticizing Wessely and Co on the ME/CFS forums. I think that's why the list was drawn up. Although I think it more likely that sources might have been people who don't post, or rarely post, but who read all the criticism on the forums and got really incensed.

    When you have people marching and demonstrating on the streets for a cause, most people will be there on a peaceful basis, but you will always find a percentage who get so angry that they throw bricks through windows or set light to vehicles and so forth. It is an interesting to question whether such aggressive acts actually help or hinder the advancement of a cause. For example, did burning down buildings help advance the suffragette movement, or was that detrimental to their cause?


    Personally I have always admired activists of any sort who fight for a good cause; so I would feel flattered to be on any list of activists. Though perhaps not if I were classified as a militant or radical.
     
  12. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    But the accusation of death threats has never been proven.
     
  13. Hip

    Hip Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    So you genuinely think there's a possibility that Simon Wessely fabricated everything, and deliberately lied to the police about these death threats, and lied to the press as well? I find that vanishingly improbable.

    It's not only Wessely that received threats: so did Prof Myra McClure, one of the first researchers to publish a negative XMRV replication study:
    Certainly McClure did absolutely nothing to deserve that. She is a good virologist who was just doing her job.



    In any case, when it came to the PACE study FOI request tribunal, to the credit of that tribunal, White's efforts to try and portray the FOI request as the vexatious acts of ME/CFS activists failed, as the tribunal ruled that the FOI request should be granted. So in spite of these "activist" labels, the ME/CFS community were treated fairly.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
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  14. AR68

    AR68 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I'm saying that we have his word for it but no actual *proof*. I don't think there's anything irrational in stating that; it's perfectly logical.

    Anyone can claim they've had a death threat. I had a death threat over the phone thirty plus years ago but I have no proof that it happened so regardless of how many times I mention it, people would be entirely correct in not blindly assuming that I had had a threat given to me.

    I'm keeping an open mind at best.
    Just because somebody says something it doesn't mean it's the case. Perfectly normal.
     
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  15. April

    April Established Member (Voting Rights)

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    Didn't the Countess of Mar try to find out from the police about the so called threats to Wessely? Surely there would have been something in the news if anyone had been charged. He probably has had some unpleasant emails and so on but if anyone had been really threatening they would be in court. Let him show the evidence.
     
  16. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    It said death threats against researchers were common, presented that PACE recovery paper as 'ground-breaking' for showing CBT and GET provided the best hope for patients, leaves White to present FOI requests as a form of harassment, etc, etc... I'd say it's a propaganda piece.

    The only 'death threat' Wessely has described was his claim that someone said they wanted to cut his balls off. I don't know where Wessely went to school, but when I was growing up those sorts of common expressions were not viewed as serious threats of violence. I wonder what percent of people saying "I'm going to cut your balls off" actually leads to someones balls being cut off?

    The only direct quote of a threat we've ever seen was the e-mail to Crawley quoted in that article: "To those of you who are responsible for preventing us sick ME suffers from getting the help we need, wasting £5m on flawed bullshit and trying to discredit the real scientists who are trying to help us, you will all pay." She has used the 'you will pay' line as an example of a threat on BBC radio 4, so presumably it's about as good as an example as they've got. Clearly, it's stupid to send an e-mail like that, but at the same time, I hope that Crawley and her colleagues will have to pay a price for what they've done. [edit: And that is not a death threat!]

    Given the history of exaggeration and misrepresentation we've seen on this topic, I think it's fair for people to be sceptical of their unsupported claims of harassment and abuse. I'm sure that, out of the many people around the world who have been mistreated as a result of the work from Wessely and co, some will have responded badly, or those who care for them will have, but it's very difficult to know what that entailed. The minutes from their Science Media Centre meeting from immediately prior to this article were released via an FOI request, and show them claiming that it was 'vexatious' FOI requests that were the most serious form of harassment they faced - it seems clear that they viewed PACE critics like Matthees and Mitchell as the most threatening extremists, and that they were more scared of people debunking their work than their genitals being removed.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
  17. adambeyoncelowe

    adambeyoncelowe Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I've had death threats and abuse, and been physically assaulted. My mum was on Kombat 18's 'Red List' so we got racist death threats and silent phone calls when we were kids. It absolutely happens. But I still don't believe SW.

    The 'evidence' he provided in that Hanlon article was carefully curated excerpts from rather oblique insults and complaints online, plus an anecdotal quote of something said on the phone. None of those things on its own was a convincing threat, let alone a death threat.

    Maybe it did happen. But if it did, wouldn't we have stronger evidence than the artist's rendering from The Sunday Times?

    The world is full of idiots and trolls. People are rude and mean. But that doesn't make SW a victim.
     
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  18. adambeyoncelowe

    adambeyoncelowe Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Oh, and all this!
     
  19. Hip

    Hip Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    There is a difference between playground talk, and some stranger sending you an anonymous email making such threats. It could be an idle threat, or it could be someone with serious intent. You don't know. That's what makes such a threat effective: it creates worry because you don't know if it is serious or not.

    Prof Wessely had his mail X-rayed by security staff and has had panic buttons installed in his office and home. Cleary he was fazed.

    And let's be frank: ME/CFS we may class as a neurological diseases, but some ME/CFS patients do suffer from comorbid mental health problems; so that makes any death threat all the more worrying, as it may come from someone who is not thinking rationally anyway.



    Sure, but I don't think Simon Wessely would risk his reputation by publicizing in national newspapers that he received death threats if this was lie. These days lies have a habit of coming back to bite you on the bum, so I don't think any sensible person would make up such a story.

    To me his story sounds very plausible, especially given the way that electronic media have made death threats much more common. I would perhaps be more surprised if Wessely had not received email abuse and death threats.

    If you look at this article: "Sue Perkins, Zayn Malik, Tony Hall: how did death threats become so casual?" you see that death threats are par for the course in these days of electronic communications:
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
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  20. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    You're right that we don't know, and the context is important, but whenever we hear more context for the threats and harassment that they complain of, the more it seems that they have been spinning things to make it seem worse than it is.

    I certainly think it would be a mistake for anyone to assert that they have been lying, when we cannot know what has been going on behind closed doors, but I think that their history means it is reasonable to be sceptical of claims they make about abuse and harassment.
     
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