Homily #8: On the BBC

The BBC is the nation’s most irritating auntie. Unfortunately, as with most elderly relatives who haven’t used their brains in a while, she is already an advanced sufferer from senile dementia. Already we’re several years past its Guy Kewney moment, when it interviewed a clueless accidental imposter as if he was an expert and then carried on as if his nonsensical remarks carried some sort of weight. Despite the flaw in that formula being so hilariously revealed by the would-be taxi driver in the clip at the previous link, it has been routinely used ever since. Far too often our ‘news’ is little more than a competition to see how many different locations different employees of the Beeb can repeat exactly the same sentence from?

What about the costume and period drama? What indeed! The BBC’s output in this regard can hardly be described as worth the annual licence fee. We don’t see complex social dramas closely mirroring the world in which most of us actually live. Instead we are served dish after dish of propaganda richly suited to the people who can afford to water the grass on Eton’s playing fields. Downton Abbey had little to do with reality and everything to do with pretending the English Aristocracy had a noted kind streak. It was myth-making and not much more.

My house mates think the licence fee is excellent value for money. They say that Radio 4 alone is worth the entire sum. Arguing that our news would be completely skewed in favour of private interests but for the existence of a national independent broadcaster, they prefer to keep their favourite ancient relative, until she expires of natural causers. Better the auntie you know.

However, we could keep the licence fee and a national programme procurement panel and do away with the institution of the BBC. The money could then be spent on all sorts of independent talent, instead of frittered away on huge salaries for a handful of overpaid celebrities.

It’s the logical extension of the privatisation policy, so loved by all our established political parties. If all sorts of public utilities have to be rescued from state control, by what distinction does the BBC escape? Whereas I’m normally suspicious of privatisation ~ witness the sham sell-off/give away of the Royal Mail ~ in this case I can’t see how the service could be worsened by it. There would be more content providers competing for our public pound. Almost any blogger already rivals Jeremy Paxman when it comes to detailed scrutiny and analysis.

Progressives don’t like to hear this heretical talk. They imagine the Beeb as it once was, a bulwark against bullying politicians, a cultivator of independent thought and a badge of national pride. Unfortunately that reality departed quite a long time ago. These days, the BBC is little more than a nest of perverts now fearing mass prosecutions and other TV-types who no longer have to work for a living. The idea that the BBC gives voice to a spectrum of opinion which cover all sides of any debate is a complete and obvious nonsense. It speaks only for those who would pay its bill: the Tories, Labour, UKIP… the other parties are routinely mocked and ignored.

The BBC can’t last forever. If I were a betting man, I’d give it another decade at most. I reckon it will get a short extension to its charter and then puff, up and away it will go. Successful programme brands, the Doctor Whos of this world, will find private funding and carry on. The crap will get flushed away. Or go on YouTube.

Homily #7: On Walking

Scrapper Duncan's boots (c) 2011

We’ve Evolved To Walk

Almost all of us think we know how to walk to the car but not much farther. This isn’t walking, it is meat flapping about almost uselessly from one machine pod to another. If that sounds like you, ask yourself what purpose your body is for? Of course, it has several functions, all of them advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. The primary feature of humans is that we are walking creatures. It’s what we do.

When we walk further than to the car, our stride falls into a rhythm which marks time as a heartbeat describes a lifespan. At this point, most folk make a critical temporal mistake. They either dawdle like half-wits or charge along like the stragglers in the Brighton Marathon. Both approaches mess up a pedestrian’s meter. Think of walking like a metronome… with the ticks or the tocks the lefts or the rights. The trick is to set your pace consistently by setting off at the pace you know you will end in. Adopting this strategy enables more comfortable walking and much longer walks.

You might think that urban areas have been designed so as to facilitate walking. Flat, reliable surfaces and designated pavements abound. In fact, road geography is arranged for organisational convenience, not the fit to the human body. We are not designed to walk over smooth and even surfaces. We are meant, like kids not yet obsessed with our self-conscious nature, to swing our bodies around the obstacles before us. If you have a bad back you can contrast how a mile of pavement feels in comparison with a mile of field, or beach or untrod forest path. Curiously cycling is especially good for your lower back precisely because it throws your hips around in the manner of clambering over very rough ground.

We walk so little now that it is hard to buy footwear which can manage the strain. A little less than a year ago, I spent £110 in an alleged sale on some supposed top of the range trekking trainers manufactured under the North Face brand. They felt excellent and came with the assurance of Vibram soles. 99.99% of their use has been on the pavements of English towns and cities. Perhaps once I wore them on a muddy river bank.

Yet already they are worn smooth. I sat down and calculated how far I had walked in them. My daily travels average out at three miles a day. That’s a bit over a thousand miles of urban walking a year. Put like that, it sounds like quite a lot. Obviously the shoes could manage most of the shorter trails. Somehow I thought that I would get more than ten miles walking per pound of shoe.

A friend of mine makes bespoke shoes, which sell for three grand a pair (Cobbler Tim doesn’t get all of that). Notwithstanding vegetarian anxieties, anyone watching the video at that link must surely appreciate the craft. It speaks to us of the value of such precious tools as shoes. I wonder how many miles per pound Tim’s shoes can take?

In a world so dedicated to speed, walking slows us down. It strengthens the heart, stretches your muscles and forces fresh air into your lungs. What’s the furthest you’ve ever walked in a day? If the answer is less than thirty miles and you’re able-bodied and aged 18 or over, you’ve failed to experience the life handed down to you by your hunter-gatherer ancestors. Think on that, you have the power to change it.

Homily #6: On Dogs

Scrapper Duncan posing as a dog (c) 2014

the bark of quality

Man’s best friend has been his worthy companion for far longer than any relative, servant and/or agent of a monotheistic God. As relationships go, it is easily our longest with another species. These simple creatures provide much comfort, security and sociable opportunity. So it’s probably time to check in with that and see how it’s going. As someone who once advertised himself for work as a dog, I’m clearly the man for the job.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for dogs. Mao Tse-Tung ordered all dogs above a certain size to be killed in the late 1940s. Dogs were illegal in Reykjavík for decades. Not to mention the rigours faced by dog’s still wild cousins, the wolves. In some parts of the world dogs will cower if you raise your arms because they are used to having stones thrown at them, in others they submit to lowered arms due to the fear of getting thrashed with a stick.

In 21st Century Britain, our 10,500,00 dogs are dutifully walked, fed and watered. They have their place in the household pack and generally understand the deal. Yet when they take a shit, their master picks it up and pockets it. What goes through a dog’s mind during this rapid status shift can only be wondered at. Check out the look on the dog’s face when this happens in your nearby park.

That said, I doubt they care that their walkie treats may be kept in the same pocket. Once, in charge of a friend’s dog, my arrival at a pal’s house was made awkward by the dog eating all their used cat litter, then puking it up and having a second lunch on the remains. Another dog once ate an entire bed in a house I lived in. It was in a room we rarely entered. We didn’t realise that, over the course of a summer, the dog was slowly eating it, wooden frame, mattress, springs and all.

Personally, my conscience forbids the ownership of another sentient creature. It offends against my sense of self-respect. However, each to their own. If I were ‘forced’ to have a dog, I would happily take on a border collie. They are by far and away the most intelligent canine. The one I knew best was taught 300 or so of the 450ish commands it was capable of comprehending. Consequently any journey was kept up with ‘conversation’. Incredibly, Cico even mastered simple arithmetic up to the number seven, through variations on the game fetch a stick. Trouble was, he needed 25 miles a day to walk. Every day.

Not to mention the hassle of having to have them looked after every time you go away. The certain knowledge that your dog genuinely believes you have abandoned it once and for all. Imagine the stress that causes! If you were a real animal lover, you wouldn’t create that inexplicable separation. You wouldn’t allow any other ‘family member’ to believe you had simply forgotten about them and gone to live somewhere else!

That’s the bottom line. These are amongst the most convenient creatures in creation. We’ve fundamentally altered their journey through evolution, over tens of thousands of years, according to the archaeology but the relationship is still very much one of enslavement. We are the masters, the dogs our servants, at the risk of being Hegelian. If you cannot countenance owning another human being, why not extend that courtesy to all beings?

Homily #5: On Faith and Laughter

Portrait of Archbishop Scrapper Duncan in 2013

Archbishop Scrapper Duncan

Big topic this, too large even to discuss on East Sunday but I’ll have a go. Why not? If an Archbishop can’t talk about faith, who the hell can? I owe my position to our martyrs of yesteryear, whose faith was so powerful that they preferred death to its abandonment. I’m specifically referring to the Lewes Martyrs here. When Derrick Carver preached from the flames that consumed him, he became yet another refugee whose journey ended on these shores.

In a world with so much to be angry about, vile judgement and damnation abound. Here in Lewes, we ventilate these counterproductive covenants with formalised fires and obtain our cathartic release accordingly. Our commemorations remind us of all that is awful in conflict. Elsewhere, sadly, others practise the hatred for real. Thus, just this week, yet another political dispute in Ireland was settled with the barrel of a gun. Wherever you look, you see the seriousness of it all. These two unfortunate comparators are but a couple of bookends on the endless shelves of important disputes, which mark and define our community history. Oh dear, better not stray into Marxism, lest I fall to sin myself with the seriousness of it all.

When Plato described a perfect world as being ruled by philosophers who wished not to, he pictured Socrates drinking wine with his friends and putting the world to rights, instead of going into town for business. The resulting book, The Republic, forms a crucial bedrock for all Western-style neo-liberal democracies. Its reliance on the concepts of a professional technocratic class was a prerequisite for Kant’s redrafting of our sociological structure. These are weighty topics, no doubt. They make us question what our forebears believed in. Yet they were born out of good humour. Out of pub talk!

Arguments change us. We hear folk decrying this or proclaiming that and whether we like it or not, we are changed by these moments. For better or worse. Twitter et al are but manifestations of this permanent conversation, encircling us. In all the muddied waters of the debate, few seem able to fool about, to splash and make merry. Far more announce they have all the answers. So onwards we march, believing ourselves to be right, ever more stepping away from our social soul. We love Boris and, in his day, Ken, for their good sense of humour. We’re more likely to follow a great dinner conversation than a dusty monastic discourse.

When I was at school, I drew a picture of Jesus on the cross in the inside cover of my R.E. exercise book. JC was Morph, mid-change, asking, “Pass the gin!” The teacher went mad and ordered me to either “cover or obliterate this blasphemous image.” After a sharpened compass needle had done its work, not only was the image obliterated but so was most of the book and some of the desk underneath too. Admittedly, it wasn’t a very funny drawing but the destruction of art is a crime against everything heavenly.

Of course, at the time, nothing much turned on this incident. It was just another afternoon in the girl’s school which had decided to let boys in. What a hoot that was. I digress.

Without a sense of humour, without acceptance of mockery and satire, without being able to hear what we cannot contemplate, we cannot say what we believe in. We can only say what we are frightened of. What we cannot countenance. Therefore, there must be a close and natural relationship between faith and laughter.

Yet nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus laughed. Why not? As party tricks go, the water into wine is bound to get any crowd into good humour. I bet he had some good lines to go with that routine too. Definitely the bits about him cracking jokes and laughing at donkey gags have been left out, along with what must have seemed at the time to be irrelevant detail, like how often he brushed his teeth. The Old Testament is equally dry. It is a joke desert, apart from the reference to motorbikes: Moses triumphed over Israel.

Consequently, by far the greater part of Abrahamic theology is a comedy void. It has become irretrievably boring. It neither informs us how to live so many centuries after the Bronze Age, nor educates us for any useful tasks today. Imagine a world without laughter and you’ll be pretty close to the average religious seminary, inside and outside of Christendom. Having more gods or an extra prophet or two doesn’t create comedy. By the way, have you noticed that the Buddhists are equally boring?

Lovers of conspiracy theories overlook the grand unification of the great religious movements, their traditions of tedium and tired theologies. Sure, there are exceptions, Sufism, for example. They prove the rule of the humourless. It is a tyranny over our most treasured possession: our humanly nature, which loves and laughs and looks to the future.

Consider what makes a joke funny? We all laugh together when we ‘get it’. Simply, it is moments of revelation with easily understood and shared truths. A communion of enlightenment. All art speaks to the same aim. When it works, as with the Ennis and Dillon’s masterpiece, The Preacher, we grow spiritually from it. Modern faith falls down precisely because it struggles with such mockery.

Ironically, perhaps archeology will rescue theology. More than a century ago an ancient Egyptian rubbish dump was excavated at Oxyrhynchus. Although the original team found parts of what appeared to be an hitherto unknown Christian gospel (not yet added to the New Testament), the faded treasures were mostly indechiperable in the 1890s. Scanners and calligraphic pattern recognition software reveals the ancient papyrus to be mostly just laundry lists, saucy love letters and the like. Amongst another such heap, one of Aristotle’s lost works has been recovered, unseen since the fire in Alexandra’s legendary library. Who knows what else might be found? Perhaps a compendium of Jesus’s best jokes… did you hear the one about the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost… ?

Caroline Lucas MP found Not Guilty of s.14 Public Order Act 1986 & obstruction of the highway offences

Below this commentary (in italics) is the full text of the judgment in the trial of Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, and four others, who were charged with criminal offences contrary to section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 and wilful obstruction of the Highway contrary to Section 137 (1) of the Highways Act 1980. The trial lasted six days and this morning, to a packed public gallery, the District Judge in Brighton Magistrates’ Court, found all the defendants not guilty on all the charges. The Crown Prosecution Service did not ask for permission to appeal the verdicts.

The main evidential issue in the case was whether the defendants “knowingly” failed to comply with a condition imposed by Sussex Police. District Judge Pattinson observed that there was a great deal of noise at the scene, including shouting, chanting and the playing of musical instruments, which made oral communication difficult and the the police distributed Notices in a “somewhat casual manner”. Oddly, the CPS did not call any of the liaison officers, who distributed the notices, as witnesses. Essentially, the police evidence suffered from discrepancies with reality as recorded and shown in court in DVD footage. Consequently, the judge could not be certain about what the defendants knew. This begs the question as to why Sussex Police employ officers who are unable to recollect the facts of the events they took part in?

Crucially, the Section 14 Notice was issued by the Chief Constable of Sussex Police but the District Judge found that he lacked the legal power to issue the notice because the law required that the senior officer present to issue such notices. Some people have called this a technicality but that’s nonsense ~ there’s no point have detailed rules of law if we don’t stick to the detail.

Perhaps the most worrying part of this case, from a taxpayer’s point of view, is that Sussex Police appear to be unable to produce a map which anyone could be expected to understand. They gave some of the defendants a map which was orientated South to North, rather than the conventional North to South. Consequently, the court found that the map was inadequate and the conditions imposed under section 14 were inadequate. I learnt how to draw maps aged 14 in the Boy Scouts. Perhaps I should offer my services to the police?

Regarding the allegations of wilful obstruction of the highway, the CPS did not present any evidence of actual obstruction of any vehicle or person. This is a really basic error in case preparation. It’s the sort of mistake that you might expect an A-Level law student to make during a moot, not something we can tolerate in our public servants. My MP has been dragged into court on a charge which no evidence could be presented for. Why can’t Sussex Police or the CPS manage to marshall their evidence properly?



All five Defendants face identical charges and, in view of the amendments made to the charges, it is right that I set out the precise wording of those charges upon which I must return a verdict:-

1. On 19th August 2013 at Balcombe in the County of West Sussex you took part in a public assembly and knowingly failed to comply with a condition imposed under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, namely to assemble within a designated area so as not to be part of a public assembly across the entrance of the Cuadrilla site.

2. On 19th August 2013 at Balcombe in the County of East Sussex, without lawful authority or excuse, wilfully obstructed the free passage along a highway, namely B2036 London road contrary to Section 137 (1) of the Highways Act 1980.

I heard evidence and submissions in this case over six days from 24th to 28th March 2014 and on 17th April 2014. I wish to express my gratitude to all four advocates for the skill and clarity with which they have presented their arguments, both written and oral, in this difficult case. This Judgment will be relatively short which does not, in any way, indicate any lack of attention to the complexity of the legal submissions and evidence.

All five Defendants have pleaded Not Guilty to both charges. The prosecution bring the charges. They must prove all the elements of both offences beyond reasonable doubt (i.e. so that the court is sure). The onus is on the Crown because the Crown brings the charges. Put another way, in a criminal trial, the defence need prove nothing.

There is no dispute that all five Defendants were taking part in a public assembly. What is in dispute is that they “knowingly” failed to comply with a condition imposed. As a separate matter, the validity of the conditions and the validity of the Notice itself containing the conditions are both challenged by the defence.

This is not a trial about the rights and wrongs of the process of extraction of shale gas by fragmentation of rock (known as “fracking”) which was the subject of the defendants’ protest. I have already ruled that issues of climate change are irrelevant to the decisions I have to make in this trial. Having said this, I am
quite prepared to accept, having heard evidence from all five Defendants, that they are sincere and highly motivated in their commitment to the cause of reduction of carbon emissions.

With the exception of one Defendant who has a conviction for breach of the peace arising out of an incident in 2001 and one who has a caution for breach of section 14 notice, all the Defendants are of good character. I  accept in this case that a conviction which is more than 12 years old is irrelevant. Miss Jarman’s caution has some relevance but I note her explanation as to how it arose. All five Defendants have produced character witness evidence of the very highest order. The various character witnesses, including a number of prominent and well-known people, have all spoken of each individual Defendant’s impeccable character. There are a number of mentions of honesty, integrity, generosity, philanthropy and charity. It would be difficult to find a more impressive set of references. I give myself the usual direction that Defendants of good character are more likely than not to be truthful when giving evidence and less likely than not to commit criminal offences. However, I remind myself that, from time to time, people of impeccable character commit criminal offences.

Having made these preliminary observations, I now propose to examine the law and evidence on each of the two charges, reminding myself that I must consider the evidence against each defendant individually.

Section 14 Public Order Act (1986)

Section 14(5) Public Order Act (1986) provides that:-

“A person who takes part in a public assembly and knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed under this Section is guilty of an offence, but it is a defence for him to prove that the failure arose from circumstances beyond his control”.

I make the following preliminary observations which are relevant to all defendants in respect of the issues of knowledge and the defence set out in this section :-

1. There was a great deal of noise at the scene, including shouting, chanting and playing of musical instruments. This made oral communication difficult.

2. A police loudhailer announcement was made by Chief Inspector Beard. The defendants’ awareness of this ranged from  alleged absence of any knowledge (Miss Menon, Mr. Dobraszyk ) to some awareness of the fact of an announcement but an inability to ascertain what was being said ( Miss Potts, Miss Lucas).

3. DCI Betts also addressed the group orally.

4.  Notices were distributed, but distribution of Notices was carried out in a somewhat casual manner. No evidence was called from any of the liaison officers who purportedly served the Notices. The prosecution
evidence did not amount to what could be described as strict legal “service”, where a person is clearly identified and the server makes sure that the recipient acknowledges receipt.

5. I find that all the defendants were physically capable of moving to the designated area and none can put forward a defence that any failure to move “arose from circumstances beyond his (or her) control” (section 14(5)). Therefore, I will say nothing further about this defence.

6. Finally, I have decided, taking account of all the evidence, that it would not be appropriate to draw adverse inferences in respect of the four defendants who made no comment in interview.

I turn now to consider the individual defendants.

Josef Dobraszyk

PC Port’s evidence was that Mr. Dobraszyk was given a clear instruction to move to an area indicated by a row of officers. Mr Dobraszyk replied: “We shall not be moved” and was then formally arrested. His evidence was that he did not receive a Notice, did not know of the Notices and was not cautioned or arrested until he was in the police van. There was a discrepancy between the evidence of PC Port and that shown on the DVD footage.

My finding is that in the light of the DVD evidence, I am left uncertain about the precise words used by PC Port. This leads me to uncertainty about the extent of Mr. Dobraszyk’s knowledge. Mr. Dobraszyk was very clear in his evidence that he had no knowledge. On these facts, I find that he did not know of the Notice and, accordingly, I find him Not Guilty of the section 14 offence.

Shelia Menon

PC Dudson’s evidence was that her instruction to Miss Menon to move was unequivocal and was delivered from no more than 3 inches away from her ear, over her shoulder. Prior to this, PC Dudson said that she had seen Miss Menon being given a copy of the Notice.  PC Dudson said that she was sure that she had cautioned Miss Menon, as well as providing her with precise grounds of arrest. She said that she had pointed out the designated area. Miss Menon conceded that she “was aware that the police probably wanted us to move” but maintained that she was not aware of any specific instruction to move, let alone any section 14 Notice. She heard nothing from PC Dudson.

My finding is that the DVD evidence did not corroborate PC Dudson’s evidence; on the contrary, it cast doubt upon it. Any pointing out of the designated area was behind Miss Menon’s back and, in my view, not visible by her. I accept Miss Menon’s evidence of lack of knowledge and find her Not Guilty of the  section 14 offence.

Ruth Jarman

Miss Jarman’s evidence was that she did not hear anything about a section 14 notice, conditions or a designated area. In cross-examination, she conceded that she was aware that the police “didn’t want us to be there”, but repeated that she did not know about a designated area or, by implication, a section 14 notice. She also added that she did not “go out of my way to listen to the police”. I do not find this to be a case of wilful blindness.

PC Harris’ evidence of warning, caution, arrest and description of Miss Jarman were all shown to be inaccurate and unreliable in the light of cross-examination and the DVD evidence. Following Miss Jarman’s clear evidence of absence of knowledge, the prosecution have failed to satisfy me that Miss Jarman knowingly failed to comply with the conditions and I find her Not Guilty of the section 14 offence.

Ruth Potts

PC Harris said that he had required Miss Potts to move, followed by a warning about arrest. He said that he had knelt down behind Miss Potts and spoken to her over her shoulder. However, in cross examination he accepted that he could not remember the precise words used by him. He agreed that on the DVD his instruction was recorded as going “to the designated area which is not here”. Also, he accepted that the caution and precise words of arrest were not present on the DVD and that some of his words may have been directed to a woman other than Miss Potts. Again, there was a discrepancy between evidence given orally and what I saw and heard on the DVD.

Miss Potts acknowledged that she was aware of a police loudhailer being used but said that it was very difficult to ascertain what was being said because of the general noise level. She accepted that she had been given a piece of paper but did not understand what it was or why she had been given it. She said that she was told nothing about arrest except a warning that she might be arrested. She was not given any caution or warning that force would be used.

Did she wilfully turn a blind eye to the obvious? From considering all the evidence, my findings are that this was not a case of wilful blindness but rather a genuine lack of knowledge. Miss Potts was, of course, the first to be arrested.

If I am wrong on the question of knowledge, I find that “failure to comply” must require a concluded and final decision which must follow the granting of a reasonable period of time for reflection and comprehension (possibly, involving discussion with others) which I find, on the facts of this case, was not provided.

Therefore, I find Miss Potts Not Guilty of the section 14 offence.

Miss Caroline Lucas

In her police interview, Miss Lucas accepted that she knew of the fact of the Notice but not of its contents. In evidence, she accepted that she had briefly scanned it, found it to be incomprehensible and then put it to one side intending to consider it carefully later. She said that it was then lost when a banner was unfurled. She was distracted by the arrest of her son and the obvious pain being caused to him during his arrest. She had no idea where the designated area was.

My finding on these facts was that the prosecution have failed to satisfy me that Miss Lucas did  have  the requisite knowledge. I also find, on these facts, that there is insufficient proof of failure to comply.

It follows that I find Miss Lucas Not Guilty of the section 14 offence.

Accordingly, all 5 defendants are Not Guilty of the  section 14 charge.

Before turning to the Highways Act charge, it is right that I give some consideration to the arguments put forward by the defence regarding the validity of the Notice. In view of my decisions above, this has little relevance but it is right that I set out my views.

All five Defendants submit that the Section 14 notice is invalid in that:-

1. The Police Officer giving the directions contained in the Notice was not authorised to do so.

2. Even if he was authorised to do so, he exercised his discretion wrongly in making a direction in this case and

3. The conditions within the Notice are so vague and unclear as to be meaningless.

Section 14 ( 2 ) defines the “senior police officer” entitled to make the directions as being:-

“a.   In relation to an assembly being held, the most senior in rank of the police officers present at the

b.    In relation to an assembly intended to be held, the chief officer of police”.

Deputy Chief Constable York is the senior police officer who authorised the Notice in this case. He was deputising for the Chief Constable who was away on holiday on 16th August 2013. Deputy Chief Constable York was clearly acting as the Chief Constable. The Notice clearly states that he was “having regard to the time and place and circumstances in which a public assembly is being held”. If an assembly “is being held”, a Notice may be given by no-one other than “the most senior in rank of the police officers present at the scene.” Whilst Deputy Chief Constable York had been present at the scene at some point, it is not submitted by the Crown that he was present at the scene when the Notice was authorised.

Deputy Chief Constable York’s evidence was that the Notice was necessary because of an assembly “intended to be held” (i.e. in the future). His evidence was that between 1,500 and 2,000 people were expected to arrive at the Cuadrilla site as members of the Climate Camp. He was aware that there was already an assembly in place. He took the view that the issuing of a Notice would provide a tactical option in the event of a change in the nature of the assembly. Although there had been substantial numbers present in the past (for example a very large choir), he was concerned about what he described as “a different type of protester”.

My finding is that the Notice made by Deputy Chief Constable York is clearly in anticipation of an important change in the nature of the assembly in the future. The conditions use the future tense (“the assembly will be confined to”…  ” this will allow”…..) However, this does not necessarily mean that he had power to authorise the Notice.

What is the position when a small or peaceful assembly is already in place but a large and possibly violent contingent are expected to attend in the future?  It could be argued that the Senior Officer at the scene (rather than the Chief Constable) should authorise any Notice. Is this practicable when the nature of the disturbance is clearly anticipatory rather than actual? Counsel for the defence suggest that the question which should be asked is, “Which assembly do the police intend to impose conditions upon?” and then apply the legislation accordingly in order to ascertain the identity of the officer empowered to authorise the Notice.  I agree.  It seems to me that, on the evidence heard, this question was not asked. Had it been, the answer would have been, “The present assembly is to be augmented by a large number of other people joining”. Therefore, the Notice should have been authorised by the senior officer present and not the Chief Constable.

I find that Deputy Chief Constable York was not authorised to make a Notice in the particular facts of this case.

Next, I have to consider whether the conditions imposed by him were reasonable in all the circumstances. Did he “reasonably believe” that the future assembly may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property, serious disruption to the life of the community or intimidation of others?

The words “serious” in Section 14 (1) (a) are inserted for a reason. If a police officer merely believed that public disorder, damage or disruption (which were not serious) were anticipated, there would be no ground for approving a Notice.

Deputy Chief Constable York’s evidence was that he believed that there could have been a serious possibility of serious disorder and significant disruption to the community. He said that this was based upon the information given to him and knowledge from previous Climate Camps. He added that some delivery drivers had refused to enter the site because of perceived intimidation and workers had been intimidated. He had real concerns about serious damage to property in view of the protection around the site being of a temporary nature and more susceptible to danger.

I find that Deputy Chief Constable York had considered the risks carefully and was mindful of the need to facilitate lawful and meaningful protest, whilst balancing this against the requirements of public safety. It is always difficult to estimate precisely the degree of damage, disorder or disruption likely to be caused by a future event. I find that he did his best to exercise his discretion fairly and reasonably. However, in the facts of this case, I have very real concerns that there were grounds for reasonable belief that a future assembly may result in the serious consequences envisaged by section 14.  Again, I am left unsure.

The conditions within the Notice are set out in detail and run to 12 lines. The conditions refer to the “northern most edge of the driveway to the Cuadrilla site, Lower Stumble Farm (Wood)” and “the southernmost edge of the driveway leading to Kemp Farm Industrial Park”. The designated area is shown on what appears to be a colour aerial photograph on the reverse of the notice (exhibit 6). The area is shown with a thick white outline. The prosecution accept that none of the Defendants was offered a compass and that the “map” is orientated south/north rather than the usual orientation for maps of north/south.

My finding is that the conditions are lacking in clarity and that the map is inadequate. If criminal prosecutions for failure to comply are envisaged (as they must have been in this case) it is imperative that conditions are clear. These conditions are not clear.

In short, I have such concerns about  the Notice on the particular facts of this case that I find it to be  invalid. This has limited relevance  in view of my acquittal of all defendants on the grounds of lack of knowledge; it would be relevant only if my findings on the latter were found to be at fault..

Obstructing the highway

I turn now to the charge of obstructing the highway. Under the offence created by the Highways Act, the onus is on the prosecution to prove that the Defendants were obstructing the highway without lawful authority or excuse.

All the defendants accept that they were sitting on the ground of the driveway to the Cuadrilla site. They accept that this was a highway. I must decide whether I am sure that this was an offence contrary to section 137 Highways Act (1980). The test I must apply is whether what the defendants were doing was unreasonable, having regard to all the circumstances including position, duration and purpose and whether it caused an actual, as opposed to a potential obstruction. The onus is on the prosecution to prove that the defendants were obstructing the highway without lawful authority or excuse. The right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR is not a “trump card” to authorise any protest but it is, nevertheless, a significant consideration to take into account when considering the reasonableness of any obstruction.

I did not hear evidence of actual obstruction of any vehicle or any person.  The road adjoining the Cuadrilla site was partially closed (to the north) in any event. There was reference to the possibility of obstruction to emergency vehicles but no evidence of any actual obstruction. All the defendants said that they would have moved if it had been necessary to permit access to emergency vehicles. None of these 5 defendants was “locked on” to each other or to any object. I readily accept (as stated above) that all of the defendants could have moved if they had chosen to do so.

However, reminding myself of the standard of proof and the legal test for obstruction of the highway, my decision is that I do not find that there was an “obstruction” in law in this case. The obstruction was temporary in nature. No vehicle was obstructed. The road to the north was closed in any event and the defendants were in the driveway as opposed to the main carriageway.

Therefore, on these facts, I am not satisfied to the criminal standard that any of the defendants is guilty of this offence and I formally find each one Not Guilty.

Dated   17th    April  2014




No ticket to ride with Sussex Police for the fascist March for England

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012Sussex Police have revealed that they will not be paying for coaches for “groups” travelling into Brighton for the March for England on St George’s Day (27th April). For “groups“, read: fringe fascists loosely connected with what’s left of the English Defence League. People like those photographed here (from their 2012 day out at the seaside). People too disreputable even to make it into UKIP ~ although they do try and have had to be specifically banned from membership. This is the sixth year they’ve brought their brand of xenophobia to spoil our normally loved up seafront.

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012It has been nationwide police practice to provide coaches for far-right organisations to protest in our city centres. They wave a practice manual at you, if you ask, which officialises this policy. Public policy and Human Rights mean that the police must facilitate public protest, so the argument goes. Therefore, when a few face a crowd of thousands of jeering, booing, overwhelmingly hostile locals, the few fascists require protection. So far, so good. However, when the protection is extended to transport, it is our taxes being spent helping the far-right travel to protest. It is a ticket too far.

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012For the first few years, Brighton’s visiting Englanders tagged along with some other event and destroyed it along the way. Then they launched their own version three years ago. Consequently hundreds of people turned up to show their deep and heartfelt opposition against them. The police rounded up the enraged locals into a number of fiercely contested kettles. The fascists were encouraged to go for a beer and then allowed to go on the rampage.

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012The following year, Sussex Police took a different approach. Interventions by a broad range of public figures, including the local MP, Caroline Lucas, worked. The police agreed not to kettle those united against fascism. The resulting March for England was cut rather short, not far down Queen’s Road, when a number of particularly small, skinny and generally weedy looking twenty something anarchist types kept getting under the hooves of the police horses. Say what you like about the black bloc, they are brave.

I confess I used to parade myself on St George’s Day, around Brighton. For my sins, I was in the Boy Scouts. Although my folks teased me at the time, saying the Hitler Youth League was modelled on the Scouts, huge crowds of counter-protesters didn’t rain contempt on our parade. It just wasn’t that kind of day out. I’ve no idea how many kids are in the local Scouts these days or whether they could muster as many as we had in our ranks. Certainly, they’d like to carry on. Last year they decided to postpone their annual event, again, lest their flags somehow got conflated with the March for England’s.

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012Last year, Sussex Police thought that they had cracked the problem by providing transport for the March for Englanders, into Brighton. The usual 100 or so marchers confronted the usual vast crowd of complainants by parading up and down Marine Parade. I contacted the coach company to ask them if they knew that their bus was being used to transport people promoting politics not dissimilar to Adolph Hitler. They said that they did not. Apparently they contacted Sussex Police to inform them that they did not want that kind of work again. After their parade, most of the visiting protesters (only eleven or so live in Brighton) declined the coach back to the secret rendezvous point. They preferred to maraud around town, looking for beautiful people to beat up. The police declined to stop this general affray because, “the march is finished, the operation is over” and “we can’t force people to travel on our coach.” At least that’s what their officers on the ground said.

This year, it sFascist marching in Brighton, 2012eemed prudent to ask Sussex Police, in advance, to name the coach company it would be using. We’ll skip the prevarication involved. The estimable @MrDrem made the relevant Freedom of Information requests, in so doing persuading the police to accept FoI requests via twitter. A couple of days ago, Brighton & Hove Bus company was named but it turned out that they have only got the gig to transport the police about. One hurried apology later and it turns out that there are no plans to bus the little Englanders anywhere.

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012So there’s a public health warning out for Brighton on 27th April 2014. If you were thinking of a nice day out at our legendary seaside, it’s probably best not to bother. That’s because Sussex Police, in collaboration with ‘their partners’, have decided that you, the cash rich tourist, the Boy Scout or the seafront business owner are less important than a tiny and rather tawdry gaggle of brutish left-behinds, whose arrival will inevitably lead to the closure of the town centre for most of the day. They spent £500,000 facilitating this closure last year. Er, … you will see us at our outspoken best. Do try not to get caught up in the evening’s running battles!

Fascist marching in Brighton, 2012Last year Sussex Police were kind enough to answer a bunch of questions I posed about the March for England. They were pretty sketchy about which other venues were considered. Preston Park is often used for large scale crowd events. It is near a train station, it is close to the city centre and experience shows that it is easy to fence off. Furthermore, lots of police vans could be parked all around it and there are big fast access roads. It is a far better location to protect a few EDL stragglers from a few thousand counter-demonstrators. Apparently this year the police considered forcing the fascists up onto Kemptown Racecourse but dismissed the idea. Another wasted opportunity. The Boy Scouts could have had their parade back, on the day they’ve marched for decades. The tourists could have swanned about town spending their cash and our town centre businesses could have a break.

Further Information: Unite Against Fascism, Brighton Anti-Fascists; Twitter Hashtag: #StopMfE

Join UKIP without knowing what you’ve agreed to

UKIP’s website is a bit of a mess. There’s no search bar, no conspicuously placed cookie warning as required by the law since May 2011 and no warning when a link will take you to an external site. It’s hard to believe that none of their 45,000 members have any web design skills. It’s easier to imagine that the typical UKIP member doesn’t care that much about helping people find information, complying with UK law or basic politeness. Unfortunately, the problems do not stop there.

Let’s imagine that you want to join UKIP. The website hasn’t put you off, you reckon you could swig ale on expenses with the worst of them and want to poke The Establishment in its eye by promoting a privately educated rich man who avoids tax. You go to their website and complete the form, below.

Screen dump of UKIP's online membership application form

UKIP’s online membership application form ~ click to enlarge

You notice that the box marked, “To receive regular email updates from UKIP…” is pre-ticked for your convenience. Then you notice the box below, which requires you to tick it. It asks you to declare:

  • “I am not and have never been a member of the British National Party, National Front, British Freedom Party, British People’s Party, English Defence League, Britain First or the UK First Party.”
  • that you agree “To abide by the UKIP Constitution and the Terms and Conditions of Membership”

Let’s assume that you push worries about why the party of your choice feels the need to exclude, by specific reference, people who have previously been members of fascist parties. Of course, you’d rather that communists, anarchists and other fellow troublemakers were specifically excluded too. You may comfort yourself with the certainty that those brigands, ne’er-do-wells and general wrong-’uns are unlikely to consider joining UKIP.

You’re a stickler for reading the rules, so you click the link which which explains what you’ve agreed to. It’s a broken link. Remember, this is a link to within UKIP’s own website, not to some external site which has moved its web address. This is the place that UKIP advertises its internal rules. It didn’t exist all day today. Instead, we got this:

Screen dump of UKIP's website showing a blank page where the party's constitution should be

UKIP’s constitution is not for public consumption ~ click to enlarge

What’s the legal consequence of this? It’s a bit like signing a form which you haven’t read. The basic rule is that you have agreed to what you didn’t read. Of course, with the form you could have read it. With UKIP’s constitution and membership rules, you cannot. If it exists, it isn’t available publicly. So you can join but you can’t find out what you’ve agreed to. Ironically, that’s what UKIP say about the EU.

Update on 17th April 2014: UKIP has now published its constitution. Thanks to the commenter below who informed me of this yesterday.

Brighton & Hove City Councillors: the good, the bad and the known unknowns

Well done to Jack for correctly guessing all the correct answers in last month’s political who’s who quiz for Brighton & Hove City Council. Here’s the names to go with the faces. I’m told that some of the older councillors are rather pleased with my soft satires because they have lost their wrinkle lines. When I heard that I almost felt sorry for them but, in a flash, I remembered that they are thieving Tory bastards. Then I felt a sharp pang of guilt. Had I flattered them with my art? You decide:

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Ania Kitcat (c) MArch 2014

1. Ania Kitcat ~ known for (a) refusing to reply to correspondence and referring people to her husband, the City Council Leader, Jason Kitcat; (b) turning up to meet protesters, who were trying to save a tree, wearing a fur hat, despite being a Green Party councillor; and (c) cracking the best political joke ever told in a meeting of Brighton & Hove City Council.

Amy Kennedy, a Brighton & Hove City Councillor, (c) Scrapper Duncan, March 2014

2. Amy Kennedy ~ one of the rare examples of a genuinely hard working politician. She overdid it, caught tuberculosis and nearly died. Luckily she is very much back in the land of the living but not in the political sense. She only retains her seat on the City Council because Caroline Lucas begged her to avoid another by-election.

Alan Robins, Brighton & Hove City Councillor (c) Scrapper Duncan, March 2014

3. Alan Robins ~ although resembling Jeremy Paxman in cartoon form, the real Mr Robins will not be appearing on a television screen near you any time soon. Or any other media. Or in print, unless it is produced and paid for by the Labour Party. You are unlikely to hear about him ever again.

Alex Phillips, a Brighton & Hove City Council (c) March 2014

4. Alex Phillips ~ Brighton’s most famous angry young woman, this intellectual is feted as a future leader of the Green Party, feared by her political rivals and envied by knitters everywhere for her ability to produce a complex crochet pattern whilst comprehending the intricacies of the most obscure corners of Green political debate.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Warren Morgan (c) March 2014

5. Warren Morgan ~ he leads the Brighton & Hove Labour Party in much the same way that Thatcher led the country: whether they like it or not.


6. Vanessa Brown ~ unremarkable

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Tony Janio (c) March 2014

7. Tony Janio ~ the darling of the local Conservative Party, as flamboyant as a funny hatstand, he catches the eye at the first glance but not in a good way. Locked into a love/hate relationship with Christopher Hawtree (see below).

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Sven Rufus (c) March 2014

8. Sven Rufus ~ won the worst ticket in the last local elections, which obliged him to pretend that he could work with Christina Summers (see below). Hugely respected, hard working, modest and in favour of sheep.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Sue Shanks (c) March 2014

9. Sue Shanks ~ very capable of repeating advice received from others, diligent and rather right-wing.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Stephanie Powell (c) March 2014

10. Stephanie Powell ~ noted for her skill in handling those interminably boring residents meetings. There isn’t an argument over parking charges which hasn’t entered her dreams.


11. Jeanne Lepper ~ a proper old school Labour attack dog. There’s no need to trouble Ms Lepper with the facts or even ask her to read anything for herself, just complain to her how upset you are about something and she’ll launch herself at your opponent, teeth bared, snarling and hungry for flesh wounds.


12. Ruth Buckley ~ is so radical that even hardened tree-huggers would find her ideological purity quite frightening, were she not also utterly charming. Oh dear, I’ve said it in public now.


13. Leigh Farrow ~ do not ask him for help if you are unemployed because he says he represents “the hardworking people of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.”

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Ollie Sykes (c) March 2014

14. Ollie Sykes ~ a man very ready to have someone else put his name to a press release, thus proving that there is political credence in style triumphing over substance.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Lizzie Dean (c) March 2014

15. Lizzie Dean ~ the proverbial sack of potatoes, she was only elected because (a) the Greens were enormously popular locally (b) she represented the party in its safest seat.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Mike Jones (c) March 2014

16. Mike Jones ~ personally responsible for 60% of the pictures of cats on the internet. If the Animal Liberation Front didn’t exist, this man would invent it.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Lynda Hyde (c) March 2014

17. Lynda Hyde ~ Hyde by name, hide by nature. No meaningful contribution to City life whatsoever.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Phelim Mac Cafferty (c) March 2014

18. Phelim Mac Cafferty ~ would be leadership material if only he was capable of making a decision, prior to the deadline for deciding such things. Not after. [Update, next day: Phelim Mac Cafferty launched his leadership campaign a week late last year, this year's he's in time and a real official candidate] Please note he looks nothing like this cartoon. He is really difficult to draw with my blunt tools.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Leo Littman (c) March 2014

19. Leo Littman ~ considers being hoodwinked by bureaucrats whilst drinking lots of coffee with them, ‘hard work’. Noted for being a true born and bred Brightonian, as much loved by the local Tories. Requires advance notice of questions involving figures, otherwise he will claim that he didn’t expect, “to go into that level of detail.”

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Penny Gilbey (c) March 2014

20. Penny Gilbey ~ officially restricts herself to the modest ambition of raising “awareness of Portslade.” That’s somewhere to the West of Hove.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Les Hamilton (c) March 2014

21. Les Hamilton ~ favours devolution for Portslade!

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Mary Mears (c) March 2014

22. Mary Mears ~ rumours that her hobby is pulling the legs off spiders are completely untrue.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Mo Marsh (c) March 2014

23. Mo Marsh ~ remains a Labour councillor because she doesn’t know what else to do any more.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Ken Norman (c) March 2014

24. Ken Norman ~ yet to discover the internet, telephone answering machines and the biro.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Liz Wakefield (c) March 2014

25. Liz Wakefield ~ happier spray painting hippy slogans on the top of nuclear bomb silos than with the humdrum life of a councillor.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Bob Carden (c) March 2014

26. Bob Carden ~ considers the site of a new bus stop as his personal political triumph.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Christopher Hawtree (c) March 2014

27. Chris Hawtree ~ noted for his unusual rhetorical techniques, his obsession with Tony Janio (see above) and for hanging a sign over his toilet door with a Janio’s name on it.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Brian Pidgeon (c) March 2014

28. Brian Pidgeon ~ is only a councillor because the Tories couldn’t find anyone else to stand in his seat and spent months promising him he wouldn’t have to do anything.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Christina Summers (c) March 2014

29. Christina Summers ~ expelled from Green Group of councillors for voting against gay marriage rights despite promising to promote them and also for picketing an abortion clinic. Sits as an independent. Retains Green Party membership. God botherer.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Rob Jarrett (c) March 2014

30. Rob Jarrett ~ tired of the barricades, thrilled by the corridors of power

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Emma Daniel (c) March 2014

31. Emma Daniel ~ the City’s foremost self-publicist. Bland. Tribal. Ambitious.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Graham Cox (c) March 2014

32. Graham Cox ~ a copper who climbed the greasy career pole and then couldn’t cope with retirement so he became a councillor instead

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Anne Meadows (c) March 2014

33. Ann Meadows ~ a former Mayor who helped herself to a gift she wasn’t entitled to

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Dawn Barnett (c) March 2014

34. Dawn Barnett ~ persistently campaigned against Travellers and argued that shops should be allowed to sell golliwog dolls

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Geoffrey Theobald (c) March 2014

35. Geoffrey Theobald ~ other councillors routinely used to vote him extra time to talk because they enjoyed silently laughing at his idiotic remarks. Famous for frequently ending a different sentence from the one he started.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Bill Randall (c) March 2014

36. Bill Randall ~ an ex-bare knuckle boxer, he’ll go ten rounds with anyone. Real politics unknown. Tribal. Hates his previous party, Labour, with visceral passion.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Dee Simpson (c) March 2014

37. Dee Simpson ~ Notable for nothing.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Anne Pissaridou (c) March 2014

38. Anne Pissaridou ~ nothing to see here.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Jayne Bennett (c) March 2014

39. Jayne Bennett ~ a loyal Tory

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Denise Cobb (c) March 2014

40. Denise Cobb ~ lots of tweets, nothing to say

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Brian Fitch (c) March 2014

41. Brian Fitch ~ talks the talk of Old Labour, walks the New Labour walk.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Gary Peltzer (c) March 2014

42. Gary Peltzer ~ Unremarkable.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Ian Davey (c) March 2014

43. Ian Davey ~ single-handedly responsible for 20mph speed limits and top of the range cycle lanes.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Ann Norman (c) March 2014

44. Ann Norman ~ another ex-Mayor with little to say.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Geoffrey Bowden (c) March 2014

45. Geoffrey Bowden ~ doesn’t actually look that much like the current Pope! On the Right of the Green Party. Witty in the way that only the wealthy can be.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Ben Duncan (c) March 2014

46. Ben Duncan ~ the most radical councillor in the country! Member of a non-existent running club. Without this man, the Brighton Argus would have virtually nothing to write about. Often it just republishes his blog verbatim, without permission. Personally responsible for hounding Sussex Police into actually prosecuting those breaking the Hunting Act.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of David Smith (c) March 2014

47. David Smith ~ who he?

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Gill Mitchell (c) March 2014

48. Gill Mitchell ~ Bland and boring.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Carol Theobald (c) March 2014

49. Carol Theobald ~ the Tories’ political equivalent of Ania Kitcat: she votes the way her husband tells her to and lets him handle the correspondence too.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Jason Kitcat (c) March 2014

50. Jason Kitcat ~ Currently the Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council. Technocrat. For some reason my computer insisted on making his cartoon bigger than anyone else’s. Exceptionally handsome. If I was gay, I would seduce Jason Kitcat. His being Catholic and married wouldn’t stop me. Hell, it would it make it more fun!

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Andrew Wealls (c) March 2014

51. Andrew Wealls ~ pew filler, just there to make up the numbers.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Geoffrey Wells (c) March 2014

52. Geoffrey Wells ~ another politician with nothing to say

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Pete West (c) March 2014

53. Pete West ~ despite being the first elected Green in the country, he has successfully completed the journey from comrade to colleague. Known for shouting at Green Party meetings, especially about topics already debated and decided.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Chaun Wilson (c) March 2014

54. Chaun Wilson ~ elected in a blaze of publicity, quiet ever since.

The day I walked towards gunfire

Walking West Harting Downs before sunrise, midwinter 2007

Before sunrise, midwinter 2007

The Winter Solstice of 2007 was a beautifully cold and quiet day, which found me yet again walking alone, along the South Downs Way. Freezing fog enveloped Harting Downs, planting icicles in my beard and blinding the path ahead. It was a day for steady steps, solitude and contemplation, according to my plan.

The plan was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. I’m no expert in weaponry but the rapidity of each round sounded more like shotguns than rookies. It was difficult to tell from which direction the noise came from and impossible to tell what direction they were shooting in.

Surely they would know that there was one of England’s most famous long distance paths in their vicinity? Although I could be certain no-one else was walking it that day, I began to ponder whether they would consider the possibility that there was at least one wanderer along the Way.


Whenever the fog lifted, so did the sound of shotguns

I walked on. What else could I do? Whichever direction I chose, I could be walking nearer to the firing. Spending the rest of the afternoon lying down on the frozen ground wasn’t an option. I peered into the crystals hanging in the air and peeled back my ears.

The gunfire abated. A few more minutes silence. Then it started again, much louder. Obviously I was walking towards it. What to do? I wanted to walk to Eastbourne, not turn back to Winchester. This was already my 6th attempt at the adventure. I kept walking.

Soldiers have to be trained to be calm when approaching battle. Had anyone seen me that day, I may have displayed a military grade discipline. Inside, I was in torment. To go on? Was this going to be my shortest day?

After another half an hour, the reports were very close indeed, echoing around the woodland. Then they paused again. I called out, lamely, a ‘hello’. Several times. No reply came. I walked on. Then the infernal sound began again, so close I could smell the cordite.

The unseen ghosts of archaic midwinter rituals surrounded me and loosed their anger against unknown victims. I began to wonder whether they even cared about hitting any target. How on earth could they see what they were doing? Despite my turmoil, I never quickened my pace. This journey was an act of faith in rights of way. How very different from a previous life-threatening situation a few years earlier, when I’d actually prayed for salvation.

Peculiarly, as the firing passed behind me, I calmed. The direction you get shot from isn’t relevant to the injury you receive, yet somehow walking slowly away from the madmen felt better than walking towards them.

At Cocking Down the fog’s fierceness settled a little. Leaving the trees behind, I descended towards the village. Two bright lights appeared in the distance. They turned out to be a landrover’s. It drove gently towards me. At the last minute it turned right through a gap in the fence and parked in the field on my left. Two more landrovers behind it followed.

Jacketed men got out, each with a shotgun limp over their arm. They all wore ear defenders. Shouting for their attention was futile. On the other side of a fence, they trudged no more than three feet away from me, in the opposite direction. Not one ever glanced in my direction. They were too busy passing large hip flasks around.

Then the shooting began again. I walked away. Slowly.

Will the real Satoshi Nakamoto please sit down?

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of the alleged founder of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto

One Mr Nakamoto’s private life no longer exists

A classic drama of the modern age played out this week when a man called Dorian S Nakamoto denied he was the Satoshi Nakamoto sought by the world’s media. It was a hypester’s wet dream, with old media salivating over the creators of the new. Newsweek relaunched its print edition on the back of the tale. Nakamoto the Denier is a modest looking 64 year old living in California. Accused of being the creator of bitcoin, he played his part in the theatre beautifully, declaring,

“I’m not involved in bitcoin. Wait a minute, I want my free lunch first. I’m going with this guy, I’m not in bitcoin, I don’t know anything about it.”

Then he off to lunch with a Japanese speaking journalist, with all the pack in pursuit. Then it turned out the whole thing was a misunderstanding, that something had been added in translation.

Who gives a toss who invented bitcoin? The point is that it exists. Anyone who wants to know about it has ample opportunity to read up on its history, discover its implications and pore over its recent headline grabbing moments. Like any new currency, its had its fair share of issues. Whether it will survive or prove to be fatally flawed, codally speaking, remains to be seen.

How long will we have to suffer these pointless reports? How long before old media accepts that we don’t want to watch a tv report which begins with a headline, followed by the headline repeated once by a newsreader, then twice by a reporter at some random location and a fourth time by the newsreader. How long will we have to endure established news corporations reporting the relevant hashtags on social media as if they somehow have a working relationship?

Mistakes occur with both old and new media. What new media gives us is detail and up to the moment reportage. If you want a blow by blow live account of the latest terrorist mass shooting in America, you turn to Twitter. CNN will be at least one hour behind. If you want to listen to the turn of the genuine political debate on the streets of Bejing, you turn to Weibo, which will tell you stuff that China Daily News won’t even acknowledge. Only you’d better be quick because that state’s censors will catch up within about an hour and delete the taboo conversations.

The idea that dozens of press people cold-calling on an elderly man and pursuing him down the street, without even a sliver of a suggestion that he has done anything wrong, is somehow morally acceptable by old media. None of the old titles are exempt, even the immaculately smug Guardian, now breaking into the US market, gleefully presented a video of Nakamoto the Denier locking up his front door and having to struggle for space to plant his feet on the pavement. Journalists even have a self-deprecating name for that behaviour: monstering. When the monster sets off flash guns in their victim’s face so as to swifly afterwards obtain a picture of someone looking disorientated and ugly, that is called “hosing them down“. In any other context, these people would likely find themselves on charges of harassment and, very likely, worse. Conspiracy to assault springs to mind. Yet this is their stock in trade.

We’ll have to suffer these non-stories, these public outrages and the general delay so long as our population retains its current older generation. The people who will not or cannot use computers. We cannot cut off their news service just yet. It’s just not fair. However, one day we’ll realise that the only people offline are the genuine refuseniks. Will new media then romanticise the old and speak of it fondly? Our memories are short. Perhaps in a decade or two, we’ll be making dramas about the noble work conducted under fire in places like Murdoch’s propaganda factories. I hope not. It’s a nasty business, dedicated to abuse, and we’re better off without it.