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Attempted Termination of Real Whitby: Update
Regular readers of Real Whitby will know that on the 28th of March, Scarborough Borough Council wrote to our Internet Service Provider demanding that they to terminate our website hosting service. Three contributors to the site, including myself, were also threatened with legal action on the same day, also over allegations of wrongdoing that SBC has not specified. This was done without any prior warning or any previous complaint to Real Whitby.
On the 31st of March, Real Whitby wrote to Scarbrough Borough Council, asking it to specify which articles it objected to and why, so we could consider any complaint and the possibility of resolving this by issuing a correction, retraction or apology. Twenty one days has elapsed and we have not had any substantive response.
I am therefore writing with an update on my original article on this attempt by Scarborough Borough Council to arbitrarily impose press censorship.
It appears that Real Whitby’s offer to resolve things amicably is being ignored. Accordingly, I have written to all of the present 48 Scarborough Borough Councillors (except Councillor Chatt, at his request) bringing this matter to their attention in an Open Letter, asking them to ensure that Scarbrough Borough Council either sets out what its complaint is, or withdraws its threats of legal action.
The Open Letter is set out below for your information. I have had no response as at the time of publication.
Following the failure of Mrs Lisa Dixon, Scarborough Borough Council Head of Legal and Democratic Services, to provide a substantial response to correspondence within twenty one days, I am writing to you in an open letter concerning her letters before action demanding the closure of the Real Whitby Website. The chronology of events is as follows
It is unclear from Mrs Dixon’s vague and unspecific letters if her allegations relate to some or all of the following issues covered in the local and national press following investigation by Real Whitby:
Or to other matters.
The public response to these events has been that Whitby Town Council has passed a motion censuring SBC for trying to close down the Real Whitby website and prevent freedom of speech. Private Eye has also criticised her actions and, having taken legal advice, has confirmed that the allegations made by Real Whitby, that Mrs Dixon describes as “malicious, untrue and defamatory” are in fact “accurate”.
We are confident that this response reflects public and press opinion should the matter go to Court, particularly as those Councillors who wish to proceed with a High Court action will be subject to cross examination on all of the above matters, should it come to that.
To try and resolve this, Real Whitby wrote to Mrs Dixon on the 31st of March, asking her to specify which articles she objected to and why, so her views could be considered and a correction or apology issued if this was appropriate. Her eventual response to me was “I do not intend to enter into correspondence with you at this at stage in relation to any proposed legal action to be undertaken by the Council”.
It therefore appears that having issued a letter before action, attempting to close down Real Whitby and threatening its contributors with civil and criminal legal action, Mrs Dixon is unwilling or unable to specify what her complaint is, or participate in any attempt to resolve the matter by discussion.
The current situation therefore causes me the following concerns:
Mrs Dixon has confirmed: “For your information the legal action to which you refer was not discussed at the Cabinet meeting of 26 March 2013, nor was any motion or report tabled in relation to it. The issue of the letter did not require Cabinet approval. Councillor Kenyon did not instigate or suggest the sending of this letter.” The Key Decisions List on the 26th of March 2013 called for a decision by the Cabinet on the 23rd of April. However, on the 28thof March 2013, Mrs Dixon nevertheless wrote threatening legal action, i.e. 26 days before the Cabinet was scheduled to come to a decision.
The current situation is bizarre, in that SBC is maintaining its position that the Real Whitby website should be terminated to our ISP, whilst publicly denying this in the press and to the public. It appears that appropriate procedures were not followed to authorise the threats of legal action and although Real Whitby responded promptly and reasonably offering to discuss SBC’s concerns, SBC is refusing to confirm what the grounds for its dissatisfaction are, or which Councillors and/or Officers claim to have been defamed and have authorised Mrs Dixon to threaten legal proceedings in their name, or which functions the Council is unable to fulfil.
It is a legal maxim that allegations which are unsupported by evidence are worthless. This matter has obviously been completely mishandled. The letters have achieved nothing other than to increase the numbers of people accessing the Real Whitby website and its profile nationally on the one hand, and to cause alarm and distress whilst bringing the Council into even more public disrepute and ridicule on the other.
To achieve a sensible resolution, I would ask that you raise this matter and ensure that either Scarborough Borough Council provides a list of the articles it deems to be offensive, indicating precisely which comments they are referring to, along with a list of the associated complainants, or alternatively it withdraws the threats of legal action and corrects the statement.
Because of the public interest in this matter I have written to you in an open letter, which will be published this evening. I will publish any response or rebuttal SBC or any Councillor wishes to make public.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
First Published April 2013