Attempted Termination of Real Whitby: An Update
by Tim Hicks.
Regular readers of Real Whitby will know that Glenn Kilpatrick, Tim Thorne, Nigel Ward and I are currently the subject of threats of legal action by Scarborough Borough Council, who have also tried to close down the Real Whitby Magazine.
On the 17th of September 2013, Scarborough Borough Council Cabinet dealt with an Agenda Item in closed session to discuss legal action against Real Whitby. We understand from Councillors that a war chest of £100,000 has been set aside for this, although this has been denied by Council Officers. The best estimate we have for the costs of such an action are around £700,000.
This is the latest event in a chain of events over the last eighteen months:
- In July 2012 Private Eye ran an article concerning Scarborough Borough Councillor and Portfolio Holder for Finance Legal and Procurement Jane Kenyon’s interests in Dales Timber Limited and Belvedere Computers Inc, in which I assisted. See article 001 Wooden Excuse
- As a result of this article and others, on the 26th of July 2012 Councillor Kenyon (the Chair of the North Yorkshire Police Authority at the time) made a complaint to the police and I was interviewed under caution at Scarborough Police Station by two of the top detectives on the force on the orders of Detective Superintendent Heather Pearson. During this interview I was questioned about articles in Real Whitby. According to my solicitor and a barrister that was present, there was no basis of any criminal offence in Councillor Kenyon’s allegations, which were not a police matter and should have been dealt with through the law of libel.
Detective Superintendent Pearson is still maintaining that I am a suspect in the harassment of Councillor Kenyon even though she could not produce any evidence whatever to support this allegation.
- On the 21st of September 2012, I received a personally offensive email from a Scarborough Councillor making reference to my mother (who was ill with cancer at the time) not breastfeeding me. Another Councillor subsequently emailed him endorsing these offensive comments.
- Over all of this period Real Whitby has consistently raised the scandal of double-dipping in which some Councillors receive allowances from two Councils to cover their broadband connection. As a result this has also been covered in Private Eye (See 002 Double Dipping), resulting in some Scarborough Councillors receiving the very well deserved award of ‘Highly Commended’ in the Private Eye ‘Expenses Fiddler of the Year Awards’ (See 003 Expense Fiddler of the Year Awards).
- Over the whole of this period, Real Whitby has continued to run articles alleging that the former (Conservative) Mayor of Scarborough Peter Jaconelli (Conservative) was a paedophile who abused children, operated with Jimmy Savile and was protected by North Yorkshire Police.
- On the 28th of March 2013 Scarborough Borough Solicitor Lisa Dixon wrote to the Real Whitby ISP demanding the Real Whitby site be “terminated”.
- Also on the 28th of March 2013, Mrs Dixon threatened Glenn Kilpatrick, Tim Thorne, Nigel Ward and I with civil action for libel and alleged that complaints of criminal harassment had been made to the Police by Councillors.
- On the 10th of April 2013 Whitby Town Council met to discuss the implications of this threat to close down Real Whitby. Initially, Scarborough Borough Council denied that it had tried to have Real Whitby “terminated”; however, documentary evidence was produced proving that Mrs Dixon had indeed asked for the Real Whitby website to be closed down. In response, Whitby Town Council passed a Motion of Censure against Scarborough Borough Council, deploring this attack on the freedom of speech.
- On August the 5th 2013, Real Whitby ran an article reporting a press release from Durham Constabulary “We can confirm Durham Constabulary was asked by North Yorkshire Police to conduct an investigation into an allegation of fraud relating to Dales Timber Limited. Our enquiries are continuing.” As a result of this article, solicitors for Councillor Kenyon threatened to sue me for Libel, stating their “requirement” for no mention to be made of Councillor Kenyon in any of my articles i.e. exempting her from press scrutiny.
- Most of the Councillors involved in making a decision on this proposed legal action should now be declaring they have a personal interest in the matter, as they themselves have featured on the website over the past year in connection with double-dipping and other matters, and in Private Eye as a consequence. I understand a Standards complaint was submitted earlier in the year by Tim Thorne, but the Monitoring Officer and Independent Person decided it shouldn’t go before the Standards Committee.
The response of Real Whitby
Real Whitby has denied Mrs Dixon’s allegations and asked her to specify what exactly it is that she alleges is defamatory, but she has been unable to provide any specific example of any defamatory comment after nearly six months. This has led to further criticism of Ms Dixon in Private Eye and further embarrassment for Scarborough Council. (See article 006 Lisa Majesty)
North Yorkshire Police have not contacted any of the persons involved in connection with the complaints Mrs Dixon alleges were made against them and it appears that the Police have dismissed them as unfounded.
I have responded to Councillor Kenyon’s solicitor asking him to specify exactly what it is that he alleges is defamatory or wrong in his article and he has so far failed to do so.
Real Whitby will always consider any complaint and publish a correction, apology or retraction if appropriate.
The wider issues
Scrutiny by a free press is an essential element in a democracy and by entering into politics, Councillors accept this scrutiny when they stand for office. If they cannot accept this, then the correct response is to retire from public life, or stand for election in North Korea where there is no free press, politicians are not accountable and simply have the Police intimidate or imprison investigative journalists.
Using threats of the Police and legal action by the Borough Solicitor, based on concocted allegations which cannot in the end be supported, to remove themselves from public scrutiny by a free press is completely incompatible with a democratic society.
Scarborough Borough Council is mandated to be a democratic organisation. Yet it tried to close down a local online news magazine that has criticised it and then tried to deliberately mislead Whitby Town Council by denying it had tried to close down Real Whitby.
Ms Dixon will not state what it is it alleges is defamatory or make any effort to resolve this amicably with a correction or apology. Under these circumstances, holding out the threat of legal action over Tim Thorne, Nigel Ward, Glen Kilpatrick and myself for six months is unacceptable and serves only to cause anxiety and distress, particularly as it is part of an ongoing course of conduct outlined above.
We believe that Scarborough Borough Council is hugely embarrassed by the revelations made by Real Whitby concerning Peter Jaconelli, Councillor Jane Kenyon and the ongoing Police investigation into Dales Timber Limited, the double dipping issue and the coverage this has attracted in the national press – hence its determination to close down Real Whitby. A number of Councillors are involved in these matters yet they have not declared any interest in the legal action they have allowed Mrs Dixon to pursue. However, a complaint about this was blocked by the Monitoring Officer – Mrs Lisa Dixon.
Mrs Dixon will not state who authorised her to threaten legal action. Given that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money is involved in a case where many Councillors have an undeclared interest, including Councillor Jane Kenyon’s Leader (Councillor Tom Fox), this is secretive and unacceptable in a democratic society.
Instead of trying to attack press freedom and hide behind a blatantly ineffective and biased Standards regime, Scarborough Borough Council should address the issues raised in the press by being open and putting its house in order.