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News and Comment April 2012

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16 April (Part 3) - Setting the record straight

Setting the record straight is a section of Bexley council’s website which issues a counterblast to the media when it has offended Bexley council by reporting something they consider to be wrong. My reports have never been countered there, the closest I got to recognition came from a Bexley cabinet member who said my reporting was more accurate than the News Shopper’s - our largest circulation local newspaper.

One of many messages yesterday told me that digging out the details of Olly Cromwell’s case is difficult. Can’t see the wood for the trees and he has a point. The case has been festering since March last year and each stage has been reported here but it is now lost in hundreds of old blogs. The Site map is not up to job of delving into old blogs.

As a quick and dirty fix I have put a some new links at the top of this page but maybe it is time I pointed readers at the right places to look. Some of the forum discussions are hopelessly wrong on detail. The blogs are better but few are perfect. The summary at Spiderplant land is probably as good as it gets, however it may not adequately cover exactly why Olly found himself facing jail. I shall try to remedy that.

I have been reporting on Bexley council since September 2009 after they told me a blatant lie. I put the correspondence on the web. The site gradually expanded as I gathered similar stories from across the borough and liked to think of myself as a small borough news blog. I was lucky to get 150 unique visitors a day. One of the things I reported was that another blog (not mine, not Olly’s) had said the only thing that Bexley council would understand was descending on their offices with flaming torches and pitchforks. Another report from elsewhere substituted flaming torches for petrol bombs. I reported both. The former, an obvious metaphor, I said I agreed with. The second I thought it advisable to say I did not.

Within days of those blogs, Bexley’s council leader Teresa O’Neill, gave my name and Olly’s to Bexleyheath police and off the report went to the Crown Prosecution Service. The Police Commander was brand new in from Croydon and I am prepared to believe he assumed that council leaders do not lie. He didn’t know Bexley where Police Commanders eat at restaurants funded by fraudulently used Bexley council credit cards. I think he knows better now.

The CPS said there were grounds for prosecution of Olly and myself. Olly had never even referred to the comment let alone uttered it but he and I were to be prosecuted, not the original sources. They have never been spoken to; one I have never been asked to reveal though he was an observer in court last Friday. It was of course a travesty of justice and fortunately DI Marshall of Bexleyheath police spotted it. In subsequent correspondence it was revealed that he reported “no offence was committed’. However he apparently succumbed to pressure and sent both Olly and myself a Harassment Warning, Form 9993. As the police now accept, he did not follow any of the correct procedures. My guess is that he or his superiors were brow-beaten by Bexley council to do something.

Olly should never have got that letter, at the time he had shown up at just one Bexley council meeting and written only the one blog about them. Not a single part of the allegations made against Olly by council leader Teresa O’Neill’s were true. He's not blogged the comments on Bonkers, as alleged, or anywhere else. He was entitled to feel very annoyed but the police refused to listen to him

When he was due to appear in court for the two fateful Tweets, Bexleyheath police put out a press release to say that he had been charged but incorrectly referred to my site not his. As a result, at that first hearing, the court heard only about the Bonkers website. For all the Judge knew You’ve been Cromwelled did not exist.

I demanded and eventually received a genuine and fulsome apology for his error from the current Acting Deputy Borough Commander, Tony Gowen, who issued that erroneous press release. Tony Gowen like every other policeman at Bexleyheath seemed to have no idea that Olly’s website and mine were not one and the same. I have fully accepted Mr. Gowen’s apology but some problems with the police remain. I have correspondence with them that reveals they did not sign letters to me because they were fearful of physical violence on individual officers. Teresa O’Neill must have gone right over the top in her police reports if they believed that.

When Olly first appeared in Court the prosecution had no evidence of his offences ready because they expected him to plead guilty to charges of which he was wholly innocent. The District Judge said they were to come back on 12th December with the offences “particularised”. When the Court reconvened on that date the prosecution still couldn’t find any evidence and the Judge was not best pleased about it. She asked them to be ready by 21st December. They weren’t. There was no evidence because there wasn’t any evidence of either harassment or criminal damage. Technically he wasn’t found not guilty because it was a pre-trial hearing not a trial. The charges were dropped and he was in law innocent of harassment or any other offence relating to posting a picture of an unidentified house.

However the prosecution changed tack. They preferred the ‘grossly offensive’ charge under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Not, you will note, a charge of incitement to post “actual shit” or identifying a councillors house, because it needs to be repeated, he did not identify it. The charge was one of being grossly offensive and using rude words.

So all the on line chat about Olly being found guilty of encouraging the posting of dog faeces is a little wide of the mark. If it was mainly about that the Judge would have had to decide beyond all reasonable doubt whether he meant the dog variety as made up by councillor Sandra Bauer or the spam variety that I had thought more likely given that it was an internet crime and no postal address was given. I agree that might be an interesting debate but the Court did not debate it because it wasn’t asked to debate it. The question was a much simpler one. Is Tweeting the two four letter words in question an offence that might justify six months inside? Judge Julia Newton has said it is.

Stephen Fry amongst many others think otherwise. Mr. Fry has stuck his neck out and referred to the Judge in the same terms as Olly. It would take a bit of research for readers of his Tweet to find the name of the Judge he is referring to just as it would have taken a fair bit of research to find the name of the councillor Olly was referring to. Stephen Fry has committed a near identical offence to Olly. It is widely reported that Stephen Fry has been voted the cleverest man in the World, or England, or on TV or something. I never really believed it but maybe I should think it out again.

Hands up who thinks Stephen Fry is going to jail.
Daily Telegragh
The Daily Telegraph has a report on the case this morning. Very brief but to the point. Like the Telegraph says; Olly was found guilty of swearing (menacingly?). Nothing else. He wasn’t charged with anything else although due to a Prosecution cock-up the Judge was given the papers relating to the previous charges for which there was no evidence. Oh dear, that means my name will have been included because the police and prosecution service mixed up the two of us.


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