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Uproar as UK vicar reportedly uses police to intimidate blogger

with 27 comments

Whatever the truth about Reverend Sizer‘s political views, calling the police to deal with a blogging spat seems completely absurd – and of course the fact that the police would actually indulge such a request seems even more disturbing.

I’ve contacted the Reverend to hear his side of he story, but he has now got back to me saying that he does not want to comment (see update 4 below).

Update 1 - Just to clarify that what follows below is a direct quote from the blogger ‘Seismic Shock’ writing on the website “Harry’s Place” – I have no direct involvement in this issue, nor do I have a view on the rights and wrongs of the original argument between Sizer and his critics. But I am concerned at reports that the police are becoming involved in a bloggers’ dispute.

Update 2Index on Censorship report that West Yorkshire Police say they visited the blogger after receiving a complaint of “harassment”, and that he then “voluntarily” agreed to take down his website. The implication seems to be that writing mean things about someone on the internet is now on a par with prank calls, hate-mail, bunny-boiling etc…

Update 3 - Interestingly there seems to be a pattern here – this is a quote from Oliver Kamm, back in 2008:

“Yesterday morning I got a telephone call from a bewildered gentleman at Abingdon Police Station saying he had received a complaint from a Mr Neil Clark. Mr Clark (pictured) is the author of such essays as “Milosevic, Prisoner of Conscience” and (regarding the Iraqi interpreters in fear of their lives) “Keep these Quislings Out”. He is also an imaginative theorist of global conspiracy… I learned from my interlocutor… that Mr Clark was upset about disobliging references to him on the World Wide Web. Mr Clark had meticulously assembled a file of these, to which presumably this post will be added…. Mr Clark maintained… that he was the victim of a campaign of criminal harassment orchestrated by me.”

Update 4 (30/1/10): Stephen Sizer has now replied to my request for clarification, stating that “I do not wish to comment and am happy to leave the matter to the Police”. This is obviously his business, but it does mean that his critics have pretty much a clear run on this issue. Reverend Sizer must surely must have realised by now that they aren’t going to shut up about it, however many times he threatens them. Equally, I am genuinely interested to know what Reverend Sizer’s perspective on this issue actually is. At the moment all we have is a story about a representative of our state-sponsored Church making a lot of very strident comments about the political situation in the Middle East but then calling the Police when some people who disagree  say mean stuff about him on the internet. Surely if Reverend Sizer really has the courage of his convictions he will be prepared to stand by his words, and his actions? 

Update 5 – 31/1/10 I’m pleased to say that Reverend Sizer has now got back to me with a detailed response.

From Harry’s Place:

At 10am on Sunday 29th November 2009, I received a visit from two policemen regarding my activities in running the Seismic Shock blog. (Does exposing a vicar’s associations with extremists make me a criminal?, I wondered initially). A sergeant from the Horsforth Police related to me that he had received complaints via Surrey Police from Rev Sizer and from Dr Anthony McRoy – a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology – who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers.

(Context: Sizer has associated with some very nasty terrorists and Holocaust deniers; McRoy has delivered a paper at a Khomeinist theological conference in Iran comparing Hezbollah’s struggle against Israel via suicide bombing with the Christian’s struggle against sin via the atoning death of Jesus, and describes the world’s most prominent Holocaust denier as an “intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming” man who “gives quick, extensive and intelligent answers to any question, mixed with genial humour”).

The sergeant made clear that this was merely an informal chat, in which I agreed to delete my original blog (http://seismicshock.blogspot.com) but maintain my current one (http://seismicshock.wordpress.com). The policeman related to me that his police force had been in contact with the ICT department my previous place of study, and had looked through my files, and that the head of ICT at my university would like to remind me that I should not be using university property in order to associate individuals with terrorists and Holocaust deniers (I am sure other people use university property to make political comments, but nevermind).

With my research on Reverend Sizer’s associations with terrorists and Holocaust deniers making its way into a publication of the Society of Biblical Literature, I was quite content to hold my peace. However, now that Reverend Sizer is now misrepresenting what has happened in my case in order to intimidate others, now is the time to speak up.

A Christian blogger – “Vee” of LivingJourney, who is based in Australia – linked to my blog as a resource for Christians to learn about anti-Semitism in the Church, including “lots of info on Stephen Sizer and Sabeel”.

Rev Sizer left her this comment:

Dear Vee,

You must take a little more care who you brand as anti-semitic otherwise you too will be receiving a caution from the police as the young former student of Leeds did recently. One more reference to me and you will be reported.

Blessings
Stephen

Sure, Stephen Sizer managed to somehow arrange a police visit to me from within the UK, but does Sizer genuinely think he can use police on the other side of the world to this effect?

Why is Reverend Sizer claiming that I received a police caution, when the police stressed I did not receive a caution?

…Who is Reverend Sizer reporting to, and why does Reverend Sizer genuinely feel he has the power to close down debate by threatening police action? Why call the cops rather than answer his critics?

Written by Richard Wilson

January 24, 2010 at 11:12 am

27 Responses

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  1. Hi Richard

    I just read about this elsewhere this morning. If I reported a burglary the police might not visit and so how on earth did this “Reverend” manage to get the police involved in a blog?

    Calumcarr

    January 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm

  2. [...] 5: Richard Wilson is supportive, as you’d expect. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)What Do Stephen Sizer, Mike Cushman, David Duke [...]

  3. It’s known as “Lying for Jesus”. Creationists do it all the time, why should this be any different?

    Jo

    January 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm

  4. [...] Let’s hope that’s all it is. Meanwhile, here’s an alternative link to the “police intimidating a blogger” [...]

  5. As a fellow blogger (fledgelingskeptic.com and BoobCast.net) I want to voice my support for you Richard. You’ve obviously frightened the man otherwise he never would have lashed out like that. If you ever need a mirror site, let me know. I’ll be happy to repost it from my blog.

    Herbwoman

    January 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    • Hi there – just wanted to clarify that I’m not directly involved in this – the above is just a quote from the blogger who has threatened. Sorry for any confusion – I usually use the form “From [link]” followed by italicis to indicate that this is just a quote from another source but obviously I need to make it clearer!

      Richard Wilson

      January 25, 2010 at 5:33 pm

  6. Wow.
    WWJD? I kind of can’t see him calling the po-po. Abuse of power and all that….wait a minute.

    What a wuss (the rev). And, just an all around EW!

    Lagunatic

    January 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

  7. Surely the question is, regardless of the topic in question and/or the position of the person (in this case a “Minister of Religion”), was the post defammatory or libellous?

    I’m not defending the guy, nor necessarily his actions in calling the police. However, AIUI bloggers are not exempt from the laws of the land.

    mrben

    January 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    • Neither libel nor defamation are criminal acts and therefore the police will not (or at least should not) intervene, rather they are civil matters which can be pursued via the civil courts.

      JJ

      January 25, 2010 at 5:27 pm

      • No, but harassment is a criminal act. Public statements which are defamatory or libellous can be viewed as harassment.

        So the question is, did the blog posts harass Stephen Sizer?

        Peter Ould

        January 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm

      • But things are not harassing because they’re defamatory. They’re different things and you use different standards to test if it is or not.

        scotslawstudent

        January 28, 2010 at 12:03 am

  8. If he reported it as harassment (from his version of the story), which could probably be argued effectively irrespective of the facts, then the police could be involved. I’ve been on the reporting side of a similar tale where my blog was the forum for threats of harassing actions being taken, and the police did have a quiet word the the person in question. They gave me the option of pressing charges (of harassment) which would be the formal “CPS decides whether to go ahead or not and could result in nothing, a caution, or up to two years in jail” route, or the “polite chat which is probably more effective anyway” route. The latter seems to be what happened to you, too, and is more preventative than reactive.

    Hope that helps shed some light on how he might have got the police involved, without the police being the bad guys. You could probably turn the tables on him in the same manner if he continues to harass you in return. (Just sayin’… ;) )

    Sally

    January 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    • I’ve added some notes to this post to clarify that the above is a quote from Seismic Shock’s account at “Harry’s Place” – I’m not the blogger who was threatened (at least on this occasion!).

      People say mean things about people online all the time. According to some commenters to this blog, I am a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, and worse – but this is not harassment. Harassment is when you go round someone’s house and shout abuse through their letter box, or follow them in the street, or send them threatening messages, or boil their pet bunny a la “Fatal Attraction”. I could be missing something here, but if Reverend Sizer doesn’t like what a blogger is saying about him on his blog, can’t he just stop reading the blog?

      Richard Wilson

      January 25, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      • Harassment under the law of the land is a systematic sequence of harassing events. A series of blog posts demeaning someone would very clearly constitute harassment.

        Peter Ould

        January 25, 2010 at 6:15 pm

  9. @Peter Ould “Harassment under the law of the land is a systematic sequence of harassing events. A series of blog posts demeaning someone would very clearly constitute harassment.”

    Only if “demeaning someone” can constitute a “harassing event”, which I think many people would dispute. Defamation, perhaps – but “criminal harassment”? You may have a point about the law though – here’s Slugger O Toole: http://www.sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/protection-from-harassment-act-being-used-to-suppress-dissent/

    Richard Wilson

    January 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    • It doesn’t matter what “many people” would dispute, it matters what the law says and what the case law says. Sadly, so many people when discussing legal issues seem to forget this.

      Peter Ould

      January 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

      • Sure, but if the law’s wrong we need to fix it… The law’s there to serve the people, not the other way around…

        Richard

        January 25, 2010 at 8:17 pm

  10. Chaps, just a call to be a bit wary. We’re all basically following Seismic’s line on this, remember. All of us resent the idea of the police vetting what we can say, and quite right too. I’ve posted on that myself.

    But I’ve been looking further into this, and I’ve getting a bad feeling. It looks as if Seismic has been running a demonisation campaign designed to ruin the reputations of two men, purely because their politics are not his, in order to silence them.

    I’ve looked into some of his “quotes”, and they seem to be quote-mined, distorted, insinuating things that his victims don’t believe or say. I can’t tell how representative that is.

    Not being rich men, the two can’t sue for libel; but their livelihoods and *their* right to free speech are at stake. So they’ve called the police and complained of old fashioned harassment, not some new anti-freedom of speech thing. What else could they do? The steady drip-drip of libel could cost them their livelihoods. Seismic boasts of McRoy being dropped from one church’s list of sermons. That’s not very “free speech”, is it?

    I don’t know the facts. But we need to be wary. I have an awful, awful feeling that we might be on the wrong side.

    Roger Pearse

    January 25, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    • You’re right. As soon as I get any reply from Sizer – or any other source reporting his side of the story, I’ll add an update. Please also do post anything here that I might have missed…

      Richard

      January 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm

      • Roger – I completely agree that we need to be careful to hear from both sides of what’s obviously a very heated dispute. But I think it’s possible to be concerned that the police have been called in to deal with this dispute without having to take sides in the original argument.

        This is looking to me more and more like a good illustration of that principle that we should stand up for people’s right to speak totally regardless of whether or not we agree with what they’re saying.

        If it’s true that the blogger has libelled and/or unfairly vilified Reverend Sizer, this might certainly be good grounds for ‘public censure’ – or (and you may know that I’m sceptical about the merit of libel courts in most cases) at the extreme, civil action. But to call the police in such circumstances seems totally anachronistic.

        Richard

        January 26, 2010 at 11:07 am

  11. [...] Uproar as UK vicar reportedly uses police to intimidate blogger Whatever the truth about Reverend Sizer’s political views, calling the police to deal with a blogging spat seems [...] [...]

  12. I have tried to answer Roger’s points on my blog.

    Surely, this is a fairly clearcut issue?

    Unless there is criminal intent or criminal activity, then the Police should not be involved in legitimate political criticism.

    That is the stuff of police states, the knock on the door in the middle of the night, and you are taken away for your views.

    In Britain the police should not be involved in policing blogs, any dispute at best would be a civil matter.

    The contentious articles are occasionally harsh, and rightly so, but they are not criminal.

    You can make that determination yourself, you can apply your own judgements to the materials.

    And remember when you acquiesce to the police intervening in the Internet you concede the principle that the State has a right to intervene in legitimate political criticism, which is probably accepted in numerous dictatorships and by ideologues, but not something that democracies or Britain should want to emulate.

    There is a very dangerous precedent here to be avoided.

    http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/blogging-the-principle-rev-sizer-and-the-police/

    Please feel free to comment.

    modernityblog

    January 26, 2010 at 1:08 am

  13. It’s all very 1984. Well its caused quite a stir at PalMD, which means it’ll spread all over ScienceBlogs, and we’re known for our vociferousness when it comes to freedom of speech.

    Pareidolius

    January 26, 2010 at 7:36 am

  14. Yes, I’m not sure myself. Wavering back a bit from the position I took yesterday, itself a reaction to my horror at hearing of the police involvement the day before that.

    Roger Pearse

    January 26, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  15. Seismic Shock the Video is out.

    http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/seismic-shock-the-video/

    Please do embed it and pass it along to others,

    Cheers :)

    modernityblog

    January 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm

  16. [...] a comment » Stephen Sizer has now replied to my request for clarification of his reasons for calling in the Police over his spat with the blogger “Seismic Shock”. Reverend Sizer states that “I do not [...]


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