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Public service

The Times, assisted by Mr Justice Eady, who seems to preside over the whole mess that stands in the place of proper privacy law in England, has unmasked the police blogger NightJack. NightJack had just won the Orwell Prize for his blog. I am guessing that drew it to the attention of higher authority, and such articulate dissent must be punished.

It took just six weeks, including a court-case, to reveal his identity. The blog has now been deleted, and the DC formerly known as NightJack has been disciplined in some unspecified way. Apparently it is in the public interest to maintain a disciplinary code under which police officers are not permitted to express their opinions. That is what Sir David Eady implied, obiter, in giving his judgement.

But deleting from public knowledge what has once been on the web is difficult. Here is a celebrated sample, NightJack’s advice to the arrested, which Samizdata readers may find both useful and enlightening (there is a situational irony in the sideswipe at those who have learned how to use the forces of law and order to score points and extract revenge):

A Survival Guide for Decent Folk

Paul has posted a number of lengthy replies on the “Modest Proposal” thread. In these days of us increasingly having to deal with law abiding folk who have fallen foul of the “entitled poor” and those who have learned how to use us to score points and exact revenge, I thought it would be a good idea to give out a bit of general guidance for those law abiding types who find themselves under suspicion or under arrest. It works for the bad guys so make it work for you.

Complain First
Always get your complaint in first, even if it is you who started it and you who were in the wrong. If things have gone awry and you suspect the cops are going to be called, get your retaliation in first. Ring the cops right away and allege for all you are worth. If you can work a racist or homophobic slant into it so much the better.

Make a counter allegation
Regardless of the facts, never let the other side be blameless. If they beat you to the phone, ring anyway and make a counter allegation against them. Again racism or homophobia are your friends. If you are not from a visible minority ethnic culture, may I suggest that that the phrase “You gay bastard” or similar is always useful. In extremis allege sexual assault. It gives us something to bargain with when getting the other person to drop their complaint on a quid-pro-quo basis. This is particularly good where there are no independent witnesses. When it boils down to one word against another and nobody is ‘fessing up, CPS run a mile and you, my friend, are definitely on a walk out.

Never explain to the Police
If the Police arrive to lock you up, say nothing. You are a decent person and you may think that reasoning with the Police will help. “If I can only explain, they will realise it is all a horrible mistake and go away”. Wrong. We do want to talk to you on tape in an interview room but that comes later. All you are doing by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that stuff a significant statement and we love it. Decent folk can’t help themselves, they think that they can talk their way out. Wrong.

Admit Nothing
To do anything more than lock you up for a few hours we need to prove a case. The easiest route to that is your admission. Without it, our case may be a lot weaker, maybe not enough to charge you with. In any case, it is always worth finding out exactly how damning the evidence is before you fall on your sword. So don’t do the decent and honourable thing and admit what you have done. Don’t even deny it or try to give your side of the story. Just say nothing. No confession and CPS are on the back foot already. They forsee a trial. They fear a trial. They are looking for any excuse to send you home free.

Keep your mouth shut
Say as little as possible to us. At the custody office desk a Sergeant will ask you some questions. It is safe to answer these. For the rest of the time, say nothing.

Claim Suicidal Thoughts
A debatable one this. Claiming to be thinking about topping yourself has several benefits. If you can keep it up, it might just bump up any compensation payable later. On the other hand you may find yourself in a paper suit with someone watching your every move.

Always always always have a solicitor
Duh. No brainer this one. Unless you know 100% for sure that your mate the solicitor does criminal law and is good at it, ask for the Duty Solicitor. They certainly do criminal law and they are good at it. Then listen to what the solicitor says and do it. Their job is to get you off without the Cops or CPS laying a glove on you if at all possible. It is what they get paid for. They are free to you. There is no down side. Now decent folks think it makes them look like they have something to hide if they ask for a solicitor. Irrelevant. Going into an interview without a solicitor is like taking a walk in Tottenham with a big gold Rolex. Bad things are very likely to happen to you. I wouldn’t do it and I interview people for a living.

Actively complain about every officer and everything they do
Did they cuff you when they brought you in? Were they rude to you? Did they racially or homophobically abuse you? Didn’t get fed? Cell too cold? You are decent folk who don’t want to make a fuss but trust me, it pays to whinge and no matter how trivial and / or poorly founded your complaint there are people who will uncritically listen to you and try and prove the complaint on your behalf. Some of them are even police officers. Nothing like a complaint to muddy the waters and suggest that you are only in court because the vindictive Cops have a grudge against you. Far fetched? Wait until your solicitor spins it in court and you come over as Ghandi.

Show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it
You think that if you are a difficult, unpleasant, sneering, unco-operative and rude things will go badly for you and you will be in more trouble. No sirree Bob. It seems that in fact the worse you are, the easier things will go for you if, horror of horrors, you do end up convicted. Remember to fake a drink problem if you haven’t developed one as a result of dealing with us already. Magistrates and Judges do seem to like the idea that you are basically good but the naughty alcohol made you do it. They treat you better. Crazy I know but true.

So there you go, basically anything you try and do because you are decent and straightforward hurts you badly. Act like an habitual, professional, lifestyle criminal and chances are you will walk away relatively unscathed. Copy the bad guys, its what they do for a living.

18 comments to Public service

  • I may be in a minority on this, but I don’t think anyone has any kind of a “right” to anonymity. Surely in a free society, one is entirely free to “unmask” anyone attempting to hide their identity. Everyone has a right to try to conceal it, but not a “positive right” that the state should support that attempt via the legal system and state force. The other side of the coin to that of course is that the legal system should not be forced to compel somebody to reveal their identity- but presumably if somebody can be taken to court and forced to do so, then in fact it is already known.

    Nobody on the web has any right to anonymity. They are free to attempt to conceal their identity, but that’s all.

  • guy herbert

    The grounds given for considering him a bad blogger were, curiously, “Some of the blog’s best-read sections, which on occasion attracted half a million readers a week, were anecdotes about cases on which Mr Horton [NightJack] had worked. The people and places were made anonymous and details changed, but they could still be traced back to real prosecutions.”

    The prosecution process is more secret here than in many places, but rules on officers’ revealing information outside their public duties are elastic. I have yet to hear of an officer being disciplined for giving information to the press allowing them to come and film a celebrity being arrested, or for private briefing in order to get out the police establishment view of a notorious case. Maybe I’m unobservant or such cases get little publicity.

  • Ian,
    I don’t think many people are contesting the legal aspect of his ‘outing’ so much as criticising the Times’ reasons for doing so. It all looks like so much vindictive headline grabbing, serving to pointlessly tarnish a man’s career for no good reason other than because they could.

  • SaltedSlug, I entirely agree. I think anyone who seeks to be a thorn in the side of the establishment needs to recognise though that that makes them a target. A sad indictment of our polity.

  • Cleanthes

    And another thing. Just try asking the Times to reveal their sources. Oh sorry – that’s a vital safeguard to a free press in a democracy.

    Completely different kettle of fish.

  • NightJack is lucky to have not ended up in the Tower of London because his crime was one that is TRULY unforgivable.

    He told the unvarnished truth.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    I followed the link to the Orwell Prize and then links to the blog-posts which were the basis for the award.
    ALL GONE. The entire blog has been deleted ‘by the owner’. So we know one part of the disciplinary process the NightJack suffered.

    Even more interesting, I get the following from Wayback:

    We’re sorry, access to http://nightjack.wordpress.com has been blocked by the site owner via robots.txt.

    So we cannot even go back at look at what was posted….

  • Laird

    I’m looking forward to reading Sunfish’s thoughts on the Survival Guide.

    As to the issue of blogger anonymity, I have to agree with Ian B on this. From what I have read there is no indication that the government was in any way involved in the identification of NightJack (which would give me a problem), but rather that the Times’ reporter deduced it through the use of publicly available information. I see nothing wrong with that.

  • Ed T

    Seems to me that NightJack forgot his own advice- he should have lodged a claim for slander against him by suggesting that naming him and his position was in the public interest. What has he done against the public that should give them cause to be interested in his identity? He has certainly caused public interest in the insights he has provided, but that is for the public, not against them. Therefore outing him was a de facto accusation of mal-intent, and a dramatic assault on his character with potentially disastrous results. Therefore NightJack should not have sought an injunction, he should have sued. He still should imo.

  • Sunfish

    I like a few points, and disagree with others. But bear in mind that all of my answers pertain to US law, not UK.

    WRT not saying anything: I’m mixed but favorable to this one. Unless you know full well why you’re being questioned and what about, it’s best to be cagey. But also be aware that there are sometimes very good reasons for police to ask questions before answering any.

    If you’re in custody or are the defendant in an active case, and the police try to interview you, lawyer the hell up.

    Don’t consent to searches. Don’t try to physically obstruct them if the officer searches anyway. If he overrules your consent, then he (most likely) has an independent legal justification for the search.

    Don’t try to argue with the cop about what the law actually is. I get that roughly weekly and have yet to be wrong even once.

    Unlike in the UK, if you fail to present an exculpatory statement at the side of the road or when initially arrested, the prosecutor can’t make an issue of you having something to hide or trying to cook up a story. There is no “Well, why didn’t you tell the nice officer about this when he asked before?” in front of the jury.

    If you claim suicidal thoughts, all that you’ll accomplish is a few extra days in a facility that a lawyer or bondsman won’t get you out of. And then the possibility of a commitment order from a psychiatrist that can have long-term consequences, that a judge is unlikely to countermand.

    As for the ‘show no respect’ thing…that may make you look like Billy Badass in the UK. Here, we have a saying, that “If he wants to play fuck-fuck games, we can play fuck-fuck games.” We work with the assumption that people do what they do for some reason or another. If someone acts like a hood rat, then we’ll assume that it’s because in some way he’s a hood rat. Not to mention, you’re probably on tape because of the CYA moves we need to make because of all of the other bullshit complaints submitted previously about us. Whatever you say can easily be played for the judge.

    And if you’re arrested, your goal is not to go home that night. Your goal is to make a jury say ‘not guilty’ somewhere down the road. The best way to manage that is to answer booking questions (name, DOB, address, next of kin, religious preference, any medical conditions that the jail staff need to know in order to ensure your safety while in custody, etc.) but let your lawyer do the rest of the talking.

    re: threats of IA complaints and lawsuits: Look up ‘qualified immunity.’ That’s what you’ll need to overcome to sue an officer. And a false IA complaint can be prosecuted as a false police report. If the officer suffers damages as a result of a false IA, then you can also be civilly liable to him for libel.

    How to act on traffic stops is a very long post in itself. I’ll write it if an editor tells me that it’s wanted either in this thread or on the front page.

    Llamas? Thoughts?

    (Laird…by ‘you’ I don’t mean you personally. More a ‘you’ as a short version of ‘gentle reader’ or some such.)

  • Gareth

    It took just six weeks, including a court-case, to reveal his identity. The blog has now been deleted, and the DC formerly known as NightJack has been disciplined in some unspecified way.

    I’m pretty sure The Blog has been deleted for a couple of months at least.

    Night Jack has written a piece in The Times.(Apologies if the link doesn’t work. The Times gives me many error messages for some reason)

    He has no ‘right’ to anonymity. Were there credible risks against his person or career he should have exercised more caution in who he was in contact with and what he published on his blog.

    Would the blogosphere be as exorcised if he had been trying to injunct a fellow blogger?

  • John Bayley

    Much of NighhtJack’s blog is still Google-cached. Anyone who wants to check it out can do so by typing “site:nightjack.wordpress.com” into Google Search.

  • lucklucky

    This is The Times acting monopolistic. The Times wanted all that blog information for them instead of being free in the Blog.

  • lucklucky

    Btw. I have read that linked text before and some messages critical of The Times disapeared.

  • guy herbert

    To add to what Sunfish says, do note the context of NightJack’s guide.

    He’s talking about practice, not law, and although some of his points have general application, he is clearly talking about the case (law abiding folk who have fallen foul of the “entitled poor” and those who have learned how to use us to score points and exact revenge) where you have been or think you may be falsely accused of something by a third party.

    The repeat customers have developed a style of dealing with the institutions that is efficient and based on exploitation of organisational behaviour as much as law. Hence the focus on engaging the hate-crime mechanisms to get yourself treated as a victim and on minimising any contribution to a factual picture.

    (In parallel, repeat customers in the civil courts are less likely to be shocked by procedural manoeuvres, insane counterclaims, and judicial focus on things that didn’t seem important at the time.)

    The one time I was interviewed by the police as a suspect, I broke all those rules. Had I been in when they called and been arrested I might have behaved differently, but they politely left a card and asked me to call them: so I called and explained over the phone, and they were satisfied.

    But there were two massive differences from NightJack’s template case: 1. No vengeful third party, the critical element of that alleged crime being dishonesty, it was advantageous to be a transparently decent person. 2. It was more than 15 years ago. There have been massive changes in the way the police operate in England since. I suspect there would be a lot more pressure on them to arrest and charge, a different mechanism employed than two detectives driving down from Oxford, and a different institutional attitude to nice middle-class people from Chelsea.

  • guy herbert

    PS – England and Wales now is the most important bit of context.

    As far as I know none of what Sunfish says about IA complaints in the ‘States is true of complaints against the police in this country. But equally a justified complaint is likely to be treated with the blizzard of routine ones from low-lifes that are part of the victimhood strategy and whose function is not to punish officers but to hinder prosecution and diminish sentence.

  • mike

    I don’t ever go to a cop for help with anything, and I always try to avoid them if I can. That is what their reputation means to me. I act on the assumption that they have absolutely no interest in doing the right thing (and often, quite the opposite). That may not be true of all cops, but it is certainly true of some and I have no way of knowing what kind of cop I either am or will be dealing with prior to contact with them. I therefore assume the worst and simply avoid them altogether whenever it is possible – even when I am ostensibly in a position to benefit from their ‘help’.

  • Simon Jester

    The Times has form on this kind of thing.

    True to form, here‘s Anna Mikhailova wittering on about how “Unmasking an anonymous blogger can ruin your reputation and threaten your career.”

    Her invocation of the public interest is unmatched with any explanation of how unmasking either Nightjack or Girl With a One Track Mind is in the public interest.