A bitter Twitter battle yields important lessons

It started, as these things often do, with a blog post.

Barbara Hewson, whose work we have admired here at Hoaxtead Research, wrote an article for Spiked on the subject of a particularly messy and disturbing family law case which went to the Court of Appeal. We’re not lawyers, but reading through both Barbara’s summary and the judgement itself, it’s clear that the case was very badly managed indeed.

However, Barbara seems to have extrapolated from this that the family courts are not fit for purpose, and that they pay no attention to the rule of law. We were having trouble understanding how she’d joined those particular dots, so we were grateful when family barrister Sarah Phillimore wrote a blog post in response to Barbara’s, addressing this issue among others.

Oddly, this is when the shit hit the proverbial fan. What seemed to us like a moderate, measured response was apparently taken as a shot across Barbara’s bow, and suddenly a Twitter war erupted full-blown.

The first we heard of it was via an amendment to Sarah’s original blog post:

[Barbara’s] response – in the space of about 12 hours – was to make a complaint to my Chambers, threaten to complain about me to the Bar Standards Board and send me numerous aggressive tweets in the small hours of Friday morning.

Well then. That seemed a bit of an over-reaction. We’ve had online disagreements from time to time, but it wouldn’t occur to us to complain to a person’s workplace, let alone their professional regulatory body, about their online opinions. But perhaps that’s just us.

The next day, we received a private message from Sarah: Barbara had emailed those who retweeted Sarah’s post about her, requesting that they remove that tweet from their timeline—or they would  be joined to her defamation action against Sarah, and assessed costs. Beg pardon?

Since when is retweeting a post—especially a post that was neither defamatory nor even especially inflammatory—grounds for a lawsuit? We were baffled by this, and decided to take a wait-and-see approach.

As it turned out, while at least 3 people did receive such letters from Barbara, we did not. Perhaps it’s because she recognised the difficulties inherent in attempting to serve legal documents on a coyote; we don’t know.

Strange and stranger

Things got even more peculiar yesterday. A Twitter user known as Dame Alun Roberts (@ciabaudo) tweeted to Sarah asking her to follow him, as he wished to share some information with her.

It turned out that he’d received a letter from Barbara demanding that he remove some tweets and pay her €1,300. However, he said, he didn’t know what tweets she wanted removed, and he couldn’t make heads nor tails of the document she’d sent him:

Dame Alun Roberts-power of attorney

It sounded reasonable: if we’d received a letter like that we’d have been both baffled and terrified.

Now, we at Hoaxtead Research are aware of ‘Dame Alun Roberts’, whose real name seems to be Alan Goodwin. His tweets seem to span the conspiraloon spectrum, with a special focus on paedophile-hunting and anti-Semitism; he’s really not the sort of person we’d want to be friends with.

What we didn’t know until yesterday is that Alan had been engaging in some pretty relentless trolling of Barbara Hewson, dating back some time:

Barbara Hewson-9 2016-05-31

Dame Alun Roberts re Hewson 2016-05-31

This helped to put the ‘power of attorney’ letter into proper context.

Apparently Denby is Barbara’s cousin, and Alan had latched onto that fact with the usual conspiranoid fervour, which will be very familiar to anyone who has been targetted by the Hoaxtead lunacy. It’s not pleasant to experience relentless online trolling (and this is just one very small example of what Alan threw at Barbara).

It certainly explained that letter, but here’s the important part: even racist scum-bag trolls deserve to know specifically what they’re being charged with.

And that letter, while it explained that Barbara had granted a German law firm power of attorney, said nothing about the specifics of the case. It hinted at dire consequences…but the law, to be worthy of the name, must do more than hint. It must clearly state exactly what the person has done wrong, and what their legal options are.

We loathe what Alan posts online, we find his opinions and approach vile, and truth be told, we’d like to see him reap his just reward. Throw the book at him, by all means.

But in our pursuit of those we consider evil, we must take great care that we do not become them. Otherwise, what are we fighting for?

Sarah pointed this out. And suddenly, inexplicably, she found herself tarred with the same brush as Alan:

So is this the new rule now?

Does telling an anti-Semite that they have legal rights mean that one is suddenly an anti-Semite sympathiser? This makes about as much sense as inferring that because a person’s relative was found guilty of a crime, that person must perforce be guilty of collaboration in some mysterious conspiracy.

And getting back to the issue that sparked this entire strange debacle: does Barbara really think that Sarah is on the side of the anti-Semitic conspiraloons? Or did Alan merely provide a convenient opportunity to pitch stones at someone she was already angry with?

One more strange twist

If all of this weren’t peculiar enough, we note that Barbara herself was once the target of yet another online campaign of defamation which led to complaints being made to her chambers about her:

Hewson, a barrister, wrote an article for the excellent Spiked Online website, questioning the legality and morality of the Operation Yewtree police investigation into historic examples of child abuse allegedly committed by popular low-brow entertainers. She also called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13, so as to end the ‘persecution’ of old men. This last is, I think, a minority view, although I have not conducted an opinion poll on the matter. A majority of our European neighbours have an age of consent which is lower than 16 years, with 14 years (the Vatican and Germany, to give just two examples) and 15 years (Sweden, Serbia, Poland and many more) by far the most common. Spain, meanwhile, has set its age of consent at 13. So Hewson’s proposal is hardly outlandish.

On the other issue, regarding Operation Yewtree and the persecution of old men, I suspect her views are shared by a reasonably large tranche of the population, although again, I have not conducted an opinion poll.

But how do you think the NSPCC reacted? As you might well have imagined, they disagreed with some fervour — and if that’s where it ended there would be no issue. But they went much further than that. They instructed her to reconsider her article or remove it!

And then they went further still, by contacting the chambers at which Ms Hewson worked and demanding that they disassociate themselves from her views. If her chambers had possessed even the slenderest vestiges of a spine or loyalty they would have told the NSPCC to get stuffed. But of course, they do not, and the statement disowning their colleague was rapidly forthcoming. They were, I think, frit. The sociologist Frank Furedi commented: ‘It was a form of moral blackmail of Hewson. The message was clear: if you refuse to toe our line, we will create problems for you in your place of work and in the public realm more broadly. In other words, if you don’t shut up, we will make sure that your daddy punishes you.’

This story ended badly: Barbara no longer practices law in her former chambers, which is truly a shame. She does practice elsewhere, but still. No one should be allowed to be hounded out of a position by those who object to their opinions.

We won’t belabour the obvious parallels here, except to say that if we allow this sort of thing to happen to people who happen to have thoughts we don’t care for, how are we in any way better than the Hoaxtead mob or their ilk?


17 thoughts on “A bitter Twitter battle yields important lessons

  1. Thanks. I think that is an entirely fair summary. I note the tweets where she more explicitly tries to say I am an anti Semite are NOT using my twitter handle, so I won’t be notified of them.

    This entire thing is very sad. She is a good writer and she has courage. It is shame she appears to have gone mad. Perhaps that is what constant exposure to this kind of thing does to you.

    But while I have sympathy for what she has suffered this does not give her the right to attempt to deprive me of my freedom of speech – in one of the nastiest ways possible; by setting me up as something I am not and encouraging others to hate me.

    Shame on you Barbara Hewson.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. BTW I think she DOES still practise law – but not at Hardwicke Chambers who I agree, showed very little courage or loyalty in 2013. She is now at Grays Inn Square, judging from the email address she used to send threatening emails on a Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Perhaps it’s because she recognised the difficulties inherent in attempting to serve legal documents on a coyote”

    Yeah, like that’s gonna stop me. Listen, son – I have cartoon footage of you dangling me over a cliff and attempting to drop an Acme anvil on my head, so if you think sideswipes like that are gonna deter me from suing your arse, think again. Beep beep!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Mr. Coyote,

      We demand that you immediately cease and desist your unlawful use of “Acme” products in relation to attempts to drop said “Acme” product onto the head of passing wildlife.

      Acme Anvil Company.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. For information only. Spain changed the law re the age of consent and it’s now 16.


  5. I note, with considerable interest that Ms Hewson now appears to have deleted all tweets alleging I am an anti Semite. So thanks for the screen shot.

    Unlike my blog post, there are grounds for defamation here.

    I am unlikely to take legal action against Ms Hewson because I am not a raging nitwit with a over inflated sense of self importance (I hope).

    But if she repeats this kind of behaviour, I may have no choice. So I hope she has calmed down.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sarah – I totally understand your feelings and admire your sense of balance in not opening proceedings. Your anger after such and attack must be great, yet you have not responded like many of the people who have been a “feature” in here – your obviously not a feature and have been a balanced and worthwhile contributor to this blog.

    Hopefully she will see sense and whatever fueled her anger will dissipate. .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks JW. I was certainly annoyed but I hope that any ‘anger’ dissipated quite quickly. She has a right to express her opinion – as do I. Obviously we must both stay within the bounds of the civil and criminal law and not bring our profession into disrepute.

      But the prevailing emotion is just weariness and a tinge of sadness. I do not think she has behaved any better than the tribe of lunatics that this blog works so tirelessly (and awesomely) to expose and ridicule. Its the same absolute rage at being challenged, the same knee jerk over emotional response to anything that challenges your world view.

      We have simply got to do better than this. With all the wonders that the internet gives us, all the amazing people I have ‘met’ on line and learned so much from… and then I read in the papers on the train home that Jess Phillips was bombarded with over 600 rape threats on Twitter last night and calls it ‘broken’.

      After what I experienced last night, I can only agree with her. But at least Hewson wasn’t threatening to rape me, just tweeting to every prominent Jewish lawyer in the UK that I was an anti-semite or at least a sympathiser.

      Sad, sad, sad.


  7. You should check Hewson’s timeline now.

    She claimed last week that publishing her silicitor’s letter was copyright infringement (then later deleted the tweet).

    Now she is publishing Alan’s family photos and threatening to contact his wife and children…


    • I’m afraid I have no sympathy for Alan on this one; trolling tends to reap its own rewards.

      As for Barbara, I’m staying away from this entire mess. I have nothing against her, but was puzzled by her behaviour last week. I’m hoping that she’ll get things sorted quickly, for her own sake.

      Liked by 1 person

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