Saturday, 30 August 2014

How to close down debate on home education; a case study

Some readers will probably be aware that I have, in one way and another, been mixed up with home education for over forty years. My views are not shared by everybody, but I am always ready to discuss home education; which was of course why I started this blog and never switched on the moderation or tried to stop anybody from saying what they pleased here. This was very annoying to some people and so one or two of them set out to put a stop to the free exchange of views here.  Let’s see how this was done, and by whom.

Two years ago, a briefing paper about the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans to alter the law on home education began to circulate. Parts of it first appeared anonymously on Mike Fortune-Wood’s site and some people, including me, thought that it had been written by Alison Sauer. After a while, the author’s name was added. This was Wendy Charles-Warner. Like a number of home educators, I had already come across the name, because Wendy had written to the Daily Telegraph about  home education and approached the BBC and various newspapers and got them to publish information about her family, along with photographs of her and her relatives. She also of course was listed in the Good Hotel Guide and various other places on the internet. I mentioned briefly on this blog that the briefing paper had not been written by Alison, but was rather the work of Wendy, who lived near Snowdonia. That was all. No address or other details; just that bare statement. Considering the sheer quantity of information that Wendy herself had caused to be placed in newspapers, the BBC and so on  about her family, I hardly thought that this was an invasion of her privacy.

I was then approached, not by Wendy herself but by Alison Sauer; which I found odd. She asked me to remove mention of the fact that Wendy lived in North Wales, as it put her in danger. Since that very week, yet another article had appeared in a newspaper at Wendy’s instigation, actually mentioning the name of the house she lived in; this struck me as absurd and I told Alison so. That night, she organised a campaign against me on Facebook. She published my home address and suggested that people make nuisance deliveries to my home. Cheryl Moy wanted to know my wife’s name, somebody else suggested sabotaging my email. Alison herself urged people to come on here to, as she put it,  ‘bomb’ this blog, with offensive messages. She told people not to debate, but just, ‘leave your smelly messages’. Clearly, she hoped that people would be as offensive as possible. This was a brilliant success, because Alison and her friends vied with each other to see who could be most inventive with personal abuse about me and my family. I removed the worst examples, which made mention of my wife, but left some of the others for people to see. Then the abuse became even cruder and some people contacted me and asked me to take down some  the messages as they were afraid that it was making home educators look like absolute maniacs. At that point, I was compelled to switch on the moderation for the first time since I had begun the blog three years earlier. Round one to Alison Sauer.

After a while, I turned off the moderation, only to find a new problem starting. Industrial quantities of spam began to appear; hundreds of advertisements for things like rubbish disposal turning up in the comments every day. I had never encountered anything like this before and it only began in earnest after Alison  had launched her campaign of harassment. One of Alison's chums, Kat Brown, had already suggested sabotaging my email and so I assumed that this was a variation of that theme. Because I didn’t have time to go through every post and all the comments to remove this stuff, I was compelled once again to switch on the moderation. Round two to Alison and her friends.

None of this made me feel very well disposed towards Alison and Wendy and so I posted a few questions here, asking what on earth was going on. Quite a few people answered in the comments, giving their own views on the subject. The general opinion was not favourable towards Alison and Wendy. Then I received a letter from Wendy, threatening  to sue me for defamation. She objected to forty three things which had been said about her on this blog. The clever bit about this was that almost none of these things had been said by me. Forty of the things she complained about had been remarks  made anonymously in comments here. Wendy pointed out that I was legally liable for these comments, even though I hand't made them myself; it was my blog.  If I allowed them to continue, she would take me to court. Game set and match to Wendy and Alison. The moderation has been switched on here ever since and because I don’t have the time to come here every five minutes to check the comments and allow publication  of those which are acceptable to Wendy, I no longer bother with this blog. My wife was also alarmed about the threats, especially about our home address being publicised and Alison's friends trying to find out her name. She too put pressure on me to stop blogging.

This same method has been used to close down debate on home education in other places as well.

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