Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Dear Readers,

          It all looked very fair and proper. The BBC Trust, which is the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation, would consider my appeal. It was against the decisions of three of the BBC’s top executives that its Jersey Radio presenter Murray Norton had not engaged in or incited cyber-bullying against my son Simon Abbott when I believed he had.
          The Corporation would also appoint an Independent Editorial Adviser to examine the entire case and present a report to aid the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee (Committee) in considering my appeal.
          To make it even more just I was to be given a copy of the report to comment on and my views would then form part of my appeal.
          The complaint was initially made by my son, who died aged 47 after being relentlessly cyber-bullied during the last two years of his life. I took it up after his death.    
            It went through the chain of command from Jon Gripton, Editor, BBC Radio Jersey & BBC Channel Islands TV to Leo Divine, Head of the BBC South West Region and then to David Holdsworth, Controller, English Region, BBC News.
        The background to this story is in various posts of mine such as Did Cyber-bullies kill Simon Abbott? BBC’s Dilemma – Defining cyber-bulling and Defending Murray Norton etc.         

 The BBC's appeal process seemed perfect until a host of secrecy issues arose. Bias raised its ugly head when the Corporation refused to name the Adviser leaving me with the uncomfortable feeling that this was a BBC lackey.          
          I complained that as a pillar of British society the BBC had forgotten one of the main principles of fair justice and that was that Not only must it be done, but it must be seen to be done.
          The Independent whitewash specialist obliterated the names of the three executives, referring to them only by their titles. What reason could there be for this?    

The fishy business didn’t end there, it got worse, a lot worse. In the Adviser’s report references to information that would be given to the Committee, but not shared with the parties kept cropping up.
          What kind of justice is this? I asked. How am I supposed to comment on something that is being kept from me?
          The result of my son’s cyber-bullying allegations that came to naught after being given to the Jersey Police were outlined in the report with this rider The Police statement will be provided to the Committee but it has not been shared with the parties to protect the privacy of the individuals referred to (See my post JERSEY’S TWO FACED COPS).         

The same reason was given for only allowing the Committee to see some public postings relating to Norton which have some relevance to this appeal.
           I was kept out of the picture again when the Adviser referred to private posts on Norton’s Facebook wall. Only this time the Adviser went further by acting as the judge as to what even the Committee should be allowed to see when he/she stated The most relevant ones will be shown to the Committee.       

   The Adviser also went to the absurd lengths of removing the names of people in privileged court documents. I commented that this kind of unnecessary censorship tended to tarnish the veracity of the entire report because it makes one wonder what else the Adviser left out to protect somebody or other.
          The people who were seen by the Adviser were listed. But nowhere was my name mentioned. He/she visited Jersey and had a two and half hour meeting with Norton. He had already given his version to both Gripton and Devine, and Holdsworth had sanctioned it yet the Adviser felt it necessary to spend this amount of time speaking to Norton personally. How independent was this, I wanted to know, if the Adviser never even contacted the only surviving complainant?         
          How could all this secrecy possibly comply with the BBC’s Openness undertaking on its website?
          This tells us: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
          I sent all my concerns mentioned above to the BBC and I was assured they were submitted to the Committee. So far I have never been given any reasons to justify the way the Adviser’s investigation was conducted or why this person had to remain anonymous.

          Were things kept from me in the interest of the wider public or more importantly the BBC?
          Eventually I was given the Committee’s findings. First I got a draft with a  warning that these remain strictly confidential until they are published.
Inevitably when the final version arrived for publication on 1 July, that recurring theme some of the wording has been amended to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned cropped up again.
 But only the Committee would know how it could have been changed to protect anybody when, as far as I could see, neither version named a single person.
          Even my son and I were referred to as Complainants 1 and 2 and Norton was an anonymous BBC radio presenter.
          The Trustee members of the Committee who dealt with my appeal were Alison Hastings (Chairman), Sonita Alleyne, Richard Ayre, Bill Matthews and Nicholas Prettejohn. They were not named in their findings; I had to establish this myself.
          They read into my complaint things that were not there; conveniently ignored very important points; came to conclusions not supported by the evidence; contradicted themselves and put forward a very convoluted argument.
          It was such a sloppy job that they must have spilt whitewash all over themselves by the time they had finished.

          They incorrectly read the following into my complaint and decided (I have taken the liberty of inserting the missing names):

·      that “Norton had said nothing on air about Simon which contravened the BBC’s Editorial Guideline” when I had never suggested this. When I made my initial complaint to Gripton he told me that the BBC had not initiated or endorsed cyber-bullying. I replied that he protesteth too much as I was not alleging this. I told him my concern was about what Norton had done on social media and that it was warped morality for him to say that it wasn’t the BBC’s problem, if Norton, who was a freelance, did this in his spare time.
·      that “Norton’s charity work did not imply the BBC endorsement for one charity or cause above others and neither did it undermine the presenter’s on-air role or the public’s perception of the integrity of the BBC.” Again this was not part of my complaint. My point was that as a charity fund raiser himself he could not be impartial when he attacked the way my son was trying to raise money for the post natal cause after his sister committed suicide while suffering from this affliction.

They ignored these very important points:

·      They dismissed one of two reasons I gave as to why Gripton could not have judge my complaint impartially.

     They did not consider it relevant that Gripton was one of Norton’s Facebook friends and ruled that there had been no need for him to declare this when he replied to me. Conveniently they ignored the other much more important one that Gripton had shown that he regarded cyber-bullying as a joke. In an unrelated matter he Tweeted it was very amusing when somebody was cyber-bullying Shona Pitman, a member of the Jersey parliament with particularly offensive comments. In the same Tweet Gripton mocked her husband Trevor. After a complaint was made to the BBC Gripton disappeared from Twitter for months, even though the Corporation took no action against him.

·      They didn’t even consider my evidence that Norton had incited his photographer friend Ian le Sueur to cyber-bully my son. Norton admitted to the Adviser that when he arranged to meet Simon at a church he got Le Sueur to snatch a picture of my son without his knowledge. Le Sueur then used this to spice up Tweets in which he called Simon a con man, conning items out of celebs and duping people of hard earned money.  There was ample evidence to show that Norton and Le Sueur were working together to discredit my son. But the whitewash Five decided that they should only concern themselves with Norton’s actions and not anybody unconnected to the BBC. To justify the use of their brush once again they quoted this from the Corporation’s conflicts of interest guideline: The external activities of BBC editorial staff, reporters and presenters should not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output. But far from supporting their case I believe it only fortified mine. What Norton did with Le Sueur was very much part of his external activities and as such should not have just been painted out.

Contrary to the facts they concluded the following:

·      that “Norton’s social media comments amounted to no more than a firm questioning of Simon’s motives and credibility for seeking charitable donations for the charity he had set up.” Threatening my son by saying The Police, the press and possibly the taxation authorities must be sent all complaints with hard evidence that Simons has actually done something wrong was definitely not firm questioning. And nor were the following libellous comments that made Simon out to be a crook. I will once again ask the Jersey Police if they have any further thoughts on him. Simon, if you are reading this, which my friends he might be, give it up, put the items you claim to have from the famous to good use. I’ll auction them for some people in real need – instead of fake events that help no one, even those of us trying to raise funds. There were other Norton comments that made nonsense of the Committee’s firm questioning label.
·      that “on a small island like Jersey it was impossible for a well-known person like Norton to have a private life or for his social media to be private, but Norton had been careful to ensure that his various roles did not cross over in a way that brought the BBC into disrepute.” This was NOT TRUE. He was sued for libel by my son in Jersey’s Royal Court because of his slanderous cyber-bullying together with his friend Le Sueur and five other people. This was widely reported on social media and Britain’s Mail on Sunday, which has a readership of over two million. It carried a page lead story headlined ‘BBC man’s Twitter bullying campaign killed my son’ Devastated father claims offensive comments contributed to son’s heart attack. This was repeated in the MailOnline, which is said to be the most widely read website in the world. Inexplicably in the Committee’s eyes this did not tarnish the BBC’s name. 

They contradicted themselves by stating:

·      that “there was no evidence that the BBC presenter had behaved inappropriately on social media.” Again this was NOT TRUE.
·      that “the advice the BBC presenter had been given by the BBC regarding his involvement in the matter had been appropriate and although the actions could potentially have brought the BBC into disrepute, they did not actually do so.” This was the Committee itself contradicting its conclusion immediately above.
It was a watered down version of what the Adviser revealed. 
This was that Devine made it very clear to Murray that his involvement in this matter was ill judged and could, potentially bring the BBC into disrepute, even if, as he thought, he was acting in his private capacity. Furthermore, his freelance status made no difference to how his comments could be viewed. He was told not to make any further comment on any website concerning Simon Abbott.  In my appeal I stated It is absolutely clear that Devine decided that what Norton was doing was wrong and what Norton was doing was cyber-bullying Simon. There can be no other conclusion from the action Devine took and that’s the gist of this case. But in spite of the action Devine took both he, Gripton and Holdworth stuck to what they had claimed all along and that was that Norton had not cyber-bullied my son.

         In their wisdom the Five rejected my appeal and accepted the very convoluted argument of the BBC’s top brass.
          The Committee capped its findings by emptying the rest of its whitewash onto the BBC by saying it acted in good faith and dealt fairly and openly with both complainants. There was no breach of the Accountability guidelines.
          Jon, a disgusted father who had initially been impressed with the BBC’s apparently very fair appeal procedure, only to find that it was a window dressing illusion.

P.S. While my BBC complaint, which received considerable publicity, was going on Norton announced on his three hour Radio Jersey slot that this would be his last show for the foreseeable future. DOESN’T THAT SPEAK VOLUMNS?