Human Wrongs

A few years ago I went to Strasbourg, home of the famous European Court of Human Rights. After admiring the building itself, I noticed a disabled man camping on the other side of the tracks that take visitors to the tram stop named, rather piously, ‘Droits De L’Homme’. He had a huge display in several languages, setting out the appalling injustice that the Court had dealt him by not upholding his case. There were several such men, who would no doubt have treated a ECHR victory as total vindication, but the loss was evidence only of the Court’s bias and corruption. I immediately thought of the notorious FOI applicant and progenitor of vexatious caselaw Alan Dransfield, and wondered if one day, he would be one of the poor souls, earnestly telling his sorry tale to tourists. This is unlikely of course, because Dransfield would spend his time shouting at every passer-by that they were a dickhead.

Nevertheless, the website ‘Amazon News Media’ chose to celebrate International Human Rights Day last month (10th December, diary fans) by publishing an open letter from Dransfield to the Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Fans of Dransfield’s work will be pleased to see a number of familiar themes in the letter. Dransfield claims that the Information Commissioner’s Office is guilty of fraud and theft of public funds. There is ‘tangible evidence‘ that they, along with multiple public authorities, are involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice:

The evidence of complicity between the ICO and Public Authorities seeking to avoid obligations under FOI by consistent misuse and abuse of Section 14/1 vexatious exemption is overwhelming

Dransfield doesn’t specify what the overwhelming / tangible evidence is, beyond asserting that he lost his case at the Court of Appeal, so QED: the fix is in. The letter makes a series of allegations about the ICO and demands that the Commissioner is sacked and replaced by himself. The allegations are a mixture of falsehood (he says that they don’t publish their register of interests when they do) and opinion (he claims it is a breach of an unspecified EU Trade law that the ICO usually uses 11KBW for legal services, ignoring the fact that they are the leading information law chambers in the UK). The only verifiable claim is the conflict of interest in having a council leader act as a manager of a team that deals with complaints about councils and political parties. Dransfield only knows about this because I did an FOI request about it and wrote about it here (inevitably, Dransfield spells his name wrong and the mistake slipped through Amazon News Media’s presumably robust fact checking procedures).

If you’re not familiar with it, the scale of the Dransfield conspiracy is breathtaking – construction companies including Balfour Beatty, multiple councils, the Health and Safety Executive, Dransfield’s MP Ben Bradshaw, the previous and current Information Commissioners and many of their staff, West Ham United, the Olympic Delivery Authority and various other Olympic bodies, former secretary of state Chris Grayling, myself, the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the House of Lords, all working tirelessly to cover up the construction of a network of unsafe buildings and bridges across the UK. Only Dransfield has the insight to see the conspiracy in all its Byzantine complexity, and the entire UK legal system is ranged against him to stop his crusade.

There is, of course, another perspective, but Amazon News Media have seemingly backed Dransfield with gusto. The accompanying editorial hails “Mr Dransfield’s long experience as a social watchdog” and complains of his “extensive scapegoating” but demonstrates a slender grasp on the facts. For example, it claims that vexatiousness was planted at the second, Upper Tier Tribunal, rather than being a feature of the original refusal dealt with by the ICO. Moreover, like Dransfield, Amazon News Media make big play of the fact that it was the ICO who appealed to the Upper Tribunal and Court of Appeal, describing it as an “abuse” of the system. When Dransfield went to the First Tier Tribunal, he was appealing the ICO’s decision, not Devon’s original refusal. If the ICO disagrees with the FTT, it is they (and not Devon) who must take forward the appeal. The appeal process is not open only to the applicant – public authorities and applicants can challenge the Commissioner, but the Commissioner is entitled to challenge decisions that they think are wrong. This is how the system is designed, and Dransfield chose to use that system. Complaining about the result of a process you initiated is acting like the men outside the ECHR.

I put a comment on the Amazon News Media blog, pointing out that I had made 100s* of FOI requests without ever being refused as vexatious (the issue of Alex Ganotis’ role at the ICO just being one of many), pointing out that Dransfield’s hostility and abusive character is probably part of the problem. An unnamed representative of the organisation dismissed this – apparently, when Dransfield called the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham a ‘useless cow’ on Twitter, this was just “colourful language [that] perhaps reflects the insult of having your name unreasonably scape-goated for half a decade“. So perhaps the insult is Denham’s fault for not giving Dransfield the face-to-face meeting he’s been demanding since July. It’s an odd perspective, because Dransfield has been calling me a prick and a dickhead for disagreeing with him ever since this mess started.

I can’t work out who runs the Amazon News Media site – it describes itself as “an evidence-based website practising freelance written and video journalism“, but the website, Twitter account and Facebook page are all somewhat anonymous. The site itself is registered to a David Hodgson in New Zealand, but the nameless person who runs the Twitter account told me that it is based in Swansea. Whoever they are,

UPDATE: I know who they are. I’ve read all 59 pages of the judgement.

They have made a fatal error in their analysis of Dransfield’s case. The editorial states that Dransfield enjoys “superior knowledge of lighting protection systems, and Health and Safety regulations” – the problem is that this is irrelevant to the case. S14 of FOI has no public interest test – it’s not about the information, but the process.

The Information Commissioner, the two Tribunals and the Court of Appeal are not supposed to decide whether Dransfield is right about the unsafe buildings. For the record, I think the conspiracy is a complete fantasy, and Dransfield’s requests are the result of a grudge against his former employer, Balfour Beatty. None of Dransfield’s blood-curdling predictions about fatal lightning strikes have come true, and I am not aware of anyone in the UK Health and Safety sector who backs his theories (I’m famously an arsehole and lots of people agree with me about Data Protection despite this impediment).

None of this matters. The question in play is not one about Health and Safety. The question is whether Dransfield’s torrent of requests, complaints and other correspondence were an abuse of the FOI system. Dransfield had every opportunity to put his case before four independent bodies – one of them agreed with him, and the others did not. It’s not impossible for Dransfield to be right about the buildings (as unlikely as this may seem) and yet, because of his hostility, his stubbornness and the sheer weight of his requests, they tip into vexatiousness.

Ironically, despite Dransfield’s antipathy towards the ICO (and his misogyny towards the new Commissioner), his demand that the ICO sort out the vexatious issue is completely wide of the mark. Even if Denham accepted that he was right, she is powerless to reverse the Dransfield decision. If Wilmslow executed a volte face tomorrow, the Court of Appeal decision would still stand. Public authorities could use the CoA judgement against the ICO in the Tribunals who would be bound by it. Only the courts can change the decision – it is out of the Commissioner’s hands. It’s tempting to believe that Dransfield knows this, and he directs his rage toward the ICO solely because he enjoys it, rather than knowing it will change the outcome.

In the end, Amazon News Media grew tired of my interventions and refused to publish my final comment unless I edited out all of the mansplaining, repetition and “snark”. Instead of being censored, you can – if you wish – read the comments on ANM, and then, by way of a conclusion to all this, I reproduce the comment that they found so objectionable.

You can twist what I have said in any direction that suits you. The decisions that the ICO makes are, obviously, about the public interest (where that applies, and with some exemptions, it doesn’t). Sometimes they get those decisions wrong, sometimes they get them right. When a decision has been tested at several levels, and then looked at subsequently by differently constituted tribunals, you have two choices. Either you can believe that there is an enormous conspiracy to subvert the FOI Act, or you can look at the particular case and decide that maybe the system got it right. There is no inner truth here – you believe what you want to believe based on your own prejudices.

What I said above is that Mr Dransfield’s letter, your publication of it and your conspiracy theories about the legal system will have no practical effect. Truss will not intervene because it isn’t her place to intervene in legal cases. The European Court of Human Rights will not intervene, because Mr Dransfield has been refused leave to appeal there. These are facts – you can put a political / paranoid spin on them if you like, but the spin doesn’t change the facts. If you want to stop vexatious decisions being made under Dransfield, someone needs to take a case all the way to the Court of Appeal and get Dransfield overturned. Alternatively, the FOI Act will have to be amended in Parliament. Given that you think the entire legal system is corrupt, I assume you’re not much keener on MPs. Which makes all of the above a monumental waste of time. But at least it gives you and Dransfield something to do.

* ANM refuse to believe that I have made 100s of FOI requests without proof. Given that they are willing to turn an abusive blowhard into a Human Rights champion without any justification, I am content to say that I have, and if they or you don’t believe me, I don’t care.

** It has been suggested to me that in my comment above, I said that the Court of Appeal can overturn Dransfield, whereas the suggestion is that actually, only the Supreme Court can do it i.e. the court *above* the Court of Appeal. If this is right (and I suspect that it is), the difficulty of reversing Dransfield is greater.

Comments

  1. Wirral In It Together says:

    I’ve made 458 FOI requests. What motivates me is a compelling desire for fairness, having seen and experienced the relentless abuse that officials are capable of.

    Are you prepared to accept that injustices do occur, that bankers, politicians and other well-placed central or local officials are largely beyond the accountability that is designed for others (e.g. a prison sentence for looting a tray of water) and that Dransfield may have a point?

    • The fact that you keep such a precise score doesn’t make me take you more seriously (somewhat the opposite).

      There are scandals everywhere. The world is an unfair, unequal place, ruled by rich elites who are even now laughing at the idiots who think that Brexit, Trump or Corbyn will have any effect on their grip on power. We are ruled by money, and those that have it care little for anyone else.

      Nevertheless, I do not accept that Dransfield has a point. Nobody in the Health and Safety sector backs his theories, and he has no evidence for the mud he flings around at anyone who does not deliver exactly what he demands, when he demands it. The people he smears and abuses are frequently not the plutocrats and politicians, but blameless public servants who have committed no crime beyond doing their jobs with limited resources. I know you hate people who have jobs, but not everyone has the luxury of withdrawing from the working world in order to sneer and carp at those who are part of it. I respect people who do their best in a compromised world infinitely more than I respect you or Dransfield. You can sentimentalise Dransfield as a little man raging against ‘the system’ all you like – I don’t believe that this is his motivation, and in any case, his chief effect on the system has been to make it stronger.

      • Wirral In It Together says:

        I’m not trying to win your approval Tim.

        Thanks for your limited take on ‘the state we’re in’, wherein exist little people – who don’t simply operate reluctantly in a compromised world, but who very often sanction and condone it in return for a salary – by which they can choose to either enrich themselves and prosper through abuse and malpractice or keep shtum, tread water and survive.

        Luxury doesn’t intrude into my life tbh. It was good that I retired from this rat race at 50, but I still need to keep my hand in on a freelance basis to give my family something approaching normality. Luckily for me I’ve found a good, rich seam of work currently, but I’ll always make sure I find the time to be a ‘keyboard warrior’ and a user of the FOIA.

      • This is straying away from the topic of the blog; any further and they may fall foul of the clear guidelines set out above the comment box.

      • alan m dransfield says:

        I do not respond to polemical hogwash.

        A polemic (/pəˈlɛmɪk/) is contentious rhetoric that is intended to support a specific position. Polemics are mostly seen in arguments about controversial topics. The practice of such argumentation is called polemics. A person who often writes polemics, or who speaks polemically, is called a polemicist.[1] The word is derived from Greek πολεμικός (polemikos), meaning “warlike, hostile”,[1][2] from πόλεμος (polemos), meaning “war”.[3]

        Polemics often concern issues in religion or politics. A polemic style of writing was common in Ancient Greece, as in the writings of the historian Polybius. Polemic again became common in medieval and early modern times. Since then, famous polemicists have included the satirist Jonathan Swift, the socialist philosopher Karl Marx, the novelist George Orwell and the linguist Noam Chomsky.

        Turner claims I have used ABUSIVE language so he should be able to reproduce such abusive language.Get a life you DH, at best my language is colourful. We shall agree to disagree until they throw Denham and Christopher into Gail.

      • Your Twitter account is full of abuse and I’ve screenshotted much of it in case you ever work out how to delete tweets.

  2. Firstly there’s no way you’re an “arsehole”, famously or otherwise, and I object to you characterising yourself as such; you’re a decent, compassionate and reasoned gentleman.

    But: do you believe that Dransfield is making up his whole beef, that he doesn’t believe any of what he’s spouting and it’s all purely a mechanism to cause hassle for people? That the conspiracy is a conscious fantasy, or an unconscious one? In various roles I come across people who are sadly very deluded and genuinely believe against much evidence to the contrary, that the world has conspired against them. I sometimes find it difficult to determine whether the vexatious person is consciously making stuff up to cause problems or is deluded. Perhaps sometimes it’s a mix of both.

    I wish that the minority didn’t abuse their rights to the detriment of the majority, wasting everybody’s time and effort, and resources of public bodies and of independent charities in the process.

    • I have never met Dransfield, and it would be unfair to him for me to speculate on whether he believes in his conspiracy. However, I believe that having read his blog, his FOI requests on What Do They Know and his Twitter account, that I have described the conspiracy accurately. He has commented on this blog, and did not suggest that I was wrong in how I set it out.

      Dransfield clearly enjoys mischief – it is something that he and I have in common. I just wish he could find a less destructive outlet for that side of himself. He could achieve great things if he directed his energy and drive towards something that wasn’t a complete waste of time.

      • Alan M Dransfield says:

        I don’t need the advice or assistance from a Pyschopath/Tosspot like yourself. You claimed the ICO had completed their Register of Interest which is BS. You claim my FOIA were not H&S related which is BS. You are on record of limited Knowledge of the FOIA and you certainly know FA about Construction and Lighning Protection. Stick to your DATA pal and leave the FOIA to us Experts. Afterall ,I am the UK leading Court Authority on this Vexatious BS.
        You are 110 % correct about a CONSPIRACY but unfortunately you got the names mixed up. Lets me correct you old mate.
        Dransfield is NOT involved in any CONSPIRACY but Judge Wikeley and the ICO Maffia are and hundreds of PA’s Nationwide.
        You are interfereing smart ass TWAT that thinks he is Gods Gift to the FOIA. I would expect you to run home to Mummy again in a minute and tell her Dranny has bullied you again. FO you Imbocile.
        I am pleased you think my language is colourful.

      • As this comment demonstrates, your language isn’t as colourful as your spelling. Given that you’re reduced to ranting in the small hours, maybe you should get more sleep.

  3. Alan M Dransfield says:

    Concrete evidence your claims the ICO have completed their Register of Interest docs is BS. But we expect that now from you because you are a BShitter.
    https://ico.org.uk/media/about-the-ico/documents/1625492/register-of-interests-steve-wood-20161101.pdf

    • An empty interests form means that the person has no interests to declare.

      • Alan M Dransfield says:

        BS again because they haven’t signed their forms.They don’t sign the Decision Notices ,don’t sign their register of interests . The DN’s are a legal documents and ALL Legal Docs neeed to be signed.
        You and the Trumpet Man are pissing in the same pot, me thinks

      • Can you show me the legislation or regulations that require “ALL Legal Docs” to be signed?

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