I am delighted to host a guest blogpost by Councillor John Dixon. The background to the complaint made against him by a scientologist is here. The complaint against him was dismissed yesterday.
I know the first part of this is going to sound a bit like an Oscar acceptance speech, but there are some people that I just have to thank before I start.
Bel (or Mrs D) has been through this with me since the start. She's an intensely private person, who hates my being in the public eye, but puts up with it anyway. All this attention has been a bit wearing for her, and required some very delicate cooking on my part to win her round again.
David Allen Green, aka Jack of Kent - prior to his taking an interest, it just was me trying to convince Bel that this was a ridiculous case, and assuring her that it would all work out. Afterwards, all of a sudden, I had a lot of other people saying the same thing, which made life a touch easier.
Believe it or not, the councillors in Cardiff Council too - to a man and woman, they've been supportive. This has been an issue beyond party political boundaries. During the whole time, not one of them has tried to gain any short-term advantage, although there have been a few wry comments in debates. It'll probably halve my number of followers, but I think the vast majority of councillors in the UK are decent people who've made the choice to stand up and do something about the problems they perceive, rather than just sit in a pub and complain.
You could see that yesterday. It was pretty obvious that the members of Cardiff's Standards and Ethics Committee wanted to get rid of the complaint at the first opportunity they had, having been required to investigate by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.
They agreed with me that, irrespective of my Twitter handle at the time, it was clear to any but the most cynical, that the context of the messages made it evident that I was writing the posts in question in a private, rather than official capacity, so the Code of Conduct did not apply. At that point, there was no further case to answer.
Now, I have to admit that part of me a little sad. I would have enjoyed my day in court, and I would have liked the opportunity to test the Ombudsman's judgement (which you can read in full here).
Even the one member of Standards and Ethics who spoke against dropping the complaint there and then did so only because they wanted to hear the evidence in more detail.
Having being accused of religious bigotry, I would have liked the chance to defend myself. To be honest, I wanted to know on what grounds the Ombudsman can say that I both don't understand the Code of Conduct, and why they felt the need to 'note' that I showed no remorse for my actions.
Given my responsibility for social services in Cardiff, providing services for the most vulnerable people in the city, I wanted to explore why, given the history of the 'Church' I was expected to apologise to an organisation with a long history of court judgments detailing family breakup, and also of the mistreatment of people with mental illnesses and complex developmental disorders.
I'd rate myself as a fair bar-room lawyer, and a pretty decent speaker, and I've watched Twelve Angry Men, and every episode of Rumpole of the Bailey. So that part of me feels as though these things will never now get said, or recorded as part of the canon of Code of Conduct cases, so they can never apply in similar cases in future. All that happened yesterday was to decide that a councillor doesn't act as a councillor 24/7/365, and that we're entitled to express views in a private capacity.
But I can't blame Standards and Ethics - ultimately it was the right decision to drop the complaint, even if I would have preferred the result to have had more of an effect on the wider system. None of them really wanted to be dealing with this case, or could even understand how a complaint so trivial could have made it so far through the system.
Of course, Paul Chambers has probably been thinking the same thing for a while too.
Both of us are guilty of no more than a darkish sense of humour and a compulsive desire to share an ephemeral thought.
But compared to him, I've been lucky - I've not been arrested, charged, and convicted, I've not lost my job, I've not had my career destroyed, there have been no calls for me to stand down as an executive member, or as a councillor. For me, bar the odd fraught conversation at home and random applause at occasional meetings, my life has been pretty much as per usual.
I'm embarrassed to be referred to as a 'hero' - like Paul, I stumbled unwittingly into this situation, rather than chose a battle to fight, but if anything he's the one who's responded heroically.
He's the one who deserves your admiration for the way he's conducted himself under extraordinarily trying circumstances.
All I did was not say 'sorry' when I was asked to on Newsnight, which seems so trivial by comparison. As I tweeted last night, if you haven't done so already - actually, even if you have done so already - take a moment now to go and contribute to the Twitter Joke Trial Fund. I'll still be here when you get back.
An unexpected side effect has been my rapid elevation to 'skeptical heavyweight'. Probably the most enjoyable part of my experiences this year has been to provide a bit of help and advice to Rhys Morgan in his campaign against the pushers of 'Miracle Mineral Solution' - an industrial bleach that AltMed advocates claimed would cure his Crohn's Syndrome, as well as any of the near endless list of conditions, like HIV, malaria, influenza, cancer, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, multiple sclerosis, he might have had.
Thanks to him, the UK Food Standards Agency, has issued warnings, as has the health ministry of the Kenyan government is aware that this snake oil is being peddled. As I've said to him, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in Africa is not a bad thing to have ticked off your list of things to do before you're 16.
Another opportunity has arisen to reform the regulation of local councillors. It's maybe not as sexy or important as libel reform, but as David Allen Green accurately summarised "we seem in the United Kingdom to be in the counter-intuitive position that our locally-elected representatives have a narrower right to free expression than either their voters or Members of Parliament." Or Welsh Assembly Members, Members of the Scottish Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly or Members of the European Parliament.
That can't be right. Don't get me wrong, the Code of Conduct is a set of values that I signed enthusiastically, and aspire to daily. But the Ombudsman's judgement and its literal interpretation of my duty of respect puts no limits on that duty, so it's an absolute one. That means the logical conclusion is that I must respect the Klu Klux Klan or Al-Qaeda. The judgment does allow that I should not be restricted from challenging those views, but that I must do so respectfully.
So that's another thing that I'm going to be taking up in Wales, across political parties at a pretty high level - the future role of the office of the Ombudsman. I suspect that, come the Welsh Assembly election next year, we'll be seeing a common position on the need for reform in the manifestoes.
However, the main result of all of this has been an increased focus on the activities of the 'Church' of Scientology, and that brings me to last night's Panorama. Ooh I should be on telly with a seamless segue like that.
The original, "Scientology and me", from 2007 was part of my required watching as I was preparing for my hearing, along with the archive here so I was looking forward to the follow-up. If things hadn't gone my way earlier, I was hoping for ideas for my defence at least.
First I have to say I think it was brave of John Sweeney to return to the subject, given the hell he was put through in the first documentary.
To me, it felt like the documentary he wanted to be able to make the first time around. Following Twitter at the same time, I saw plenty of comments from people feeling disappointed, and wanting new information and, if truth be said, I was feeling the same.
For a start I would have liked to see the background to their recent history in France - Aude-Claire Malton's case and the fraud trial last year, Alain Stoffen's book "Voyage To The Heart Of Scientology", how Martine Boublil was treated for her mental illness, and the death of Gloria Lopez. And that's just in France, so there's plenty of new material that could have been used.
But we need to remember that, outside our own echo chamber, in a world obsessed with the superficial, where superstar Scientologists enthusiastically talk up the 'Church', John Sweeney needed to re-establish a bit of credibility over the evidence he's providing following his 2007 outburst. The wider world probably has only what I had before Mr Wood's complaint last December - no more than a feeling that something isn't quite right with it.
I think "The Secrets of Scientology" went a long way to strengthening the foundations for concern in wider society. We now know that he wasn't paranoid in 2007 - I think most of us thought he was right to suspect he was being followed constantly, but Mike Rinder confirmed how they operate against their critics.
Mike Rinder explained how, rather than discuss and debate any issues of concern raised, they provoke and search for emotional buttons to press. How they harass and intimidate - evidenced by their performance at the hospital while he was waiting for the birth of his child, unwittingly recorded by John Sweeney who he was on the phone to at the time. How they use records collected in confidence against their former members.
All of this, and more, showed how they react in a way that no reputable organisation, never mind one that purports to be a religious one, would do. But then they do retain Carter-Ruck as their lawyers in the UK - please feel free to draw your own conclusions.
If things are to change in the UK, then that evidence base has to be firmly established in the public mind. Politicians do need convincing too. This will only be one of a huge number of subjects that people expect them to be both expert and passionate about, so for it to be more than just the issue du jour there needs to be both solid evidence of harm, and a sustained, widespread opinion that action needs to be taken.
I'd have preferred this to be at least a three-part mini-series, so that John Sweeney could have the time to really get into his subject. If you've got to spend time establishing the history of the 2007 documentary, and showing how you'd been manipulated into your outburst with the help of one of the then protagonists, an hour goes by pretty fast.
I can only hope that the BBC has the conviction to go deeper and further in future documentaries. I also hope they can find a someone who can put a soundtrack together that doesn't sound like they're plundering every audio cliche available. It'd also be nice if #stupidscientology could again surge to the top of the trending topics - that always fills me with a warm glow, and I know it makes David dance a little jig of excitement. Plus, I have it on good authority that every time it's used on Twitter, a body Thetan dies.
But this Panorama was another step, and a useful one - more confident and assured than 2007, and more convincing as a result. It's reminded me we can't stop, whether the issue is about free speech, or skepticism, or the 'Church' being "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" in the immortal words of Mr Justice Latey. Because, to borrow from my own meme, and as Gloria Lopez and many others have found, there's a lot worse than stupid that can rub off if you don't hurry past.
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