Baskers World

Sticks and Stones. Perhaps it’s time to go?

This is going to be a difficult blog post to write and I don’t quite know where to begin. I wasn’t going to write this, but I realize that I need to write this, I need to get these thoughts out of my head and onto pen and paper so to speak as a way of trying to deal with what’s happened to me.

It’s my therapy. My way of coping.

Sticks and stones may break my bones…. but words? Actually, they really do hurt.

So, perhaps I should start with what other people have been saying about me?

  •“, “Hidden Agenda“, “prolong her 15 minutes of fame
  • The woman who put the twit in Twitter
  • I’ve also been in receipt of several abusive e-mails and tweets (that I won’t repeat here),  from individuals that I have never had the pleasure of conversing with, yet deem it socially acceptable to openly attack someone whom they have never met and don’t actually know the true facts of the situation. I can only conclude that they have decided to base their “opinion & commentary” about me upon what has been said in the media regarding this “incident”. And what has been said leaves a lot to be desired.

It is abundantly clear to me that no matter I say, blog or tweet can be taken, republished, twisted and corrupted by those that wish to do so. The most innocent of phrases can be taken out of context, sneered and jeered at, implications made etc, in order to sell more newspapers or generate more hits on their websites.

Why? Apparently because I happen to be a Civil Servant, and I do fear for the hundreds of thousands of other Public Sector workers who are now at risk of the same “treatment” by the UK media to spin such stories in the tabloids.

Whilst this may give the editor the small satisfaction of writing an article which generates a lot of traffic, I do not think that for one minute they have actually thought, or indeed care about the unintended effects or consequences of what publishing, emailing or tweeting about that individual does.

I have never once sought to “prolong my 15 minutes of fame” as one blogger put it. I  submitted my complaint to the Press Complaints Commission back in November when all of this first happened. It is my right to do so. I had been wronged in the Press and this was the “official” channel I could use to try and get an apology. I’m entitled to do so.

I had no idea that it would take so long for a “ruling” (for want of a better word) to happen, which effectively re-opened the whole mess again for me. Yes, I’ve had journalists bombarding me again through Twitter and emails, but fortunately this time not on my front doorstep – a traumatic experience to say the least.

I am more than happy to stay in the background, quietly engaging away with other colleagues, civil servants, friends, family,  coders, geeks, open data people having discussions, nurturing friendships and conversations about life, the universe, X-factor and dare I say even the odd work conversation? It happens, and I defy anyone to say that they haven’t done the same either.

By staying in the background I don’t mean being quiet and NOT using social media, because that’s where a lot of people engage. It’s where I engage. I will continue to use Social Media *in a personal capacity* to converse with my friends, my on-line friends, my other friends who are scattered around the UK and the Globe. I simply do not understand why the conversations  I have with friends using my own personal equipment (not my employers) are subject to national coverage, sneering and slandering in the national press.

I’m not newsworthy. Unless of course I won the lottery, or maybe started dating some famous celebrity then perhaps there would have been something there to write about there. But I lead a fairly normal average life, have an average job, had an average family up bringing. Hardly newsworthy.

I’m not Perfect.

I’ve never said that I was, and I’m certainly no angel.

  • I’m overweight
  • I probably drink too much
  • I probably eat all the wrong foods
  • I’m 35, on my way to being the wrong side of my 30’s
  • I lose my temper too easily
  • I probably swear far too much
  • I wear my heart on my sleeve
  • Sometimes the I say things before the brain has engaged because I’m a fairly reactive person. It’s only on reflection and once I’ve had time to calm down that I think “oh bugger…arse.”

I’m a Public Sector worker. Not a slave to the media to be jeered at with no means to redress. When I became a Civil Servant I did not sign away my rights with respect to  Freedom of Thought, Speech and Expression of Opinion (and that includes political opinions as well).

I am 100% impartial and dedicated when it comes to my work.  I’m still at work, trying to deliver against a very, very challenging and stressful environment. However, I am entitled to have my own personal opinions and express them. If you have read my blog posts and tweets you will have seen this, and I have attempted to keep well within the Civil Service Code of Conduct. I’m sure that you can appreciate that there’s not a lot more I can say about work in this respect, but as like all other civil servants, by performance is constantly monitored by my line management and if there were to be issues, it would be dealt with by my management. Not the National Press.


Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver

So, suffice to say you can guess that it’s been a rather stressful time because of all of this. For those that do know me better, they will know that the last 6 months of my life have been hell. Absolute. hell.

Last August, I got a phone call. It’s a phone call that we all dread. That someone you care deeply for has fallen seriously ill. He’d collapsed with a brain haemorrhage and was in the High Dependency Unit. The days and weeks blurred into one another, spent at work during the day in the office, then late afternoons and evenings up at his bedside.

I think I’d been living on automatic pilot during that entire period and was so glad when he was finally discharged weeks later. It’s been slow progress, dealing with the tiredness, mood swings, medication, physiotherapy  exercises, memory recall etc. It’s only now, near 6 months later that he’s finally returned back to work – but all of that was incredibly stressful, and there’s still further recovery to go and more big life changing decisions to make.

Not long after he was discharged from hospital I got another dreaded phone call. My Grandad had just died, although he was a grand old age this was totally unexpected and had come like a bolt from the blue.

I was struggling in dealing with all the raw emotions, grief, loss and stresses of these two tragic events in my life, but I was managing to keep my head above the water. I am still going to work, still managing my team, delivering against my objectives – even managing to deal with the implications of the political decisions by the new coalition government to slash the Administration Budgets of all Central Government Departments by a third. This is directly effecting me as every single person where I work is now having to reapply for their grade, and if they are successful they will then be reallocated to a new “role” within the new, smaller and slimmer Department.

I hope that you understand why this is an incredibly stressful time for all that work in Government who are going through this. There are whole swathes of people taking voluntary redundancy, resigning, retiring and for those that are left there is the uncertainty of the job selection process and whether or not you are going to be served your 90 day notice. Our office environment is changing beyond any recognition. Friendships and teams are being torn apart. It’s all extremely stressful and we are all affected by stress in different ways.

For some, they will internalise until such a time they can hold it in no longer and they simply snap. Some will “snap” in the office environment, others at home or when traveling. It’s already happened. Good, hard working people that I know are suffering and are struggling to cope.

Just as I am.

I thought I was coping, I thought I was doing well. But I’m also at breaking point. Right in the middle of all of this, with all that is happening around me I have also had to deal with the unwanted and unmerited press intrusion into my life. My name has been published all over the tabloids, the media, the internet. I’ve even had journalists from America and Australia contacting me for quotes and commentary. This is pushing me to tipping point and I’m now suffering from the classic symptoms of stress.

  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fragile emotional state
  • Despair
  • Depression

I can feel the cold icy grip of depression coming over me, the razor sharp shards of it’s nails digging into my brain and beginning to paralyse my very thoughts, my hopes and dreams. It’s as if a great dark ice cloud has descended over me and is slowly rooting me to the spot. Bit by bit, day by day it takes that bit longer to get out of bed, trying not to burst into tears each morning, to get to work, to try and feel motivated and inspired to lead my team. I can feel the angry dark cloud of depression seeping into my bones and I don’t like it.

I cope with my depression as best as I can, by engaging with people on and offline. It’s helped me immensely over these troublesome times and it helps me keep the faith that there are some genuinely nice people out there, which I’ve also had the great honour to meet some of them, and hope to meet many more.

Despite all the nastyness I’ve encountered, it warmed my heart to find that there were many people (some I’d met, the majority I’d never met) who jumped to my defense with the first press intrusion into my life back in November (here’s where you can see a collection of blog posts regarding that –

Making the complaint

Understandably I was immensely upset by all of this. I lodged a formal complaint to the PCC using the only thing I could which is the PCC Code of Practice which sets out exactly what I can or can’t lodge a complaint against a newspaper. It is narrowed down into 16 specific areas to complain about which are further narrowed down into sub categories that further restrict you in what you can legitimately lodge a complaint about.

You’ll note that defamation of character,  slander, the republication of my social media content or it being a “non-story” aren’t actually covered as reasons to complain, thus I had to try and word my complaint in a way that slotted into the limited categories available to me.

I don’t have a massive salary or swathes of personal assistants, lawyers, journalists to spend hours researching these clauses, sub clauses etc to put together the perfect complaint. When this was all kicked

off that weekend in November I lodged a complaint there and then on what I thought fitted best into their categories. I will be the first to hold my hand up and say that the privacy angle wasn’t the strongest of defenses, but what was I to do? At that point in time I had journalists turning up at my front door, phoning me, emailing me. My Twitterstream, email and phone went into meltdown. I felt like I was under siege.

Why my social media content was republished nationally, subject to spin and comment like that is anyone’s guess.

I do not live in the public limelight, nor do I actively court the media circus. I do not consider myself to be fair game. I am a private citizen and have rights as such not to have my life plastered across the tabloids. If however I had done something that merited press intrusion (murder, fame, terrorism, espionage etc) then I would consider myself to be “fair game”… however merely owning a blog and Twitter account, being an active user of Social Media does not make one “fair game”. Publishing on the internet/social media platforms is not the same as being published in the national press.

If the Daily Mail was unhappy that Civil Servants are afforded the protections of the Civil Service Code and Articles 8, 9 and 10 as set out in schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 then I would suggest that writing a slanderous character assassination article about me is hardly the way to go about having an *informed* debate on the personal use of Social Media by Civil Servants. One wonders if the Daily Mail will be lobbying next for Civil Servants to be barred from voting at election time because this could be construed as to expressing a political opinion……

Unlike the celebrities of this country I can’t afford to take the newspapers to court for what’s been written about me and had to put my faith in self regulation of the media industry through the PCC. Thus, I submitted my complaint to the only authority there was and waited for the outcome.

The Press Complaints Commission ruling

So, with the publication of the PCC ruling, there were others out there who instead of jumping on the bandwagon with the megaphone journalism who have dug a little deeper to find the deeper story underneath the tabloid smears. These aren’t my words, these are the words of people that I don’t know (apart from Terence who I’ve only met twice at large social gatherings), and who have no vested interested in my job or what I do.

You see, I don’t consider myself newsworthy and nor do a lot of others. This was a total non-story and should never have been published in the first place. Publishing Social Media content isn’t news. It’s lazy journalism. It’s not a story, unless you try and spin it into a story. I was only made newsworthy because the Daily Mail decided to concoct a story about me because of some tenuous link to Sally Bercow (I’ve only met her a couple of times), and my use of Social Media more importantly, Twitter. And I think we all know the Daily Mail’s stance on those two subjects.

It has been pointed out that at the time I hadn’t locked down my Twitter stream, or locked my photo’s, or locked my blog. When I first started using Social Media I had thought about doing all of that, but it got me thinking about how do I want to live my life? Did I want to hide away? To be afraid to have an opinion? How is that in living with the ethos of Social Media? Is it wrong to openly engage and converse with people?

Perhaps I was naive, as has been pointed out in several blog posts that I didn’t hide away. What sort of society are we to become if we are to hide our thoughts and emotions away from one another? Bit by bit, we seemed to be moving closer to the “Big Brother” society where our very own thoughts are being used against us in the frenzied hype of the media circus. I do hope this trend can be reversed.

So there I was, unwittingly held up in the limelight to highlight everything that was wrong with the Public Sector and Social Media, with a sideswipe at the Bercows. This then became the “story”, thus reasonably justifiable for other papers to print it and add to it, according to the industry. And now, because of the PCC ruling it’s looking like it’s open season on any other public sector worker who’s caught in the grasp of the sweaty nicotine stained fingers of the press.

The problem with the PCC

Of course, you are going to think that I’m going to have an axe to grind here. And yes, you are right. I’ve put my faith in the PCC only to be badly let down. From my personal experience of the PCC, I feel that it isn’t independent at all and that the industry is failing to self regulate to the angst and cost of normal individuals.

There are several issues I have with the PCC;

  1. The PCC is entirely dependent on it’s funding from the newspaper and magazine industry, although it claims to be independent. You are hardly going to bite the hand than feeds you are you?
  2. The PCC is staffed by many people, journalists and editors from the newspaper industry, although it claims to still be able to make independent rulings. Conflict of interest?
  3. The PCC doesn’t actually represent the entire newspaper and magazine industry. Thus if you wish to make a complaint concerning a paper that isn’t in the PCC remit, you can’t and would probably have to go to court instead. Hardly making “justice” accessible to those who can’t afford the costs.
  4. The PCC doesn’t actually listen to it’s own guidance, As it:

The PCC guidance on “Privacy and Social Networking” (repeated and expanded in the January 2011 edition of the Editors’ Codebook) says.

“newspapers cannot automatically justify the use of material simply on the basis that it has appeared previously on the internet and is, therefore, ‘publicly available’. Even if an individual has not taken steps to protect their personal information (by hiding it behind strict privacy settings), newspapers will have to consider whether republication of the material shows respect for the individual’s privacy”.

By treating “public availability” of tweets as a “key consideration” the PCC appears to have given little weight to its own guidance.  More importantly, the adjudications do not address the question as to whether the republication “showed respect” for Ms Baskerville’s privacy.  The “public interest”identified relates to “the wisdom of civil servants using social media platforms” rather than the specific content of the messages.  In other words, even on the basis of the PCC’s own guidance, the adjudications are questionable.”

So, where to now?

Well, what’s done is done with me. I’ve already been plastered across the tabloids, world press and internet. As much as I hope that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else I don’t hold out much hope given the recent PCC ruling. I can’t afford to take this to court so I have to live with what has been done to me, my character and reputation.

But if anything good is to come out of this, then perhaps ;

  • a truly independent Press Complaints Commission that is independently funded – perhaps via a tax/levy on the industry?
  • A body that ALL newspapers and magazines are accountable to, not just those that currently subscribe to the current PCC Code of Practice
  • A new Code of Practice that takes into account a far wider remit than the current one does
  • A body that is staffed independently from the newspaper and magazine industry

I don’t make the policy, as they say in the old jokes “That’s not my Department love”.

But something has to be done.

Because the next “victim” of this social media and public sector hatred campaign by the press may not be so lucky to have the support network that I had. This “bullying”  has to stop before it does actually causes someone some serious mental or physical damage. There is only so much you can put up with.  And as it stands, clearly the PCC in it’s current form isn’t in the position to be protecting their rights.

Should I stay or Should I go?

I’ve yet to return to Twitter, I know I said earlier on in this blog post that I would continue to use Social Media but as I get to the end of this post I’m now questioning whether or not I will.

Because I’m tired of all of this. I’m tired of the sneers, the jokes, the poking and pointing at my expense, just because I dared have an opinion and express my thoughts. I’m tired of receiving unsolicited emails from people who think they can sit in judgement over me because of what they’ve read in the newspapers.

I’m tired of having to second, triple, quadruple guess anything I say in case it could be used against me in the national press. That’s no way to live a life.

I will miss everyone immensely, but I’m mentally and emotionally shattered by what’s happened and am struggling to escape out of the depths of depression that I now find myself in, close to tears as I write this blog post. I don’t want to have to go through that entire vile experience ever again.

I realise it could be said that by me posting this blog post, I’m indeed courting the media (although I don’t think that I actually have that many subscribers to my blog) and deserve everything I get but that isn’t my intention at all. I’m writing this as a way of processing my thoughts on the matter and trying to work through my feelings about this. There have been many, many posts written about me and I have haven’t publicly commented on any of them. But I’ve never written about this, until now. And it’s something I have to do and get it out of my system if not for my own sanity. Whether I will write again is another matter. I honestly don’t know if I ever will. Who knows, perhaps I will feel better after some sleep and perhaps I’ll feel a little less vulnerable about the whole thing.

Or, perhaps Quentin Letts has won at the end of the day.

One less voice in the wilderness?

This entry was published on February 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm. It’s filed under Civil Service, Personal Blog, Social Networking, Twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

51 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones. Perhaps it’s time to go?

  1. Russell on said:

    A very brave and honest post, that only makes me admire you more for the way you’ve coped throughout the past few months

    Stay strong doll

  2. Quentin Letts is a horrible person and a complete loser at all times. You are the opposite. Therefore, you win. I guess it doesn’t always feel like that, but I hope you can keep this in mind.

  3. Writing like this is the reason Blogs exist and thrive.

  4. Carl Haggerty on said:


    Sending you big hugs and best wishes


  5. Latentexistence on said:

    I have yet to work out if the tabloids operate on a basis of pure malice and hatred, or simply don’t care who they trample on as they focus on selling papers and getting page views. Either way we certainly need reform or replacement of the PCC as you say.

    As for your own social media presence – please don’t go! I understand that you need to recover from the experience but I wonder if cutting yourself off from all of this will actually hurt more than allow recovery. Lock down your accounts again if you have to (since that seems to be the only defence allowable by the PCC) and maybe operate a reduced service, but please stay connected.

  6. I can only suggest you speak with your local MP about this matter. I have gripes with tabloid media and fully intend to make use of the political system to try to change some of their codes of conduct. “anything goes” doesn’t cut it anymore.

    My opinion on what happened is irrelevant, I do everything anonymously online as I had a similar experience.

    Don’t let this affect your mental health, try to be positive about what can happen from here. We all know the PCC is corrupt, campaign for a truly independent body and get your MP on the case on your behalf.

    It may not seem it just now but youre in a position of strength with this experience, I sincerely hope you get to see than sooner rather than later. Take care x

  7. And our newspapers wonder why they are struggling to make a profit!

    No one, not you, not anyone else deserves this.

    I wish you all the best and hope that you find peace.

  8. David Whewell on said:

    A truly moving blog post. I do feel for you, you’ve really been sh*t upon and undeservedly, I believe! Stay strong, they are the ba**ards and do keep your thoughts out there. The blogosphere does need people like you!

  9. chrisconder on said:

    stay with it. glad you got all that off your chest, better than festering away. Well written and a good description of what must have been gobsmatteringly awful time for you.
    I think the PCC are about as much use as tits on a bull, a bit like ofcom, another useless regulator.
    Don’t let them get you down, I know its easy for us to say, but never forget all the little people who are right behind you, don’t give in to the bullies.
    chris x

  10. Serenus Zeitblom on said:

    I am in awe of your courage. Until December I was a civil servant too, in the same Department (I don’t think we ever met) – but I was fortunate enough to be able to go for voluntary redundancy, take the money and run. I too saw the demonisation of decent public servants, not just by the media but by the Ministers to whom we collectively worked. There’s self-respect and there’s being patronised by Norman Baker, and I know which one I choose. I saw the strain and fear of those who were left, who were punished not because they were failing at their job, but because they did not fit into a value system of a small elite. It is the purest bullying – a bullying that illustrates better than anything the twisted, degraded amalgam of bile and hatred that politicans and the tabloid press who cheer them on are pleased to call their souls.

    I have this fantasy – what if all the civil servants left and our jobs were taken by tabloid journalists? What would happen to those ethics of honesty, accuracy, public service, speaking truth to power? Public servants everywhere are quietly, self-effacingly trying to deliver the decencies of life. And yet if we speak, have opinions, have lives were are deemed by these people to have got above our station.

    It’s sick and I am so glad to be out of it. My heart goes out to you who remain.

  11. You’ve been treated dreadfully by both the press and the PCC. You have my sympathies. I can only second the opinion of Anon @ 7:26pm and suggest that you contact your MP. If they’re any use, then they should represent you and start a discussion at a high level about new media, social networking and so on. It’s not going to go away, our laws and structures need to include them.

  12. Blimey I had no idea! What a dreadful time you have had. I have enjoyed your tweets and am now grateful for what you have done. Look after yourself and come back stronger.
    Wishing you all the best

  13. Hum_Con on said:

    I had thought originally that the PCC’s ruling had been reasonable (even though what you tweeted was in no way newsworthy) but having seen their own guide lines I find myself changing that view.

    Either way you have been treated appallingly by a press that is in no way accountable to anyone. Thousands of people tweeted similar things on a daily basis without being hounded by the press.

    I can’t blame you at all for backing off from Social Media. All I can say is that I admire you courage both for this post and for making a complaint.

  14. This was both a moving and disturbing account of what you’ve been going through and I greatly hope you soon emerge from your depression. I also hope you continue, one way or the other, to convey your important perceptions and opinions, particularly as you express yourself with such depth and clarity. Members of my family are civil servants, and I appreciate the stresses you are all working under.

    Find it difficult to assess what is public or private on Twitter but have every sympathy with your situation. A friend had an innocent tweet published in the press, causing her a huge amount of needless distress. And I completely agree that scanning Twitter for stories is a lazy form of journalism. (On the brighter side, do bear in mind that being attacked by the Daily Mail is a badge of honour to be worn with great pride!)

    Many people think that, in its current form, the PCC is unfit for purpose. A self-regulatory body sounds sweet and nice but, certainly in its case, leaves a lot to be desired. DemocracyFail is campaigning for a complete review of media ownership and regulation, which would include the PCC.

    Sorry to go on in such length but, as I said, your account was moving. Hope your strength is restored very speedily. Any of us can be picked on. We need to support each other.

  15. There are times when I wonder if we should not all be up in arms over the disgrace and self-enfranchisement that is the british press and media. The “media” types would love nothing more than for all of us to stop publishing ,talking , sharing and communicating and thereby reducing our dependence on them for our enlightenment.

    It only served to reinforce my ever spiralling low opinion of “the press” and my higher view of those who actually stand up in the trenches rather than ducking for cover behind editors and newsdesks.

    I love the work you do Sarah please keep on keeping on.

  16. I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, but you are the winner. You did nothing wrong, your response was proportionate, and this post just drives home how worthy you are of our admiration.

    “Don’t let the buggers grind you down” 🙂

  17. Tom Phillips on said:


    I am almost moved beyond words by what I have read. You have been courageous, honest and uplifting through all of this. Whatever the outcome, that is far more than can be said of anyone else directly involved. Remember, that round of applause at #ukgc11 recently was not for what you did, but for who you are.

    I know this will sound wrong, because it can never sound right, but whatever the outcome, there was an issue of principle to be decided. I think the social media world can have had no finer champion.

    And, as I said in my tweet “Go? Don’t you bloody dare!”


  18. Jmcefalas on said:

    Good piece Sarah. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. I’d love to see you back on Twitter but you need to prioritise your own well being and Tim above all else. Though never met, I feel warmth and friendship for you because of your forthrightness and individuality. Go well , wherever you go!!

  19. stephengg on said:

    As far as I’m concerned your reputation has only been enhanced by the dignity and stoicism you’ve shown. The Daily Mail, by contrast, is shown to be the very worst kind of gutter press. You’ll be missed.

  20. To be honest, until a tweet about the judgement a couple of days ago, I’d not even heard about you or your case. And I consider I follow a lot of social media & issues like this. I don’t doubt your distress, and you make a good case in this post, but if there had been no initial complaint I would still be in the dark.

    To be honest, thanks to your bringing this case, I’m now really curious to find out how all this came about, what you posted and what the Mail reported. I presume there’s only their side of the story online now?

    • Hi Andrew,

      At the time of the initial “story” I had around 20,000 tweets. Unbeknown to me, the Daily Mail had been stalking my Twitter account and decided to publish a random series of tweets from hours, days, weeks, months before the article.

      Out of 20,000 tweets they chose 4 or 5 of them that they could best string together to give a distorted view of who I was. There was no interest in responsible journalism here, their defense of “well there’s only so much space you can have in an article” is laughable at best.

      Lets have a look at the one tweet that got picked up where I described the course tutor as “mental”. Did they bother to report that I had actually contacted the company direct at the same time of that tweet in which I praised the tutor’s energy, passion and knowledge of the subject on Twitter? Did they bother to report that I had then further gone on to recommend that course to others through Twitter? Additionally, at the time of the course I actually spoke to the course tutor about the tweets and we were laughing about it as he did have a rather unusual style of injecting energy into the room on a cold Monday morning and to try and keep us motivated in what was a very, very intensive week of study long into 9-10pm each night.

      No they didn’t. Because that wouldn’t have “fitted” in with the story they wanted to spin about me.

      With the bombardment of the press, I felt that the only way I could protect myself and stop anyone else from doing what the Daily Mail had done to me was to delete all my tweets and switch to private. Over Christmas I re-opened by Twitter account again and I now regularly do every week using Twitwipe to prevent other “Twitter” generated tweet stories being written about me.

      My blog stands as is. I haven’t deleted that even though it’s also been talked about in the press.

      The press will continue to write what they want, when they want without any fear of recrimination through the PCC even more so now with this “ruling”. Which is immensely sad for the Public Sector, as those who don’t have anonymous accounts are locking everything down but I fear even that won’t protect them from the press, baying for blood on the behest of politicians to drive through ideological agendas at the expense of real, average, honest and hard working people

  21. Sarah, It broke my heart to read your post. Please be sure that I, and anybody who follows what you write beyond a few out of context quotes in the press, are well aware of how deeply you believe in your work, how much you put into it and how unfair your treatment has been.

    Perhaps this affair has, indeed, resulted in a crowd of tabloid readers taking against you until the next ‘news’ item fills their heads but it seems to me that both your writing, what you have been put though and your honesty and stoicism in the face of unwarranted attack have genuinely inspired a great many people, people who will not forget with the next news story; some of those people will be influenced for many years to come.

    When, or if, you write again I will be happy; the internet would be a poorer place without you and those like you.


  22. Pingback: On being private in public | Public Strategist

  23. Baskers your tale strikes many resonances with me.
    I too have just had a ruling from the Press Complaints Commission.

    I received abuse from Guardian online readers for objecting to the use of the word “psychotic” in a Martin Rowson cartoon. I have bipolar disorder. I have experienced psychosis and I said so in my article to give my argument some weight.

    The PCC accepted that the abuse was offensive. So did the Guardian but they have not given me my wish. I wanted public recognition that these words were offensive and discriminatory. My humiliation was public. The Guardian should have shown some public contrition and it should have had the principle to admit that it had allowed disability discrimination in its blogs.

    I expected the PCC’s rejection. I am pleased to say that emotionally I have turned round into a victory. At least I made a stand.

    Unlike you I felt that the PCC officials respected me throughout. I have been through quite a lot of public complaints systems of one sort or another and usually I meet with a lot misunderstanding. I have a mental health problem and my complaint to the PCC was about mental health. I did expect problems in dealing with PCC staff because I usually have them elsewhere but the staff were as I wanted them to be. They were polite, respectful and non-partisan. Indeed I wrote to the PCC to say thank you for this before the ruling. I wanted it on record that I appreciated the courtesy.

    The Guardian – well it likes to portray itself as a non-discriminatory paper but the staff have lots to learn about respect to people with mental health problems. The staff believe so firmly in their infallibility on discrimination that it is hard to tell them they have got it wrong. It is sad too to see the great liberal Guardian go defend itself by burying its face in the skirts of the PCC. I thought the Guardian disapproved of the PCC for all sorts of highly principled reasons.

    I knew all along that the PCC does not generally uphold mental health complaints so I was not surprised or devastated to see my arguments were not accepted. So why bother?

    In my ruling I now have it in black and white from the industry regulator that we have a curious situation with regard to user generated content. Some offensive words were used about me in the Guardian blogs. I argued they were discriminatory. The PCC said these words would have been discriminatory had they been said by the Guardian but they were actually uttered by Guardian bloggers. That means these words do not count as discriminatory. Understand? Do ordinary readers know this?

    If you have never faced discrimination you may not instinctively understand why I so wanted the abuse to be classed as disability discrimination. It raises the level of offence. The abuse is seen not simply as rude and insensitive. It is deemed as offensive to me as a person with a severe mental illness. That matters.

    To my way of thinking it makes no different to me whether the offensive word was written by a Guardian journalist or an outside blogger. Either way the word is offensive and discriminatory. I should have the right to object. This is not the only oddity. Apparently it is ok if the moderators leave offensive and discriminatory words up all day. As long as they are taken down by night time the PCC and the Guardian do not regard these words as offensive and discriminatory. I disagree. Words can wound in an instant and if they appear all day on a site as busy as the Guardian lots of people see them.

    The PCC and the Guardian are both studiously abiding by the law as it stands. To me the law here is an ass.
    Like Baskers I found the PCC presented a confusing attitude towards privacy and the internet. I would appreciate more guidance on the web site. The PCC does not seem to realise that a journalist sitting on a computer in an office can as easily pry your secrets from you as a reporter on a doorstep. The internet blurs the boundaries of privacy in a way unimaginable years back.

    I am glad I did because it gave me, an unknown Incapacity Benefit claimant with a mental health problem, a chance to face both the PCC and the Guardian with some degree of dignity. I had no other way of doing this. I knew I would not get the result I deserved but I did win something. I won back my self-respect. At least I am not as daft as some. I have also gained standing in the mental health world.

    I celebrated by going out and buying a gorgeous new dress from French Connection, a pile of piano music and a bunch of new bassoon reeds. It is nice for me and my friends and family that this saga has run its course. We can relax. I know the important things in life.

    Anyone wanting to know my side of the story in the run-up to the announcement should read my blog entry My fight for freedom. Should you want to see the PCC on Bray v Guardian click away.

    Finally Baskers my story is very different from yours but as a fellow human being and graduate of the school of hard knocks I would like to voice my respect. Without social media I would never have been inspired by your wry take on life so please do not disappear. Have a drink (or two) on me.

  24. This could so easily happen to any of us who write our thoughts online. I’m aware of the irony of my own situation, but your experience makes me wonder if it’s possible to be completely open about these things.

    I admire your commitment and enthusiasm for social media and I think you’re an inspiration to many. As with so many others, I’m horrified by what you’ve been through. But you should be proud of what you’re doing and have done. Whatever you decide to do, I know you have masses of support behind you.

    And screw the Daily Mail!

  25. Christine D on said:

    we do indeed love you! There’s nothing else I can think of to add to the previous responses to your very open and honest blog. Please look after yourself. Your mental well being is one of your most important ‘possessions’. Take very good care of yourself. Nothing and nobody is worth this being damaged.
    warm hugs x

  26. Hi Sarah, what happened to the life of chemistry?
    ps remember the B & B in Blackpool?

    • Hi Jenni,

      The life of Chemistry gave way to another form of logical torture…. Finance Systems 😉 But still enjoyable, or it was until the Press got hold of my life.

      That B&B in Blackpool is ingrained in my memory for ever. It’s a B & B but without the Breakfast…. oh, and no towels.

      Classic memories.

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  28. You’ve had a lot to cope with in the past few months, maybe take some time out and then decide if you want to carry on with twitter etc. Quentin Letts hasn’t won whatever you decide. It was a nasty, vicious piece of ‘journalism’ and anyone with an ounce of intelligence will see that. Take care.

  29. Bill Baskerville on said:

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life, keep your chin up . Your proud Dad

  30. This blog just shows that speech meeting speech is the best and only effective form of redress. Dignified and articulate – the pain shines through. Decent people will understand and take the truth away from this.

  31. William JNK Baskerville on said:

    My amazing, wonderful and great older sister, you are one spectacular person who should not have recieved such “bullying” from the press. You are alway’s loved and thought off, by not only me your brother but all your family and friends up in Dundee. Keep your chin up and remember that you are alway’s loved.

  32. Quentin Letts is a misogynist who was driven to attack you as you were living a successful independent life, therefore ‘living well is the best revenge’. Look at your pinky finger – that’s how big he is. Have you seen the episode of Buffy where the door-to-door make-up salesman dissolves into a seething pile of maggots? That’s Quentin Letts. I would offer a diagnosis but I wouldn’t want to insult anyone else who has what I think he’s got.
    The PCC were exposed in Channel 4 despatches on the phone-hacking as a total waste of time, they are known to be completely useless and pointless.
    I really wish you well and hope you won’t let the bastards get you down.

  33. Money = Privacy – just look at all the footballers getting “super injunctions” to cover up their indiscretions.

    I guess the rest of us have to consider carefully what we post in a forum, a blog, or an open social network feed, lest it be twisted and misrepresented. There IS a generally expected etiquette though, of considering before reposting/retweeting if something is appropriate to distribute beyond the existing circle of contacts – I guess you’d call it common decency, but then the press doesn’t have any of that!

  34. Luv ya Sarah! It is appalling what has happened to you. Great blog post; in reading the comments above too, there’s great advice & it is obvious a great deal of people care about you. From my experience with the press, they frequently mis-quote, take statements out of context, and they ALWAYS have an agenda; press impartiality/reporting is an oxymoron. I firmly believe your Department – and by extension the government – is lucky to have you as a civil servant, someone who cares passionately about what happens to her team, who works hard and who is intelligent and dedicated. I cannot imagine how you’ve got through the past months – look at what your Dad said above. Dad’s never seem to say very much, but what they say is always right.

  35. Francis Irving on said:

    Just as our libel law has a chilling effect on what we post online, so too could this episode have a chilling effect on how much social good there is from communications methods that involve lots of people writing in public.

    It’s easy for somebody from the old media to diss such communications methods. But they are totally unexplored, are already having massive benefits for society, and have potential to do so so much more.

    I think this is very very important strategically. If civil servants can’t write in public, if people can’t communicate with each other about public issues in public, without being irrationally excoriated by mass media… Then we lose the opportunity to completely remake Government, and the relationship between people and the Government in a better form.

    (Here I mean a new form that is only possible with the Internet, and we only see inklings of now – come back in 50 years time to really understand it)

    This is wider than Government too – that’s just the easy place to start, as it is obvious why the information and decision making process should be public (we collectively own it). It applies to companies too – markets are only properly efficient when people have good information.

    On the plus side… It is easy to think that the Daily Mail is more powerful, or what it says is more important than it really is these days. As centralised, broadcast old media weaken in their imporance, what Quentin did to Sarah will be less and less possible.

    I hope you carry on writing Sarah. Even if you have to compromise how and what you write, the public policy communication, the exposure of what is going on in Government to outside it and outside it to inside it… It is much appreciated!

  36. Gosh Sarah, what wonderful replies you have received, how can you ever think of leaving us all? I hope you change your mind and carry on regardless. Don’t ever change. Chin up and sod the dinosaurs.

  37. Paul Johnston on said:

    Great post, Sarah. Shocking how much damage a vain and over-paid journalist can do, although to be fair to journalists the sort of people who write this stuff don’t actually engage in journalism. They just look for attention-catching ways to serve up their prejudices. Hope you can pick up the pieces and that your example will help us one day move to a slightly different world.

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  39. Hi Sarah

    I wasn’t on twitter when all this erupted so I’m coming to this late. I just wanted to offer a vote of support. The attacks on you are unconscionable and the PPC is a joke. I made a complaint recently about some of the coverage of disability issues and was horrified by how demanding the complaints process is. I complained about that to them too, but I’m not holding my breath.

    All the best and I hope that the love coming your way from the blogosphere is some compensation.


  40. I know my comment is way late, I just wanted to give you a gigantic online hug. I can’t wait to see you when or if you decide to return to twitter. I miss your witty tweets and 4sq updates. OK not really the 4sq updates, but definitely the witty tweets.

  41. Joyrenee on said:

    I’m so very sorry to hear how you’ve been wronged.

    Your story was both fascinating and chilling to read. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading. You’re the type of person I’d be proud to call my friend. And I don’t like it when bad things happen to my friends.

    Thanks for sharing your story – and I hope that you do win the lottery.

  42. Pingback: Why we can’t expect open government (but should) « Arun Marsh

  43. I just want to say thanks for all these comments guys. I had written this post at a particularly vulnerable time for me, just after the aftermath of the PCC ruling.

    I was seriously struggling in dealing with what had happened to me and was even contemplating wiping my entire on-line existance.

    I’m glad I didn’t.

    Because if I had, I wouldn’t have seen any of this support, and it’s because of this online support that I am now beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. I’m beginning to feel that I’m not alone. What was done to me was vile, putrid, spiteful and incredibly hurtful, but you have all shown me that there are far more intelligent and insightful people out there than “them”… those that go for the lowest common denominator and want to peddle their vile trash.

    There has been so much written about me (I won’t bother mentioning those blogs that just want to gloat and further peddle the distorted image of me), in support of what I’ve been going through that I’ve been struggling to keep up.

    It’s posts like these that have encouraged and inspired me to come back to Twitter.

    I thank you all, every single one of you for your very kind words, you have no idea how much you have helped. I’m still struggling with the emotions and depression, but you make each day that little bit easier to get through.

    I’m keeping the faith.

  44. Hah.
    knew you would rise above it and stick with us.
    Don’t let the bstuds get you down. They ain’t worth it.
    Keep telling it like it is, they will have to get with IT one day.

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