Dave Walker, cartoonist and blogger extraordinaire, blogger for the Church Times, friend of bishops (he’s the one on the right) and hanger-on (when they let him in) at the Lambeth conference, has shown what he is made of – that it is the typical spineless stuff of British Anglicans, who typically give in to every demand from Americans. (Well, the same is true of British politicians.) For in his fight to save the former SPCK bookshops, sold off for a song to the American Eastern Orthodox group St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT, or just SSG), Dave has capitulated at the first shot from his American opponents.
Dave writes today:
This morning I was sent a ‘cease and desist’ demand from Mark Brewer relating to the posts I have made about the former SPCK bookshops. The demand says ‘Confidential – not to be redistributed or posted’, so I am not posting the text.
The demand says that if I do not remove all SSG-related material by noon today, July 22, 2008, an injunction will be sought against me and legal action taken for damages for libel.
I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.
To say I am not happy about the decision I have been forced to take here is an understatement. I feel as if I have let many people down who have relied on this site over the last year or more.
Mark Brewer is an American lawyer and chairman of SSGCT.
But, Dave, you have not been forced to make this decision. Mark Brewer is making an empty threat. I am not a lawyer, but it is quite clear even to me that the material you posted about the bookshops is at least for the most part perfectly legal. There can be no question of libel concerning the matters of fact in the public domain which make up the great majority of what you have written, and of the comments which you have allowed. You have routinely removed comments which might be considered defamatory. There may be minor specific matters which could be judged defamatory and so which you should remove. But in demanding a general removal of all material Mark Brewer does not have a leg to stand on. This is a basic issue of your freedom of expression, which is protected under national and international law. As bloggers we need to stand up against threats of this kind.
British courts do not take kindly to clever American lawyers trying to take out injunctions against ordinary people to stop them doing what they have a perfect right to do. If Brewer actually brings this to court, which is unlikely, he will be sent packing.
My advice, as a non-lawyer, to you would be to reinstate the posts and write back to Mark Brewer. You should say that you will not remove all the material because at least the majority of it is factual and therefore not defamatory, and you have a legal right to post it as a matter of freedom of expression. I suggest you also offer to remove any specific sections of posts or comments which they can demonstrate to you as being defamatory. The very least that will do is gain you some time as they will be forced to read all of your material to select some of it. If they send back a short list of items they would like removed, then comply or at least edit out what is truly defamatory. If they insist again on a blanket removal, offer to see them in court.
If you need legal advice but can’t afford to pay for it, I am sure there are people around who will offer this as part of their work to protect human rights in this country. Newspapers of course have legal teams to protect the rights of expression of their correspondents. I’m sure that even the Church Times has, and they may help you, but then they are British Anglicans.
Phil Groom’s blog about the former SPCK bookshops is still accessible, at least as I write. I wonder how long it will last. Probably at least until Phil returns from his holiday, as if he has been sent a similar letter to Dave’s he will not receive it until he returns. But I hope Phil is made of sterner stuff than Dave and does not capitulate to empty threats from the Brewers.