The Guardian’s Comment is Free – censoring the historical record – airbrushing the online version
I want to emphasise that Cif is, crucially, about the articles and the comments. Together they make up the complete picture of what we publish. – Natalie Hanman, Sept 2010
Today anyone reading the original article and the thread it generated will be presented with a record that’s as false as those airbrushed photographs of the Stalinist era.
Some people have poured scorn on the fact that I have objected to the Guardian removing posts from the threads of articles which have been available on its internet site for many years. This matter arose after one of its commissioned writers asked for her profile to be removed. This request is not uncommon and indeed the paper itself uses it to punish posters who it feels have breached its Community Standards. What is I believe unique is for it to agree to a request for the removal of every comment within a thread, such that the original meaning of the discussion within that thread is seriously degraded.
At the end of her popular and much acclaimed article Don’t blame the police for Sabina Akhtar’s murder, the writer, Jane Nichol-Bell / BeautifulBurnout was asked by the poster TaBeMar, “if you were asked to write the same article, now that you have had the debate, would it be the same?”
We don’t know if Jane Nichol-Bell replied and if she did, what that reply was, as in an act of censorship, the Guardian has removed her posts from the thread that followed the article and on every thread she’d ever posted on. However I did pick up on TeBeMar’s question and provided a detailed response which I reproduce here. I had wanted to post it on another article by Frances Crook, which BeautifulBurnout had dismissed out of hand, but as the comments thread was closed I posted it instead on the Sabina Akhtar thread. My original is still on this thread.
“I wanted to post this on the Frances Crook article, “Our prisons are failing women”, which of course should have been titled “Our Justice System is Failing Women”, but missed the last post so to speak. But BeautifulBurnout, in the light of your response to TaBeMar’s question, “if you were asked to write the same article, now that you have had the debate, would it be the same?”, it seems worth posting here.
Frances Crook, it looks like this thread is just about finished and you have generated a host of comments from posters, many of whom who have yet to read the Commission’s report, but feel comfortable about dismissing its research and findings.
But you will know, as do the more aware on this thread that already the government has accepted some of your recommendations and no doubt will accept more. So thank you for coming here and sharing your thoughts with us and let’s look forward to the day that we really do have a justice system free of sexism.
Sometimes coincidence plays a cruel hand for each of us to play and when BeautifulBurnout, you dismissed Frances Crook’s article you wrote:
“You give some interesting statistics into the number of women who have been subjected to domestic violence, have mental health issues and have been in care as children, but the same can be said about men – yes, even the domestic violence, if we include being beaten black and blue at home by parents and siblings.”
So did you realise that the late Sabina Akhtar, about whom you were to write your first article for CiF, featured so prominently in the report that Frances Crook was writing about? Or had you like so many of the early posters on her thread, assumed this was just another article from the statistically illiterate “mad fems” and dashed off a rapid response?
And if you did know, did it not seem strange that you should come to such a different conclusion to the Commission of which Frances Crook was a member, about how Ms Akhtar’s death so clearly illustrated the institutional sexism of the criminal justice system?
Or if you didn’t know, do you not feel you might now consider that maybe the reaction of the CPS whose neglect has resulted in an apology to Ms Akhtar’s family and the retraining of its staff, should have been given more prominence in your article?
When I look at the 456 comments on Frances Crook’s thread, I discover that only I and AllyF, seem to have looked at the report about which she was writing. Others might have done but they don’t say that in their posts. And he refers to it as “the Fawcett report”, which it clearly isn’t, so doubts must be cast on his views, or at very least his motive.
In a way your willingness to engage in the debate here has put you in a more difficult position to the one you could have been in had you followed the ‘no comment’ response of so many of CiF’s writers, but you didn’t so there are more questions to ask.
You say in your article “They, (the police), had no alternative but to release him (the assassin) on police bail again. They acted properly within the law.”
But later you say if the Manchester Evening News report is correct, which it seems to be, ‘the investigation had been “no further actioned” and bail conditions had been dropped when Mannan was released, which puts a completely different spin on things.
So maybe with this information, you might not have said “They (the police) acted properly within the law.”
You posed the question, “First, if Kennedy is right, and if this case succeeds, aren’t we opening the doors to a deluge of similar cases?” To which having studied this case in more detail, you might have concluded the answer is yes, yes and yes again. And which battered partner is going to object? In fact I think on reflection you might now reconsider the inclusion of the entire paragraph about the implications of a successful case by Helena Kennedy QC.
It was Ultimathule* who correctly challenged your inclusion of the Smith – Jeffrey case as in some way exonerating the failure of the police to protect Ms Akhtar. For despite the judge’s ruling, any reasonable person would consider the police to have failed miserably in their duty to protect Stephen Smith, and maybe even more than they failed Ms Akhtar.
You ended your article “But, harsh though it may seem, what other possible approach can there be?”
Well I think you have in your own words shown that there were and are several other approaches which had they been adopted might have saved Sabina Akhtar’s life.” *
* Sadly, the post from Ultimathule was deleted by the moderators, along with a number of her other posts, so we have no chapter and verse of her challenge, but what we do have from the thread are parts of fifteen of Jane Nichol-Bell / BeautifulBurnout’s replies to people who’d read her article and posted. But let me start with one of my own:
Good posts from sambeckett2, mschin, MissK123 and speedkermit, someone who does seem to know about and be interested in the law relating to this matter, Brusselsexpats, ManchePaul, BeatonTheDonis, Emalina, stevejones123,
george60, MrBullfrog, MistyChick, julianabanana, imasmadashell, TristramShandy, clandella, AlexJones, most of which BeautifulBurnout painfully ignores while bathing in the adulation heaped on her first article.
So whatever she and her acolytes would now like to present as the truth, each one of these posters below recorded their own concerns about her article and if she responded, (here in italics), what that response was.
Your comments below the line have very often been interesting and well-informed; they have had the benefit of drawing on what you have seen and what you know. For your first piece above the line, you have fallen into the journalistic trap of commenting on a case which you know nothing about other than what you have read in the newspapers, and you have produced just another opinion piece. If this had been written by one of the usual Guardian hacks, it would have been treated with far less indulgence. I think that in itself is worth thinking about.
As to the CPS apology, it is clear that they realise that they made a mistake because of the obvious and horrible consequences of not charging Mannan sooner. But the key question is, could a reasonable prosecutor, reviewing the evidence at the time, have decided not to charge?
BeautifulBurnout writes in her defence:
“Firstly and most importantly, the only details I have about this case are from what everyone else has read in the link to the BBC article”
“I shan’t respond to the below-the-line comment hauled over from another thread on a completely different subject – that of women in the prison system – as it has no relevance here.”
“Fortunately there is a government initiative to introduce more and more Specialist Domestic Violence Court Programmes.”
“We don’t know if she made a series of complaints or if she just made the one complaint when she was threatened in July 2008 and informed the police on that occasion of the previous attacks. I don’t think this is misleading at all. We simply don’t know.”
But we do know that she went to the police more than once as the court records show and I posted earlier
“But this is where I disagree with you. When someone is investigated and prosecuted, the Crown has the whole machinery of the police and CPS behind it. The defendant has a solicitor on legal aid who has nothing like the resources to investigate and fact-find. I believe it is wrong to put someone in prison on the basis that they are likely to have done it. Society has to be pretty damn sure they have done it, imo.”
@BeautifulBurnout 16 May 09, 2:59pm
You write, “millytante. I can’t really admit it because I don’t have any proof of it.”
Well that’s no excuse, there is plenty of evidence out there. The blind eye technique of justice is morally indefensible.
And even more astonishing, “I know that’s not a very satisfactory answer but I have never specifically looked into that aspect of DV.”
So what makes this form of DV not worth looking at? Is it because the victims are not white?
This is just for starters.
Those posts about Manchester are worrying. I really am troubled by the idea that the GMP gets an average of 100 referrals a night on domestic violence. I wonder what the figures are nationally.
“The police and CPS were faced with a dilemma; breaching police bail conditions on its own is not an offence…”
Arrest for Breach of Bail Condition
“Under a power inserted into PACE by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the police
can arrest you without warrant if you are released on bail from police detention
and a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting you have breached any
of the conditions of bail. You must be taken as soon as possible after the arrest
to the police station to which you are required to report.”
They need to be reported to the police – every single time they do it.
And if 25 times is not enough to protect a woman what is?
But the problem is, women who are victims of domestic violence on a continuous basis are those who are least likely to take any action. It is a thoroughly depressing situation.
This is blame the victim. I thought you were of the opinion that the perpetrator was the one responsible. What happened to that?
I would be grateful if you could point to the comment I made which says that I don’t think the conviction rate for rape should be improved
I was lead to believe that by how vigorously you attacked any attempts to change things.
I recall saying there shouldn’t be a lower standard of proof for rape vs other criminal offences and explained why.
And my argument actually was that the burden of proof in the rape case should be the same as in other cases , not lower like you chose to present it. I did say the burden of proof in the rape cases is disproportionately high. By which I suggested it was higher than in other cases. See, misunderstandings all around?
I also recall noting the most recent updates to the CPS procedures in relation to rape victims and commenting that it was “good stuff”.
Very well, I’m satisfied if you say you want to improve things your way . Perhaps you have a little different way to do it from mine but that’s how it goes…
As to when Ms Akhtar informed the police about the other 25 attacks on her, we simply have no idea because that information is not in the public domain. I would be heartily surprised if she did report him 25 times and no action was
Yet you write
During their short marriage, he was violent to her on 25 separate occasions
How do we know this if not from the public records? Again, very misleading. the passage quoted from the judge
“Police work elsewhere may be impeded if the police were required to treat every report from a member of the public that he or she is being threatened with violence as giving rise to a duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent the alleged threat from being executed. (…) The judgment as to whether any given case is of that character must be left to the police.”
That was in relation to a man being attacked by his former lover, not a woman. Perhaps you misunderstood that from the article
Yet you used it in the article as if it was referring to this case. That is in itself pretty … misleading. It is your resposibility as a writer to write so that no misunderstandings arise from your text.
I think my position is, rather, how do we address it within the confines of the law.
Thanks for correcting my misreading of my understanding of your article & point of view regarding the both the specific case it refers to & the issue in general.
Ms Akhtar had an alarm in her house but should she have been moved to a safe haven pending the investigation? There are so many “ifs” in this that it is difficult to know why the CPS didn’t charge, but they clearly didn’t.
True, the “ifs” are not just a case of, “If A had done this, or B had done that, then the result might have been a very different C”, but, simply on the basis of the revised information from the MEN quote, can encapsulate so much more of the details of which we are to a large extent, & unwillingly, ignorant.
bitethehand links to some information in the Manchester Evening News which is interesting. I was not aware, from the tone of the other articles I’d seen, that the investigation had been “no further actioned” and bail conditions had been dropped when Mannan was released, which puts a completely different spin on things. Everything else I have read indicated that he was released again on the same bail conditions as before pending yet further investigation, so that is something which needs to be clarified.
“Those who know my past comments from elsewhere on CiF know very well I am the least likely person to be looking for excuses for the police. :o)”
I’d also like to thank Jane Nichol Bell / BeautifulBurnout for both writing the article and participating in the debate its generated. Given the time you’ve put into this I suspect your legal work is considerably more rewarding. 🙂
Your explanation of the legal difficulties involved in restraining a potentially violent man were particularly eye opening. However having been prompted to look into this case in some depth, I do feel there’s more to be uncovered. Perhaps if the Refuge and Helena Kennedy case comes to court we might get some more answers.
And to clear up any misunderstanding monkeyshark, I don’t write for The Guardian or any other newspaper, although I suppose I should be flattered by the suggestion, nor do I know Matt Seaton other than through the pages of CiF. There’s no one else to blame except me I’m afraid.
Today anyone reading the original article and the thread it generated will be presented with a record that’s as false as those airbrushed photographs of the Stalinist era.
Update 1 – 6 February 2014
In response to a long exchange on the UT about this article and my actions on this site, BeautifulBurnout posted the following after it was suggested she was being somewhat hypocritical:
Yeah, but here’s the fundamental difference: if I have posted shite that I regret, here or on CiF, I will come back and apologise or change my position. I don’t ask the mods/the site owner to airbrush history for me (or try and airbrush it myself).
Another myth that has grown to grotesque conspiracy-theory proportions is that I asked the Graun to remove all my BB posting history and they did. Well, I didn’t – I asked them to delete my profile to make it harder for people to trawl through it, pick n mix, mix n match stylee, and included a link to Bitey’s site as a demonstration of what I meant. Back in those days, before the upgrade, if your profile was deleted, although the comments still remained in the various threads, they were not listed under your profile any more.
Clearly the reference to “airbrush history” is about this article but once again BeautifulBurnout is incapable of commenting on anything without putting herself at the very centre of the universe.
Anyone reading the article will understand that it concerns the actions of the Guardian’s editorial staff; actions that in my view amount to censorship and falsification of the historical record. The fact that it was BeautifulBurnout’s entire posting history that was deleted is of little relevance. To remove the thousands of posts of anyone who has been posting for almost five years is editorial vandalism of the first order.
So what about BeautifulBurnout’s claim that she didn’t ask for the deletion of her entire posting history?
The first thing to ask is why hasn’t she asked for its reinstatement? Surely the Guardian has its website backed-up each day?
But more importantly, her claim runs counter to the Guardian’s statement:
It is very rare that we will delete an entire user’s commenting history when requested by that user. Applications for this should be made to email@example.com and will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The same goes for individual comments.
And from Tim Gough, head of data protection at Guardian News and Media, on the thread following his article – Do below-the-line commenters have the right to remove their own comments?
We will consider requests for deletion on a case-by-case basis, but there is no absolute right to deletion of comments.
Which itself raises an interesting point. I found Tim Gough’s post via a search of the Guardian’s records using the search term “profile deleted“. The post is recorded at 3:47pm on 4 April 2013. But when I looked at the article – there is no post from Tim Gough at 3.47pm on 4 April 2013.
I am not sufficiently knowledgable about other posters who have asked for their profiles to be deleted, but if any come to light it will be easy to check if their posting history has disappeared from their profile page and the threads on which they posted.