April 13, 2003

Very Cross Councils So Sue

Very Cross Councils

So Sue Me

If you have been a reader of David’s Daily Diversions from the beginning, you will remember the write up about certain local councils banning hot cross buns on school menus. On the 2 April, I received a threat from Tower Hamlets Council "requesting the immediate removal of the article (and any related response(s)/commentary) from the www.holford.org.uk web site and a correction with the same prominence given to the original comments."

Like Pontius Pilate, what I have written I have written, though I have appended a note which will eventually link to this after it is archived and has a fixed URL. I am happy to provide a correction with the same prominence given the original. In fact, I hope it even gets more prominence.

Tower Hamlets alleges that the basis of my piece “is an article on page 11 of the March 16th 2003 edition of British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph, entitled "Hot cross banned: councils decree buns could be 'offensive' to non-Christians".” Well, they are half-right. I originally found it in the March 17th 2003 edition of The Times. I also found a related op/ed piece by Mick Hume . It was only after this that I found the original Sunday Telegraph piece. I would have written something based on The Times, had I not found the Sunday Telegraph. Of course my article could have been based on a half-page in The Sun. It was soon all over the web.

It seems there was a general capitulation when the Guardian published an article in which all of the councils in question denied ever banning the buns, or even having the power to ban the buns. Well, I’m not one so easily swayed, especially after I spoke to the legal department of the Sunday Telegraph and found out their reporter was sticking by his story. If I have to choose between believing something in the Guardian and something in the Sunday Telegraph, I pretty much pick the Sunday Telegraph every time.

The council insisted to me, “The article was wrong and is without merit or foundation.” Further they said “The council has written to the Sunday Telegraph to demand a retraction and an apology and questioned the veracity of their quotes.” Well, it took several weeks, but the Sunday Telegraph finally published this on April 13th:

"Hot cross buns

"After our article "Hot cross banned: councils decree buns could be 'offensive' to non-Christians" (March 16) the councils concerned - Tower Hamlets, Liverpool, York, Wolverhampton, Wakefield and Birmingham - have asked us to point out that none of them has an official policy on hot cross buns and that their councillors have never discussed banning hot cross buns, nor have they ever instructed council caterers not to serve hot cross buns in schools.

"Where council catering managers were quoted as saying that hot cross buns were not being served, for whatever reason, this was not as a consequence of any council policy.

"We apologise for any confusion."

The apology affirms a lot more truth than the councils in question would like. The Sunday Telegraph is sticking by the quotes. There may be a question of what is council policy, but there is no retraction that the statements were made by employees of the councils who were the actual people in charge of serving or not serving hot cross buns.

So Prosecute Me

But this isn’t the best bit. The most outrageous bit. Tower Hamlets actually threatened me with criminal prosecution for commenting on news published in the Telegraph, Times, Sun, et al. Criminal prosecution. They said, “We believe that the continued existence of the comment piece on your website has the potential to incite racial hatred, especially during these very sensitive times.” That’s right, incitement of racial hatred. Not a tort. A crime.

The only hatred that might be incited over my article is the hatred of local councils. Last time I checked, local councils do not constitute a race, even under the broad definition of this as “race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origin” in the Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. And not once in the article did I say anything negative about any group, whether or not they could be classified as covered by the act.

In fact, the only group mentioned of which I am not a part (other than council officials of whatever level) were Muslims. I gave the Muslim quotes from the story lots of space. Why? Because they agreed with me.

I hope this has been enough prominence for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. For the time being, anyway. If they want prominence so bad that they threaten to sue me or prosecute me, I’m happy to oblige. I’m sure there is a lot more that I can say about Tower Hamlets. And don’t worry: I’ll get all my facts straight.

Posted by david at April 13, 2003 11:00 PM