Not content with having Oldham Hall Street in their pockets, the usual local suspects are now attempting to silence those of us who like to tell it like it is. Wayne Colquhoun (http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/ ) has received a letter from Louise Outram, Head of Legal and Committee Services at Merseytravel, concerning posts he has published about Neil Scales, head of Merseytravel.
Ms Outram's missive, a po-faced concoction of faux legalese, shoddy grammar & appalling punctuation, informs Wayne that his posts concerning Scales amount to defamation:
"It has come to our attention that the above blog for which you are named as the editor contains a number of articles and comments regarding Mr Neil Scales that are not only offensive but are entirely inaccurate.
"We also consider such comments are defamatory and actionable in law."
Ms Outram's letter goes on to list the posts where it is felt a defamation of character has occurred & demands:
"At this juncture we request that you immediately remove the above articles from your blog and we also request a letter of apology be provided to Mr Scales for the offence and distress the contents of this blog have caused him.
"We expect to receive this letter by Friday 6 May 2011."
Let's get one thing straight from the outset. A claim of defamation & possible legal proceedings is to be financed by the taxpayers of Merseyside (the letterhead is that of Merseytravel, a publicly-funded body). To use an old cliche, it'll never stand up in court; if Scales wishes to proceed with his action, he should do so from his own pocket, not ours.
Moreover, it's significant that nowhere in Ms Outram's letter is the content of Wayne's posts disputed. Her letter complains of what can be seen as name-calling; I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that name-calling & defamation are two entirely different matters. Regarding the content of Wayne's pieces about Scales, which I've re-read a couple of times, the claims made about his decisions, actions & policies are substantive, detailed & researched. You would expect Ms Outram to essay in broad outline, at the very least, where & how Wayne's posts are inaccurate &, indeed, defamatory. So does she? Er, no.
This matter goes beyond that of Scales & Wayne's blog. It amounts to a gagging attempt by those who should be accountable but aren't. If Scales gets anywhere with his action (funded by you & me), it sets a dangerous precedent. What Wayne is guilty of is honest opinion, self-expression, a call for transparency from our elected (& unelected) decision makers & a deeply-felt appreciation of the city's heritage.
Wayne certainly expresses his views in robust terms (as do I), but to openly claim that this is tantamount to personal defamation is laughable. I've spoken to Wayne & he has no intention of backing down, a stance which I back unreservedly. Perhaps Scales would prefer to operate in an environment which brooks no dissent or scrutiny from those who help pay his considerable salary; there are such places around the globe where that applies (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2011/may/03/press-freedom-vietnam ).
The message is simple: Wayne won't be censored & nor will I.