Thursday 14 March 2013

More on Gagging

As probation chiefs begin their two-day conference in Birmingham, they have much to mull over, not least whether collectively they can agree on anything in the light of impending privatisation. Dare I suggest that the gallows humour saying, the gist of which goes something like, 'it's preferable to hang together, rather than hang seperately' has never been more appropriate?

It's now clear that the NOMS gagging order effectively extends to all staff and Trust Board members, many of whom have been merrily tweeting away for a few weeks now. The recent instruction relating to social media issued by Caroline Corby the London Probation Trust chair is typical:- 

For the avoidance of doubt, the following are non exhaustive examples of unacceptable postings, endorsements tweets or retweets:-

  • Derogatory statements.
  • Comments that might be perceived as humiliating, offensive, abusive, insulting or degrading. 
  • Use of language or phrases demonstrating a lack of respect.
  • Comments that are made in criticism or designed to undermine the Justice Secretary’s policy or actions.
  • Political campaigning under the banner of LPT.
  • Inciting or approving any of the above e.g retweets.

Understandably people are now running scared of being the subject of disciplinary action and there has been an appreciable reduction in probation-related twitter traffic as a result. But it's one thing to be bullying the small fry into shutting up and trying to include the chiefs as well. Come on guys, we need a bit of leadership here! 

In my view there couldn't be a better time for a display of unity in the face of these daft privatisation plans, all in the new spirit of 'openness and transparency' of course. This is official government policy now because Jeremy Hunt the Health Secretary has said so. No more atmosphere of secrecy or gagging orders are going to be allowed in the NHS in the wake of the Staffordshire hospital scandal:-

"There has been a culture where people felt if you speak up about problems in the NHS you didn't love the NHS. Actually it's exactly the opposite," Mr Hunt told the Mail.

So we can hardly have different policies in different government departments, can we? 

I wrote yesterday about the demise of the extremely popular police blog written anonymously of course by Inspector Gadget. As I suspected, there has been much speculation on several websites concerning the possible reasons and whether or not he had been 'nobbled'. Did he retire, run out of stuff to say, or was he got at?

For what it's worth I think the latter, not least because the site has disappeared from the ether completely and I find that not just very sad, but very worrying as well. Like all bloggers, he would have been extremely proud of his writing, but it's all 'gone' and I simply refuse to believe that any committed blogger would agree to such a thing voluntarily. I hope Cockney Copper will not mind me quoting his words left on the Magistrates Blog, and we know all Judicial Office holders have been put under pressure to stop blogging too:-

As an aside, I now find myself casting around to try and find another Police related blog to help pass the time between dog walking and work, but trawling through the 30 or so blogs that I had in my 'favourites' list, it would appear that 99% have been deleted or shut down over the last couple of years. A sad indictment of the Orwellian stranglehold that ACPO and PSD have over officers making comments publically , where criticism is universally interpreted as 'bringing the service into disrepute'.

Not only deeply disturbing, it's robbed us all of the opportunity of looking up our favourite posts and prevented future social historians having access to a very important social commentary. 

This was always going to be an issue as we entered the digital age and as a consequence institutions such as the British Library have had to install vast data storage facilities to make sure we do not lose internet-published material. It might not be uppermost in most people's minds, but what we are collectively writing is of course history and no civilisation worth anything ever throws that away consciously does it? 

Lets hope that, despite the best efforts of government, all the material will be safely stored on a secure server somewhere so as to enlighten future generations and that they don't just have the self-serving efforts of Sir Stephen Bubb to pore over. 

Sign the No10 petition here.      


  1. I think at one time there were chief officers in probation who had minds of their own and got to the top through mostly being talented and committed and maybe through charisma.

    I think the current crop are mostly functionaries who are where they are not because of leadership skills, but because they know how to conform to the highest bidder.

    I think they collectively speaking up is about as likely as dead parrots talking.

  2. Appalling. Just appalling. Best I stop posting my name, I guess. Shame.

  3. This is indeed a very worrying trend. Whilst no-one can take serious issue with the advice that staff shoud not retweet anything offensive or abusive, it is quite another matter to seek to prevent anything in any way critical of the Justice Secretary's policies or actions. This amounts to an improper restriction of free speech, and is of itself so serious as to bring the Probation Service into real disrepute. Ms Corby should be held to account for such undue interference with the civil liberties of probation staff, and indeed it calls into question her suitability for the office of Trust Chair. Such a blatant breach of Article 10 ECHR should not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

  4. Jim if you got my earlier comment. I'm sorry for repeating my self. I recommend you to read "The psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson, it explains a lot! Kind regard from a fellow grumpy old man.

    1. Ok thanks for that - I will check it out.

  5. Jim

    Anything published on the web is never "all gone". Hence it is a good idea to be careful what you put up. Too many people seem to forget that twitter is not a private conversation. I would think very hard about publishing things that brought my employer into disrepute, even if my employer was ultimately a politician. That is not to say that you can't have your own opinions, but be careful of your facts, and where and how you state them.

    On the inspector gadget issue, we don't know why it has been taken down. Lots of possible reasons. If you want to refer back you could use:


    1. Thanks for that - yes I am aware of archiving facilities such as the wayback machine and for those interested there are 143 random pages still available BUT what concerns me is that the copyright holder can request it's deletion at any time.

      Should it disappear, there are only two possible explanations. Firstly, the author wishes to protect their copyrighted material, perhaps prior to publication by some other means, or secondly and more ominously, as a result of external pressure.

      I remain hopeful that all the material resides safe and secure on a server somewhere for the benefit of future social historians.

      Finally, I try to be very careful about what I publish and always hope it is viewed as being in the wider public interest.