The sequel: A second rough draft of history and Chris Williamson

This is an update to my previous blogpost, intended to be a forensic, dispassionate, and well-evidenced account of the background to the recent controversial visit of Chris Williamson MP, the socialist MP for Derby North.

It may be helpful if you read the previous 7,000-word blogpost — as some 10,000 people have. But I’ll try to make this a standalone addition to the previous repository of evidence.

I note that many anti-Corbyn diehards — including supporters of Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove — have bizarrely suggested that, to buttress my case, I have fabricated or doctored a key email from Holiday Inn’s central Events and Marketing team and made up a non-existent interview with the operations manager of Holiday Inn Brighton — Seafront. In short, these strange individuals insist — without any attempt at evidence — there was no abuse and there were not threats.

I had hoped this chapter would focus on action by Sussex Police and an investigation into the vile abuse and threats aimed at Mr Williamson and at staff at the venues that agreed to host his talk about a democratic, socialist economy.

Although progress is being made, there is little I am currently able to make public; Mr Williamson has written Giles York, Chief Constable of Sussex Police, and I am in touch with officers who have close knowledge of events.

Instead, I will focus on three issues that shed a fascinating light on what happened in the 24 hours or so leading up to Mr Williamson speaking to a crowd of 150-plus people, without security, in Regency Square, Brighton, on the evening of Thursday, August 8.

The issues are:

  1. Why did Mr Kyle lie to a constituent about how the operations manager of Holiday Inn Brighton had told him there was no intimidation?
  2. How were details of the secret replacement venue — Friends’ Meeting House — made known (late on Wednesday, August 7) to Jonathan Hoffman, a Zionist activist and convicted criminal already found guilty of aggressive, bullying behaviour?
  3. Why did the national headquarters of Quakers in Britain come to issue a statement — at worst, misleading; at best, irrelevant — at 3.32pm on Thursday August 8 — shortly after Friends’ Meeting House withdrew as the replacement venue as the result of a previously-unreported approach by Sussex Police?

Let’s take the three issues in order:

Why did Mr Kyle lie to a constituent about how the operations manager of Holiday Inn Brighton had told him there was no intimidation?

This is the email sent by Mr Kyle at 3.26pm on Thursday, August 8 — just six minutes after the Twitter statement by Quakers in Britain, and just over two hours after Friends’ Meeting House withdrew as the replacement venue:

When I first had sight of this email, I gave Mr Kyle the benefit of the doubt; I assumed he had telephoned the Holiday In Brighton and perhaps spoken to someone whom he misunderstood to be the manager and, like most staff, did not have access to full details of the threats and abuse I had already made known on social media.

In fact, in my second conversation with Gints Skieris, the operations manager, — at 6pm on Monday, August 12 — I learned Mr Kyle had visited the hotel in person and had a “very brief” face-to-face conversation with Mr Skieris. When I showed Mr Skieris the email above, Mr Skieris was astonished and said he could not understand how Mr Kyle — despite the admitted brevity of the conversation — got the impression “no intimidation” had taken place. [I should point out that both my face-to-face conversations, by appointment with Mr Skieris, lasted at least 15 minutes.]

What Mr Skieris also disclosed for the first time was that a plainclothes officer from Sussex Police had also visited the hotel; Mr Skieris told the officer about the threat from two men who visited the hotel warning of “consequences” if the meeting went ahead and of the repeated abusive telephone calls, including staff being called “cunts”.

In brief, there is no other explanation except that Mr Kyle lied when he emailed his constituent:

“I have replied on Twitter so I hope you have seen that, and that you would trust that I would not lie. I have spoken with the Manager of the Holiday Inn who has said there was no intimidation.”

2. How were details of the secret replacement venue — Friends’ Meeting House — made known (late on Wednesday, August 7) to Jonathan Hoffman, a Zionist activist and convicted criminal already found guilty of aggressive, bullying behaviour?

While it is as plain as daylight that Mr Kyle lied to his constituent, it is far less obvious how Jonathan Hoffman (@jhoffman1), a convicted criminal, could so confidently (albeit illiterately) state (at 10.40pm on Wednesday, August 7) that Friends’ Meeting House in Ship Street, Brighton, was the still-secret — indeed never-publicised — venue for the meeting with the Derby North MP.

At about this time, a huge Twitterstorm began, aimed partly at Friends’ Meeting House, but focused in greater numbers on the London headquarters of Quakers in Britain.

Coincidentally, emails began arriving at Friends’ Meeting House: three before midnight on the night of Wednesday, August 7. The first email came from a former member of the Labour Party in Brighton Kemptown, who formally nominated a former Labour Party member standing as an “independent” in the May 2 elections for Brighton and Hove City Council; coincidentally, the candidate was also publicly endorsed by Warren Morgan, the former Labour council leader. It is not suggested that any of these were involved in any threats or abuse.

So who knew — at 10.40pm on Wednesday, August 7, that Friends’ Meeting House had agreed to be the replacement venue after Holiday Inn Brighton?

I estimate no more than a dozen people: I told, in confidence, only three friends/comrades; at that point, I had liaised with only one person at Friends’ Meeting House — who, in turn, had sought the agreement of a seven-person committee. I have absolute trust in every single one of all these people when they say they kept the information confidential.

Some friends have suggested the opponents of Mr Williamson were guessing or had conducted a “fishing” exercise by ringing round possible venues and asking if they had bookings for Thursday evening. In fact, the first three emails — and another one received before 7am on Thursday, August 8 — were all written with apparent knowledge that Friends’ Meeting House was the replacement venue. It was not until about 10am that I first told Sussex Police that it was indeed the still-secret — and always secret! — venue.

I asked Mr Hoffman who told him. Unsurprisingly, earlier today (Thursday, August 15), he refused to say:

Therefore, how a threatening and bullying extremist got to know the venue will have to remain a mystery. For the time being.

3. Why did the national headquarters of Quakers in Britain come to issue a statement — at worst, misleading; at best, irrelevant — at 3.32pm on Thursday August 8 — shortly after Friends’ Meeting House withdrew as the replacement venue as the result of a previously-unreported approach by Sussex Police?

This question can be answered quite succinctly. First, though, I would point out that some senior people at Friends’ Meeting House in Brighton did not even know the statement had been issued. It is certain that few, if any, were consulted. And none agreed to the statement issued by @BritishQuakers.

The national headquarters statement came in a single Twitter reply to six users, including a Cardiff-based “troll” — hiding behind the anonymous @LaughingDevil1 account — who is being investigated by police for publishing a map seeking to identify the homes and/or workplaces of individuals (including me) accused of “anti-Semitism”.

The others to whom @BritishQuakers replied were: @Corbyntheracist (subsequently suspended by Twitter); Sussex Friends of Israel (@SussexFriends); Maria van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoDPres); the Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies); and the Jewish Leadership Council (@JLC_uk).

Why would the national headquarters of Quakers in Britain issue such a statement, which is misleading at best (because it implies the cancellation was due to concern about anti-Semitism) or irrelevant (because it makes no mention of the real reason for the cancellation: police advice following repeated abuse and threats)?

What has not been made clear until now is that the forces marshalled against Mr Williamson focused most of their energy on Quakers in Britain nationally.

The number of emails to Friends’ Meeting House barely got into double figures; the number of phone calls — many from “Number withheld” users who chose to be only silent or to leave no message — was equally low. In contrast, Friends House — the national headquarters in Euston Road, London — found themselves at the centre of what one well-informed source said was “a tsunami” of emails and Twitter postings. “Half attacking Brighton Quakers, half supporting us,” my source said.

Interestingly, I was also told that some of the concerns of Quakers in Britain related to Quaker engagement with Israel and Palestine.

“What we had not appreciated is that British Quaker volunteers are involved in peace-building work in Israel and Palestine on the front line, walking a very fine line between solidarity with the oppressed and avoiding too much offence to the Israeli authorities,” my source said.

Nevertheless, the day after the meeting with Mr Williamson passed off successfully in Regency Square, Brighton, Jane Dawson, head of external communications for Quakers in Britain, admitted Friends’ Meeting House cancelled the booking because of “threats of violence”. Ms Dawson also said — in an email to the constituent of Mr Kyle mentioned earlier — Brighton Quakers would be issuing their own statement “over the weekend or shortly after”.

Typically, supporters of Mr Kyle claimed this email was a fabrication. Even after @BrightonQuakers tweeted, at 8.32am on Saturday, August 10: “We know there have been strong feelings aroused regarding the booking and cancellation of a talk by Chris Williamson MP. We have not had time to consider this as a whole Quaker community in Brighton and will respond more thoroughly once we have done so.”

A statement was carefully and thoughtfully drafted by Brighton Quakers during the early afternoon of Sunday, August 11. I am told it was agreed the draft statement should emphasise that it was the likelihood of violence that led to the cancellation.

As late as the evening of Monday, August 13, the draft was still being discussed with Ms Dowson and her colleagues, who were still being “bombarded” on Twitter. A final statement is expected today or tomorrow (August 15 or 16).

Meanwhile, I have identified the Sussex Police officer who was primarily involved in visits to Holiday Inn Brighton and, subsequently, to Friends’ Meeting House. Partly, but not exclusively, because this sergeant is off-duty until August 20, I am in contact with the inspector who is his supervising officer.

My next update will include how Sussex Police is dealing with Mr Williamson’s complaints and the evidence — not all of it published — that I have collected in the last week or so.

If anything in this “sequel” is unclear, it may become clear if you read my original blogpost. If not, please get in touch.

Pro-Corbyn. Elected secretary of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party; votes annulled by NEC; suspended Oct 2016; re-instated Feb 2019. Ex-Fleet Street.