I got into the NightJack blog last summer. Written by a serving detective, it had many of the harsh concerns and incredible anecdotes of most police bloggers but was distinguished by a literary flair and passion you just don’t get in the blogosphere. NightJack truly did fulfill the Orwell Prize criterion: he turned political writing into art.
NightJack ignored the tie-in book offers that come with successful blogs and gave his Orwell Prize money to the Police Benevolent Fund. Earlier this year he stopped updating the website to work on a crime novel.
As you’ve probably heard, NightJack has been outed by the Times. This newspaper has form here: it’s the same one that exposed Zoe Margolis. This time it can offer a weaselly public interest defence in its silencing of a compelling contemporary voice. Belle de Jour deals with this on CiF:
Recently a similar occurrence also made news: the case against Margaret Haywood, the nurse who went undercover for Panorama. Yes, you could argue that she may have compromised the right to privacy of patients. But is that reason enough to say that her actions merited being fired, when what she was commenting on was abuse of the same patients, and earlier complaints had resulted in exactly zero changes to the NHS?
As a self-proclaimed whistleblower, Haywood was theoretically protected from professional reprimand, though of course that turned out not to be the case. Her career was ruined, and the only result is a tips hotline for nurses, which doesn’t address the issues raised in any way.
In general, where the force of the response is out of proportion to the injury, I wonder what is being hidden. NightJack commented on cases, he presented his opinions. In reality what he wrote was no different to what countless other men and women on the beat would have admitted to in the pub. What, exactly, was so dangerous about him that it is considered in the public interest to name him in this way?
NightJack went to court to stop the paper unmasking him. Unfortunately for him, the presiding judge was Mr Justice Eady. At the behest of a Saudi banker Eady ordered the pulping of Funding Evil, Rachel Ehrenfeld’s investigation into the financing of Islamic terrorism. He ruled against Simon Singh in a libel action brought by the British Chiropractic Association because Singh had described chiropody, correctly, as ‘bogus’. This friend of libel tourism and enemy of free expression will protect the privacy of worthless celebrities but was never going to give a police blogger a fair hearing.
Having destroyed his anonymity, the Times gave NightJack a right to reply:
Then one morning I heard a rumour that The Times had sent a photographer to my home. Later in the afternoon came the inevitable phone calls from The Times, first to me and then to Lancashire Constabulary asking for confirmation that I was the author of the NightJack blog. That was easily the worst afternoon of my life. I knew that it was serious and quite rightly my employers have investigated it as a matter of misconduct. With that under way, I went to court to stop The Times from publishing my name, my photograph or any personal details about my home and my family. Over the years, I have dealt with some unpleasant characters. I know that some of them have made determined but unsuccessful efforts to find me and I believe that some of them are still looking. I didn’t want their task made easier. I also wanted to provide some breathing space for my employers so that they could try to limit the damage that my exposure will do to their deserved reputation as one of the best police forces in the country. In the event, I failed at court as it was decided that the public right to know about me outweighed any claim to personal privacy.
My blog is gone now, deleted, slowly melting away post by post as it drops off the edge of the Google cache. The Police Dependants’ Trust is a few thousand pounds better off which may be the only good thing to have come out of this. My family life has changed in ways that they did not want and that is down to me.
NightJack’s blog probably didn’t reflect force policy. It would have been problematic even if it had, because organisational language and human language don’t mix. But in a landscape filled with moribund political punditry the insider’s blog stood out. Anonymous frontliners gave real insight into life on the streets of the UK outside the nine to five and mined the chasm between rhetoric and reality on the state of the public sector. The best are required reading, including for policymakers.
I’ve just finished Tom Reynolds’s second volume of ambulance memoirs. As well as a compulsive journey through the London night you can pick up basic medical advice which staggering amounts of the public just do not know. I would bet money that Tom’s blog and books have saved a few lives over the years.
As Belle says, this sets a dangerous precedent. Anyone who’s not in a safe profession, anyone who has a whistle to blow or a story to tell will look at the bottom line and think again. Rise above a certain level of mediocrity and you will get shot down. Tough old world.