Following is a statement (all 6,000+ words of it) emailed to me yesterday evening by Benedict Parsons, which I publish here as a right of reply piece, with regard to the Patrick Sookhdeo story (see all previous related blog posts).
No reader should infer by my publication of this statement that I agree with or endorse any of the contents. It remains my position that I believe Dr Patrick Sookhdeo to be the victim of a very serious miscarriage of justice.
Sookhdeo’s accusers should note well that I – a dissenting journalist – have afforded them the freedom of speech to express their desire to silence and suppress their opponents – myself included! Have Christian Today and Mark Woods extended the same right of reply to Sookhdeo and the Barnabas Fund? I think not. I oppose the Sookhdeo accusers’ campaign to gag the press.
The Sookhdeo accusers have protested much. By contrast, Barnabas Fund and Patrick Sookhdeo have kept fairly quiet to date. I think it reasonable to speculate that Sookhdeo and/or Barnabas Fund will have things to say publicly in the coming weeks and months; time will tell.
FYI. With the Complainant having reached settlement, the female Prosecution witnesses have effectively been released from legal process to clarify where defamations have taken place, at this stage via the collective briefing. As committed Christians, they’re unsurprisingly not wholly happy having been termed a “Satan Gang” etc, and have compiled a number of recommendations for parliamentarians regarding the safeguarding of persons caught up as witnesses, included in Section Ten. If there are any remaining pieces posted which may be defamatory, it would be prudent to ensure they’re pulled. Regards.
Issued on behalf of libelled Prosecution witnesses: Mrs Kathryn Wakeling (maiden name), Mrs Hollie-Anne Gail, and Miss K Ghiot. The reputation of Dr Patrick Sookhdeo’s sexual assault victim is restored from facts known, as it is evident the terms of her settlement agreement contain restrictions.
Note to editors: Section Ten includes recommendations supported by the named female Prosecution witnesses, being shared with a number of parliamentary committees, calling for extended media protections for trial witnesses (in this instance the naming of three and defaming of four, causing distress, in the week a main Hearing had been due. A self-declared media friend of the assailant, a managing editor, with an alleged readership of four million subsequently published a further article referring to the sexual assault victim and female Prosecution witnesses as “Jezebel and the Satan Gang,” sending a link to the husband of a witness effectively inviting the witness to read the content, and in the same email, to denominational safeguarding officers).
A preview copy of this briefing was passed to new Barnabas Fund Patron Canon Andrew White on 24th January. We wish the new management team well as they seek to address the types of challenges identified within this briefing document.
BRIEFING – LIBELLING OF BARNABAS TRIAL WITNESSES EXPOSED AS REPUTATIONS CLEARED:
“…I hope I can share what has happened to me at some point, but I think I have to be quiet for the time being. Keep yourself safe there…”
A text received from Dr Patrick Sookhdeo’s sexual assault victim by one of the witnesses, upon the Complainant’s sudden departure from the Barnabas site accompanied by her husband.
“This was a “David and Bathsheba” situation, but Bathsheba said “no” (this is the 21st Century and Davids don’t have absolute power) so as I didn’t have the courage to be a Nathan, I ended up as Uriah and had to get out… !” , from intimidated witness Kathryn Wakeling’s right of reply to defamation, deleted from a Christian news site run by a friend of the convicted assailant.
The out-of-court settlement of the Barnabas Fund sexual assault victim’s Employment Tribunal case, around ten days before the exchange of witness statements had been due on 25th January 2016 (ahead of what would have been the main Hearing in mid-March), finally means the reputations of Prosecution witnesses can be cleared in relation to online media allegations that they lied in the Crown Court during the original trial of the charity’s founder Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, for the assault and intimidation of two witnesses, which resulted in his triple conviction in February 2015.
The assertions, based on Defence claims, but not cross-referenced with female Prosecution witnesses, were posted by a 1960s’ London Bible College friend of Dr Sookhdeo, David Virtue DD, in the week originally set for the main Hearing in December. They appeared on Virtue’s official-looking (from some of the content) but independent and insufficiently accountable Anglican news portal, VirtueOnline, with a claimed readership approaching four million in 204 countries.
Such cross-referencing of value judgments, especially for a retrospective piece, is important, as all the pertinent evidence is seldom called upon in court and Virtue’s account of circumstances around the trial in his 8th/9th December article posted on VOL, was observed by Prosecution witnesses to be “highly misleading”. For example, he states “The charges were made about incidents alleged to have happened on a Friday afternoon in a busy office corridor where visitors and interruptions were common.” In fact, the victim reported that the assault incident took place in a closed office with the door shut, off the corridor. This misinformation is corrected in more detail later in the briefing paper.
2. ALLEGATION OF PROSECUTION WITNESS MRS KATHRYN WAKELING LYING ON OATH:
The same article infers that two female Prosecution witnesses, including one who trained as a lawyer, Mrs Kathryn Wakeling (maiden name), the former Personal Assistant to the International Director of Projects at Barnabas Aid International, lied on oath. Wakeling is accused of lying about the circumstances around her attendance at a 6th June 2014 staff meeting, where Dr Sookhdeo broke his bail conditions by addressing witnesses, who were amongst the sixty or so staff present. The former PA comments “Virtue’s piece accuses me of lying on oath and perhaps of racism or of being part of a plot against Dr Sookhdeo or Barnabas Fund/Barnabas Aid International. None of these slurs are true. [Not least] I do not swear oaths (my understanding of Matt. 5:33-37 is that followers of Jesus should not, so I gave truthful evidence on affirmation, not on oath, but DV did not notice that [despite being present during the trial]). For me this was simply a matter of civic duty and safeguarding the wellbeing of colleagues, principles also affirmed in Romans 13.”
The Virtue article claims Wakeling attended the staff meeting, in spite of being advised by meeting co-chair COO Dr Rod Westrop, Sookhdeo’s right-hand man, not to do so. Virtue’s assertions about Wakeling correlate with a statement issued by Barnabas Fund on 5th November 2015: “It is incorrect that the two members of staff who were to be witnesses for the prosecution were required to attend the meeting. Attendance was voluntary for all staff, and in order to meet conditions of bail, one of them had been specifically advised against attending the meeting by one of the senior managers of Barnabas.” (In fact all the potential Prosecution witnesses should have been advised not to attend, and Dr Westrop did not speak with Wakeling about the meeting either).
The former PA can now disclose she instead has an email from the manager in question, Dr Westrop, summoning her and all staff to the meeting, which gives no hint Dr Sookhdeo will even speak. It states: “Dear All, At the request of the BAI board [Barnabas Aid International] there will be a meeting of all BF staff tomorrow at 12 noon in the devotions room. The BAI board will be in attendance at this meeting, please make every effort to attend.” As indicated, all staff believed they were expected to attend if at all possible. Even the staff from the Coventry office were bused down specially. Westrop is no longer COO.
Also, Virtue suggests that because Wakeling had let it be known in March that she was intending to leave Barnabas after her wedding, (rescheduled from July to October 2014 following the death of her father-in-law-to-be), her assertion that “she would lose her job if she did not attend the meeting” was fabricated. Barnabas failed in duty of care terms, by withholding the information that Wakeling had not agreed to resign, and had hoped to continue working for Barnabas over the internet after the wedding. She had been in discussion over this. Thereby Barnabas allowed the lawyer, Dr Sookhdeo’s first port of call for (unofficial) legal advice after the assault allegation was made, to be targeted in the media as a perjurer.
After Dr Sookhdeo was charged with sexual assault, Wakeling’s manager, the International Director of Projects, in fact asked Wakeling for a statement relating to the events of Friday 14th February 2014, in the same time period as her continued employment status was being discussed. Wakeling had been asked to give a similar statement as part of the victim’s internal grievance process, two weeks after the assault. Wakeling politely declined to hand over a copy of the statement she’d already made for the grievance process, as this would have enabled Dr Sookhdeo to view some of the evidence against him before the police, and on the recommendation of her fiancé replied in a traceable manner to cover her back when explaining why, in that it would potentially compromise all parties, if the charges resulted in a trial. Wakeling was duly summoned to Dr Sookhdeo’s office. The International Director of Barnabas Aid International shouted at Wakeling that she should not have sent her reply by email, as the police had his email phone. Wakeling was left in tears. Police duly asked for Wakeling’s evidence a month after the assault. [Some of the key points from her evidence are included in Section 8. These further show she was not part of a plot to bring down Dr Sookhdeo].
The text of Wakeling’s email to her manager and Dr Sookhdeo, sent on 13th March 2014, shows a level-headed and conscientious employee contending with an impossible set of circumstances, intent on trying to do the right thing for all parties, and on not compromising important evidence. On realising Wakeling was a Prosecution witness, her manager abruptly ceased communications with her, driving Wakeling into resigning. Wakeling did not embark on an Employment Tribunal case, as she did not wish to sue the charity or go through the stress of what is often a protracted process. Her email follows:
“Dear [International Director of Projects] and Patrick,
I have reflected overnight and realised that in the circumstances I should not be discussing with other (potential) witnesses (you) what I might or might not say in a court case. If it were to come out in cross-examination that witnesses had discussed their evidence, it would make us all look very bad, particularly the defendant and particularly if he were discussing things with his employees who might feel pressured or conflicted.
I do not want to scare you or to discourage you, as I have enormous sympathy for the difficult situation in which you find yourself, Patrick, but I cannot allow myself to be drawn into a such a conversation and I am trying to protect your interests as well as mine.
For the same reasons, I cannot give a statement to either of you, although I can give one to a lawyer or to the police if asked. It would then be for Counsel on either side to decide whether it was worth calling me as a witness or not.
I also think it is very troubling and could make you look very bad to talk about my future employment with BF in the same conversation as one about giving a statement in this matter, and I would appreciate it if for everyone’s benefit we could please keep these issues separate in future.
I hope you understand that I do not bear you any ill will, but I am concerned that if I am called to give evidence, it should be as accurate as possible and I do not want my work to become clouded or delayed any further by this issue.
Every blessing, Kathryn”
3. ALLEGATION OF PROSECUTION WITNESS MISS K GHIOT LYING ON OATH:
Barnabas Fund Board Chairman Rev’d Albecht Hauser, Canon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wuttemburg (Ret’d) and a former missionary to Afghanistan, is quoted by Virtue as stating that a second intimidated staff witness, Miss Ghiot, “was actually working from home”, inferring she also lied on oath. However the 5th November 2015 BF statement undermines this claim stating “The other one had been working from home yet came in especially to attend the meeting.” Witnesses also confirm Miss Ghiot was at the meeting. In fact Miss Ghiot says she “provided evidence requesting her attendance at the meeting from COO Westrop and the HR manager confirming that even though working from home, this was an important meeting for all staff to attend.”
With regard to being part of a “Satan Gang” as alleged by “journalist” blogger and 2010 independent parliamentary candidate Richard Carvath, (in his 23rd December piece titled “Miscarriage of Justice: Patrick Sookhdeo, Jezebel and the…”), Carvath had never met Miss Ghiot or sought an interview with her. Miss Ghiot has been advised that some of Carvath’s and Virtue’s comments, in these circumstances, fall foul of the Protection and Harassment Act 1997.
4. LIBELLING OF PROSECUTION WITNESS MRS HOLLIE-ANNE GALE:
The third witness to be libelled is described in the same piece as “the complainant’s friend Hollie-Anne Gale, staff member, [former PA to the then CEO of Barnabas Fund UK], who secretly recorded the meeting and took it later to the police.” Richard Bartholomew, author of “Barth’s Notes” commented on 14th January, (before news of a settlement with the assault victim) “In this instance, naming prosecution witnesses serves no good purpose (they are not anyone known to the public), and in the context of continuing civil litigation its effect may be intimidatory.” Virtue libels her as he suggests she should be looked upon as a potentially disloyal employee who was part of a group of friends intent on bringing down Dr Sookhdeo. Virtue omits to admit how the recording actually came into being, which was well known to both Prosecution and Defence.
The story began on Tuesday 3rd June, when, while clearing up lunch served to the BF UK Board at their Wiltshire headquarters, Mrs Gale witnessed an onslaught of inappropriate questions and accusations by Dr Sookhdeo who interrupted the Board members as they awaited the start of the Board’s afternoon session. Dr Sookhdeo had entered the room and began shouting at the Board, demanding to know which of the Board members had disclosed the file concerning the internal investigation to police, and answers to sensitive questions about the Complainant. Terrified by his shouting and his tone, but unable to escape the building given that Sookhdeo was standing in the threshold of the room where the Board was meeting and the corridor to exit the Old Rectory, Mrs Gale witnessed Sookhdeo’s unrestrained verbal attack on the Board and their inability to put a stop to the exchange, and was frightened. Unbeknownst to Mrs Gale at the time, the then Head of HR,who had walked into the building during the row, witnessed the attack on the Board and quickly exited, was in a position to show understanding to Mrs Gale as she recounted in tears and still shaking, what had happened, immediately following the inappropriate exchange.
Dr Sookhdeo’s temper was so extreme, Mrs Gale was left badly shaken for two days by what she witnessed, and was granted leave by the then CEO. However, on 5th June she was notified of the staff meeting that was to take place on 6th June, and urged to attend the meeting. Worried she would not be able to concentrate given her fragile state after having witnessed the horrendous event two days prior, she made the recording in order to reflect later on the content of the meeting. The circumstances of the recording were incidental, although Mrs Gale rapidly realised Dr Sookhdeo’s speech constituted a breach of bail conditions, as she was aware, given her capacity as PA to the CEO, whom the the witnesses were and that they had been in attendance at the meeting. Dr Sookhdeo was subsequently unanimously convicted, in significant part because of Gale’s recording, of intimidating two female witnesses by the same trial jury at Swindon Crown Court in February 2015.
5. CHARITY STAFF DUTY OF CARE ISSUES:
Barnabas’ output which addresses other matters has been published on VirtueOnline at the same time as pieces naming three staff witnesses and defaming four of them, have been posted on the same VOL site, in one case for over a month, and frequently beneath Barnabas Aid advertisements. This may raise questions over Barnabas’ duty of care priorities with the Charity Commission. Controversially, the female Prosecution witnesses were not notified of the pending publication of the allegations and exposure of three of their names, just before Christmas, by Virtue. Instead they learnt via alarmed senior editors, who had all, with the exception of Virtue, in both the secular and faith sectors, safeguarded the witnesses’ identities. A reader commented on VirtueOnline about one female witness trekking in North Vietnam, before she even knew she needed to tighten the Facebook security settings around her photographs.
As a consequence of Wakeling, (and other witnesses), being effectively “fingered” * as liars by Virtue, the same witnesses then found themselves described, as mentioned in Section Three, as “Jezebel and the Satan Gang” in a blog article by *Richard Carvath, subsequently hyperlinked to by Virtue, and forwarded as a taunt to one witness’s family member (along with National Church Safeguarding Officers and the Director of Communication for the Church of England), by Virtue. As Richard Bartholomew noted “Such an email amounted to an invitation to his [Virtue’s] subjects to read the allegations against them – meaning that his decision to delete any comments he received in reply [after many of the same allegations were published by Virtue on 8th/9th December] puts him in an even poorer light.”
6. NO “SATAN GANG” PLOT TO UNDERMINE CHARITY FOUNDER AT STAFF MEETING; INSTEAD MULTIPLE MANAGEMENT AND STAFF RESIGNATIONS:
There was no “Satan Gang” plot “to set up” Dr Sookhdeo, “by a small group of women within Barnabas” as Carvath alleges. After the back me or consider your position 6th June staff meeting, Wakeling rang her fiancé in tears. In Dr Sookhdeo’s account of his battle in facing down the first assault allegation, he had presented himself as an embodiment of the Persecuted Church. Therefore in co-operating with the police, rather than “stay united” and support him, Prosecution witnesses were made to feel they were betraying the Persecuted Church, which in Wakeling’s case, she had relocated to rural Wiltshire to serve. Her family were very concerned management had effectively cornered her and caused her considerable distress, so they asked if she believed the board of Barnabas Aid International was strong enough to tackle the apparent problems arising for witnesses? This not being her observation, only at that point (having not wanted to see any more trouble for Dr Sookhdeo) did her family recommend, that being a legally qualified person, she consider cross-referencing with Wiltshire Police, for the sake of other female witnesses, who might otherwise feel their only option was to resign. In fact all the female witnesses did resign in due course.
Virtue claims Wakeling “read sinister meanings into perfectly ordinary events.” However, in all, “three members of staff (two of whom were managers) resigned because of the meeting, many filed official complaints and over a dozen more resigned or were made redundant in the months that followed” because of the events and the restructuring that followed. While Virtue quotes Hauser, speaking for the board as saying “None of us had the impression he intimidated anyone,” it was in fact when a police officer came to take a statement from Wakeling over Dr Sookhdeo’s breach of bail conditions at the staff meeting, that the police themselves rapidly identified, that in Wakeling’s case, as in others’, they were in fact dealing with intimidation of witnesses. Commenting on Virtue’s reporting of the staff meeting, Wakeling adds that vitally Virtue “has not sought the views of the other Prosecution witnesses or members of staff or former members of staff who were at the infamous staff meeting,” only management and board members open to scrutiny because of their involvement.
Following Sookhdeo’s triple conviction in Swindon, and his fresh arrest at Heathrow on 21st November 2015 for alleged indecent assault, not reported by David Virtue in his “very selective” 8th December 2015 review article of the Dr Sookhdeo trial, Barnabas finally announced on their website that Dr Sookhdeo was stepping down with immediate effect on Monday 23rd November 2015 from his board and management roles, while omitting even to make reference to the new arrest. However, Dr Sookhdeo had previously been reinstated in June 2014 with the “full support” of the board of Barnabas Aid International just ahead of the above staff meeting, after an internal grievance procedure of BF UK had “thoroughly investigated” and “did not uphold any of the allegations of sexual harassment” relating to Valentine’s afternoon of that year. Therefore Dr Sookhdeo’s presence and confirmation of re-appointment as BAI’s International Director at the 6th June staff meeting, ahead of the trial that resulted in his convictions, had appeared premature and surprising for many staff, and for the witnesses who knew that his bail conditions forbade Dr Sookhdeo from speaking to them.
BAI’s decision to reinstate Dr Sookhdeo was not supported by the Board of BF UK who issued their own statement on 3rd June 2014, the relevant part of which is reproduced here: “The BAI board has also been meeting in [location omitted] and has agreed to the return of the International Director from his voluntary sabbatical and his full reinstatement. While recognizing his visionary leadership a majority of the BF UK Board voiced strong opposition to this decision in light of the pending judicial proceedings and concern for the protection of all parties.” “We were especially grateful to hear from the CEO about the various provisions made to support staff through these stressful times… .”
7. ASSAULT COMPLAINANT RESTRICTED FROM COMMENTING BY LEGAL PROCESS, OPTS TO SETTLE, AFTER REPUTATION MAULED BY MEDIA FRIEND OF DR SOOKHDEO WHO CARRIED ADVERTISING FOR BARNABAS AID:
It is evident that the fourth witness, the assault Complainant, is now further restricted by confidentiality clauses in her settlement agreement from defending herself, so we endeavour to do it here for her, as far as is possible from facts known. “Christian Today’s” Mark Woods reported on 15th January, that historically settlements of this nature, for sexual assault and hurt feelings may range up to £50,000 plus several tens of thousands for legal fees. The cost to Barnabas’ supporters would not likely have been diminished by Barnabas’ wider content association with a media partner which reproduced Carvath’s article just before the settlement was announced, branding her as “Jezebel”. In fact, colleagues describe her as a “happily-married, very devout God-fearing Christian”. “Her skirts were not that short – just above the knee.” Allegations the Complainant engaged in “seductive behaviour” towards Dr Sookhdeo and that she was a “serial full body hugger,” only surfaced when a Defence was required.
Virtue described her as “an emotionally charged white woman” playing to an all-white jury. This allegation may play well to many of Barnabas’ supporters in the Third World with judicial systems compromised by corruption, but in reality, while there are of course exceptions to the rule, the British Justice system is broadly the Envy of the World, and witnesses are not aware Dr Sookhdeo lodged prior protests over the selection of the jury on these grounds. The Complainant in fact only became tearful in the final stages of the trial when asked about her husband, who had faithfully stood by her throughout the ordeal. She was highly respected across the Barnabas charities conglomerate, and as mentioned, many staff and managers have left as a result of these events.
Other media inferences that she was not a loyal employee because she had been on sick leave for 45 days start to fall apart with the revelation that she and two senior managers were all driven to taking weeks/months of sick leave due to the stress of supporting Dr Sookhdeo against a number of the trustees in 2013, when these same staff found themselves faced with impossibly conflicting sets of circumstances, (and she took the fewest number of weeks). Both she and Wakeling strongly supported Dr Sookhdeo in this dispute. The Complainant had no motive for making allegations against Dr Sookhdeo or Barnabas Fund. In the assault Complainant’s case, her time off was in part realised through shorter working weeks, hence leaving her husband baffled when asked by Counsel why he didn’t know where she was during such a large period of time.
Virtue wrote of the assault Complainant “The charges were made about incidents alleged to have happened on a Friday afternoon in a busy office corridor where visitors and interruptions were common.” In fact the assault incident took place in a closed office with the door shut, off the corridor. In practice, the open/closed door policy applied to everyone except Dr Sookhdeo due to his need for regular privacy in discussions and meetings. A senior member of staff was away, meaning it was less busy, most of the preparations for Dr Sookhdeo’s pending trip had been completed, and things were winding down for the weekend.
Virtue writes that Mrs Rosemary Sookhdeo “knew the allegations were false as she was present with her husband at the precise time the Complainant claimed one of the incidents occurred.” Virtue, who claims he attended the whole trial omits to inform readers that it was Mrs Sookhdeo who was exposed by Counsel for lying. In her original statement she had given one account and said that she had not discussed it with her husband, however, the Prosecution in cross-examination exposed that she had changed her story.
CCTV, electronic door pass records and email records were produced. But in reality, often assault victims do not remember the exact time an assault took place due to shock and fear, and witnesses frequently use terms such as “the beginning,” “middle” or “end of an afternoon.”
8. INADVERTENT WITNESSES:
In a further dismantling of the “Satan Gang” plot myth, it can now be revealed that the circumstantial witnesses had no idea their passing office observations that fateful Friday would even warrant recollection until in Wakeling’s case, she received a phone call from her manager, the International Director of Projects, on Monday afternoon notifying her an allegation of sexual assault had been made against Dr Sookhdeo. Wakeling had earlier witnessed the work colleague who had lodged the complaint with management, driving out of the gates with her husband, as Wakeling arrived. The victim’s departure was followed by a moving and cryptic text from her to Wakeling. “I miss you too and I hope I can share what has happened to me at some point, but I think I have to be quiet for the time being. Keep yourself safe there and take care of (female A) and (female B). God bless you, my dear sister.”
As one can see below however, Wakeling’s actual circumstantial evidence about the 72 hours surrounding the assault, has not warranted the type of media intrusion, which has extended to the naming of her friends online and questioning by Carvath as to why they would want to be friends with this “Satan Gang” member? Worryingly, any office worker could have found themselves vulnerable in the same set of circumstances due to poor regulation of online media and inadequate protection of civil case witnesses, for example in Employment Tribunals connected with preceding criminal trials, such as sexual assaults.
Here is a summary of key points from Wakeling’s evidence. Wakeling confirmed the assault victim was in a walled office with the door closed, alone with Dr Sookhdeo on Valentine’s afternoon 2014, for some time. Wakeling knew this, because she was waiting to speak with her over office matters. Wakeling saw the victim a few minutes after the soon-to-be Complainant had exited Dr Sookhdeo’s office, and it was apparent she’d been crying. Wakeling noted when Dr Sookhdeo emerged, that “he looked as if he’d lost all hope and life, as if something had died within him.”
The victim refused to receive Dr Sookhdeo’s phone calls from then on, including that evening when he’d rung the victim unnecessarily, in order to ask for his sat nav, (given that his destination country was already taking care of his travel arrangements). Wakeling knew about this call, as she was instead tasked with delivering the sat nav, but interestingly Dr Sookhdeo was in no rush to take delivery of it. Wakeling adds “There was also no need for Dr Sookhdeo to call the Complainant from his destination to re-arrange the departure time of a land journey [a call Virtue refers to in his article] when Dr Sookhdeo and others were on the spot and able simply to talk to the driver themselves. Only the re-arrangement of a flight would have necessitated her assistance.” It was apparent Dr Sookhdeo was very keen to speak with the Complainant after the alleged incident. However, Wakeling has never suggested her evidence relating to the assault was conclusive in itself; it simply fed into a larger and more complex jigsaw puzzle.
That said, Wakeling counters Virtue’s assertion that ultimately Judge Peter Blair QC “apparently thought so little of the guilty verdict, that he sentenced the BAI leader to three months community service in the form of a curfew.” She comments “the sentence Dr Sookhdeo was awarded was not particularly lenient for the crime. A fine would have been a light sentence. The judge recognised the loss of his reputation was already a heavy penalty.” The Western Daily Press (24th Feb 2015) quoted the judge at the time as saying “you will be hugely punished by these convictions and your life will change for good.” Wakeling, happily married since October 2014, is also keen to stress that she never personally perceived Dr Sookhdeo to be a predatory risk to herself, and on scholarly levels continues to respect him. Indeed she exchanged smiles with him outside a supermarket when visibly pregnant after the trial, and agreed not to go to a mutual friend’s wedding anniversary lunch where they both would have been present with their spouses in December 2015, so he could enjoy the pastoral support of colleagues.
9. WAKELING’S INTERIM RIGHT OF REPLY TO DEFAMATION DELETED BY NEWS SITE BELONGING TO CONVICTED ASSAILANT’S FRIEND:
Many supporters must have been left baffled, some bitter, and grant recipients on edge as to whether the taps would turn off without Dr Sookhdeo’s charisma at the helm, when he finally resigned on 23rd November 2015. It was against the broader backdrop outlined in the sections above, that VirtueOnline, which as mentioned, carries Barnabas’ advertising on its Anglican news site, repeatedly deleted Wakeling’s interim response, which asked Virtue to take down his article naming and defaming witnesses ahead of the main Tribunal Hearing. It was posted initially using Kathryn’s own identity, and then re-posted via the alias address “Uriah”, when VirtueOnline blocked her from commenting. As readers will know Uriah was sacrificed by King David’s men – abandoned to the king’s enemies on hisinstructions, when driven by honour, Uriah would not sleep with his wife Bathsheba on the eve of battle, and thereby create an alibi for the king’s love child. So the right of reply instead cropped up before Christmas under other articles such as “Episcopal Abuses turn inward”, and “Why these Americans are done with Church but not with God”. However, rather than respond by re-opening the “Comments” Section under the 8th/9th December Sookhdeo article, VirtueOnline kept deleting her balancing perspective, while offering the former PA no alternative method of reply.
In paragraphs eight and nine of her interim right of reply to Virtue, the former PA finished with a mature, gracious concluding overview regarding the situation, which reflects a level of caring humanity within her for everyone involved. She writes “This chapter of Barnabas Fund’s History has been a tragedy for all parties. There are no winners. Certainly not the cause of Christian Witness, nor the Persecuted Church, nor Dr Sookhdeo, nor his wife, the 2014 assault victim, the witnesses, staff, loyalties, and friendships caught in the cross-fire, all the families involved, their wellbeing… I was twelve weeks’ pregnant on the day I gave evidence, and had been fighting severe pregnancy sickness for every day of the previous seven weeks. I had to postpone my first scan in order to appear in court.”
Witnesses are now appealing to Google to remove the links to the defamatory articles, which remain posted on VirtueOnline in spite of a syndicated copy of Virtue’s piece having been apologised for by the editor of the “English Churchman” on the grounds it was misleading and defamatory in the 8th January 2016 edition of their Protestant family newspaper. Police and Ofcom were consulted about the online treatment of the witnesses, but commented that they were not currently empowered to intervene. They advised one witness to write to her MP to request that legislation include suitable internet regulation. Apoliceman told a witness that legal highs can likewise cause harm, and similarly the law is always playing catch-up. Further legal advice on this police decision may be sought.
While pluralist media legislation will tend to be intrinsically relativist in nature, this clearly does not mean that it is appropriate for Christians to take advantage of such freedoms (Galatians 5:13). Wakeling concluded her interim right of reply with an invitation to church leaders; “There are many lessons to be learnt in due time, from how BAI [and the media] treated the witnesses in this case, and from how things went terribly wrong.” Part of that is the opportunity/calling for the Church to be “Salt and Light” in continuing to shape related media policy debate, and so witnesses have offered a number of recommendations to the “Church and Media Net” and parliamentarians, for possible discussion with legislators and regulators.
10. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POTENTIAL DISCUSSION WITH RELEVANT BODIES AND PARLIAMENTARIANS:
i). The definition of Harassment in relation to actions connected to civil and criminal trial witnesses by journo-bloggers, needs to be better clarified, for example in relation to pending Employment Tribunal cases connected to criminal cases.
ii). The media naming of the witnesses around for example a sexual assault victim before a Tribunal, to create a heavy yoke of false guilt for the victim, (in that the victim’s witnesses have suffered in being named but the victim has not been) is already criminal, but not all police officers are aware. There needs to be a specialist unit dealing with
harassment, including media harassment and cyberstalking, to advise officers on what is and isn’t a criminal offence.
iii) Witnesses in sexual assault cases should not be named, even after cases are over.
iv). Where a defamation is associated with previous criminal court proceedings and it can be demonstrated that the said defamation is preventing the defamed person from obtaining gainful employment, Legal Services Commission funding should be available, not least as a deterrent.
v). It should become a criminal offence to report the content of court proceedings in a misleading manner.
vi). The interception of the privileged legal communications of any party during trials etc, for example, as part of wider data trawling, needs to be made a specific criminal offence with a heavier penalty (without inferring guilt in any direction in this instance; risk can arise in relation to any party with a vested interest).
…and of course these recommendations feed into the wider perennial debate as to whether online content should be regulated, and if so at source, in the countries received, or not at all?
Media and Church-Related:
i). Denominations and faith groups regulated by the Charity Commission may be wise to consider introducing a licensee system with regard to who receives their news on an official basis (for example, with incentives included for code of conduct compliant licensees perhaps – non-watermarked pics at higher resolution, more interview features etc), so for example pseudo-sites running official content on what appears to be an official basis, but without adequate accountability in key circumstances, cannot then abuse the reputation of a denomination or faith group and their potential readership, for example by putting out misleading content with regard to safeguarding of witnesses
ii). Defamed parties may need support from faith media bodies in making cases for example to Google or social media sites for the removal of defamatory material.
iii). All denominations and faith groups urgently need to expand their safeguarding remits to include the protection of trial witnesses, (where they do not already), both before and after, civil AND criminal trials, and whether a faith leader’s licence is current or expired (for example due to an associated conviction; otherwise this can create a chicken-and-egg “get out” option, for a faith group).
iv). The first priority needs to be the pastoral/spiritual wellbeing of the witnesses, without that necessarily inferring an incurring of legal liability by a denomination or faith group which may take longer to establish; otherwise witnesses can be left isolated in the meantime.
i). Barnabas needs to be seen in everyone’s eyes, not to be condoning the actions of any news platform naming and libelling court witnesses -running for example Carvath’s “Jezebel and the Satan Gang” piece, by allowing their own content or advertisements to be run at the same time on such platforms.
Note: The above information does not represent the sum of witnesses’ evidence, just sufficient disclosure to clear up the defamations