Why are West Yorkshire police harassing a blogger?

Seismic Shock, a Yorkshire-based student (real name Joseph Weissman) who received an alarming visit from local police late last year. Seismic, a Christian, had been heavily critical of Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer on his blog, alleging that Sizer associated with Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites.

On 29 November, he received a visit from local police, who advised him to remove certain posts from his blog. The police officers maintained that this was an “informal chat”, but the blogger, understandably intimidated, agreed to remove his original Blogger site, while maintaining his WordPress blog.

Index on Censorship has made numerous attempts to contact West Yorkshire Police in order to clarify a) under what authority the blogger was visited by police and b) what potential breach of law had been commited by the blogger that warranted such a visit.

So far, no explanation has been offered.

Meanwhile, Stephen Sizer has seemingly been gloating about the visit on another site:

Index on Censorship will continue to demand a response from police.

UPDATE
: This just in: “A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “As a result of a report of harassment, which was referred to us by Surrey Police, two officers from West Yorkshire Police visited the author of the blog concerned. The feelings of the complainant were relayed to the author who voluntarily removed the blog. No formal action was taken.”

This begs a question; was any attempt made in the investigation to establish whether any material posted on Seismic Shock could conceivably be construed as harassment? And was any consideration given to free expression and critical debate?

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20 Comments

  1. Posted 25Jan10 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Have you tried sticking a Freedom of Information request on them? They could hardly argue that the basis for a knock on the door was confidential!

  2. Posted 25Jan10 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Very so called christian behaviour from the man in a frock!

  3. Posted 25Jan10 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
    Jon D

    Hang on…

    Surely in the same way that if stopped by the police for taking photos, they can’t make you delete them, getting him to delete the offending blog posts is destruction of evidence should anyone have wanted to take a case forward later.

    So the police are in hot water too!

  4. Posted 25Jan10 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading some of the stuff at Seismic Shock, and it is rather disreputable. It consists of a campaign of verbal violence, itself intended to silence Steven Sizer and Anthony McRoy. I can see that the posts were intended to damage the reputations of those attacked. Only rich people could go to law for libel, but there would seem to be a case for libel, or potentially so.

    Does this alter things? I’m not sure. But I think we need to be wary. We all know that without any regulation the trolls always win. Anonymous abuse designed to ruin reputations and end careers… how do we deal with this?

  5. Posted 25Jan10 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    amie – I think that was for me the most startling thing about the case. I’m surprised that the police were able to look at Seismic’s files when there seems to be little to suggest that any offence has been committed other than a complaint from the offended Vicar.

    It is heartwarming, though, to see the response to this. ModernityBlog has a list of the blogs covering this farce.

  6. Posted 25Jan10 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I think the access to files without a warrant is indeed troubling.

  7. Posted 25Jan10 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Over 50 blogs have already covered this:-

    We wish to show our solidarity with Seismic Shock who has been the victim of intimidation for shining a spotlight on the anti-Zionist theology of Reverend Stephen Sizer.

  8. Posted 25Jan10 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
    David

    Roger

    I don’t think that the points Seismic makes about Sizer and McRoy constitute “harassment”, or are disreputable.

    These guys are both theologians. Their theology have led them to speak at conferences alongside some very extreme Islamist politicians and supporters of terorrism, some of which have been in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Take, for example, this one:

    http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/03/25/some-awkward-questions-for-john-hubers/

    Obviously, Sizer and McRoy don’t think that they’re doing or saying anything wrong. When they explain why they’ve said what they’ve said or done what they’ve done, Seismic has reported on it, and has gone on to critique what they say.

    Obviously, there will be differences of opinion on this. Some people will buy Seismic’s criticisms, and others with side with Sizer.

    However, the fact remains that Sizer and McRoy are engaged in public political advocacy. They speak at conferences. They publish articles. They delivery papers. Some of the things that they say are hugely controversial and are bound to result in comment.

    Nobody forced them to become political actors – they chose to do so. The essence of politics is that you influence others: either to agree with you and to support you, or to oppose what you are attempting to achieve.

    For Sizer to respond, not by debate, but by getting the police to terrorise a student is just… disgraceful!

  9. Posted 25Jan10 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been looking at this more. I’m getting a really, really bad feeling about this.

    I’m a non-combatant on the Israel-Palestine issue. But I’ve been looking at Seismic’s posts. I’ve been CHECKING his “quotations” for fairness and accuracy. And it looks a bit putrid. A lot of the “quotes” are quote-mined, and don’t stand up when examined. The old, nasty, Nazi trick of quoting your enemy selectively to demonise them… this is horrible. And read the comments on the posts — pure hate.

    Now I’ve blogged today on the threat to freedom of speech myself. The idea of the police coming in is pretty awful. But I am developing a horrible feeling that we may have all been suckered.

    Is it possible that Seismic has been trying to silence two men by a campaign of vilification designed to intimidate and silence people? Is it possible that Sizer and McRoy, unable to sue for libel, resorted to the police as the only way to defend their reputations and their jobs against this avalanche of lies and distortions? That they resorted to the police, to DEFEND their own right to free speech?

    I’d like to see what people make of this. I know it’s hard to admit that we were wrong, and I’ve had to backtrack myself.

    But ….for heavens’ sake, if we’re being suckered here, if there is no threat to free speech but rather a rogue being slapped down for attempted intimidation, let’s get ourselves together and say so.

    We’re in favour of free speech, right? Never mind the Israel-Palestine issue (where if anything I agree with Seismic more than Sizer, myself). The issue is free speech without police interference. But … surely intimidation of free speech is what we are OPPOSED to?

    Remember that these two hold jobs where being called an “anti-semite” could cause you to lose your job. These accusations are not fluff. They’re not made as fluff.

    I know it sounds backwards. Just sanity check this, guys. Start looking at Seismic’s posts. Don’t ask “do I agree”. Ask yourself what the posts are designed to do. Look up the stuff he excerpts, and see if it’s fair and representative. And … surely Sizer &c also have a right to free speech?

    I could be wrong. I’d like others’ views. But as I said, I am getting a very, very bad feeling about this.

  10. Posted 25Jan10 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
    David

    I’d be interested to hear why you think that any of the points which are made about Sizer are unfair.

    For example, Sizer is due to talk at this conference:

    http://palestine-conference.net/

    The other speakers are Daud Abdullah (signed the pro-Hamas Istanbul Declaration), Anas Altikriti (Muslim Brotherhood activist), Tamimi (supports suicide bombing), Ismail Patel (publishes the works of Holocaust deniers).

    It isn’t unfair to point this out.

    I’m following through the links from the original article by Seismic, here. Which do you think are wrong, or unfair?

    I have followed a number through, and they were sourced with original material – links to articles by Sizer, or lists of participants at conferences including Sizer. They seemed fair criticisms to me.

    Is there something here we’re missing?

    Is your point that it is unfair to suggest that, because Sizer has appeared at a number of conferences with supporters of terrorism or extremists, or forwarded emails taken from websites of Holocaust deniers, or containing commentary by such people, that it is Sizer’s view? Or that he supports everything that the Islamic Republic of Iran does, because he appears a conferences there, and has his book translated by Khomeini’s daughter?

    I don’t think that Seismic is saying that Sizer is a Holocaust denier or a supporter of terrorism, or what have you.

    But it isn’t unfair to point out that these are Sizer’s associations.

    Do you want to give examples of what you think is unfair? Specifics would be helpful.

  11. Posted 25Jan10 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
    David

    Sorry – I’ll make one last point and leave it, Roger.

    I’ve looked at your blog, and I can see the basis on which you’re defending Sizer and McRoy. Here’s an example.

    You say:

    “Here he sneers at McRoy for being polite about the Iranian despot whom he was forced to endure, plainly just out of malice. ”

    The post you’re linking to is this one:

    http://seismicshock.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/bad-news-for-iranian-christians-good-news-for-dr-anthony-mcroy/

    The McRoy quote that you say Seismic sneeringly quotes is as follows:

    ““Those meeting Ahmadinejad commented how intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming he was”

    “Ahmadinejad gives quick, extensive and intelligent answers to any question, mixed with genial humour.””

    http://www.mahdaviat-conference.com/vdcfiedmaw6dx.7rw.html

    Really, that is a quite remarkable thing to say about a political leader who is a Holocaust denier, and messianic despot. McRoy didn’t have to say anything at all about the man – but this is what he chose to say!

    What I don’t understand is why you think that McRoy was only writing those words because he was “being polite about the Iranian despot whom he was forced to endure”? Where did you get that from? Has McRoy written to you to explain that was why he said it – or are you mind reading?

    Why do you say that Seismic says this “plainly just out of malice”? Why shouldn’t it be simply out of concern that a prominent theologian is praising a despotic lunatic?

    Were I to write an article on a website describing Ahmadinejad in those terms, would I be immune from criticism? Could I say that you’d criticised me “out of malice”? Is it prima facie malicious to criticise a person for praising a politician?

    Were I being mischievous, I might suggest that you are doing to poor Seismic, precisely what you accuse Seismic of doing to McRoy!!

    Perhaps I should send the police round to your house!

  12. Posted 26Jan10 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Roger Pearce thinks ‘there could be a case for libel’. Well either there is a good case for it or there isn’t. If Joseph Weissman told lies about Stephen Sizer and Antony McRoy, that would be libelous. But neither Sizer nor McRoy have suggested libel. Rev Sizer, so far as I can tell, has not suggested that Weissman wrote anything that was factually incorrect. Sizer’s charge was harassment.

  13. Posted 26Jan10 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
    Karl Pfeifer

    Padraig Reidy I am glad you published this story and want to tell you: THANK YOU

  14. Posted 27Jan10 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I had a comment on my blog today pointing us to a couple of posts by Stephen Sizer that I hadn’t seen (I don’t find his blog readable anyway), and that no-one has mentioned.

    It seems that Seismic didn’t just run a campaign against him for a year online…

    “You need to read this post Stephen Sizer wrote

    http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2009/09/seismic-shock-one-year-on.html

    Then link to his open letter to Seismic Shock

    http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2008/11/open-letter-to-mordechai-ben-emet.html

    Dear Mordechai,

    I promised to write one more time and offer to meet, as Jesus instructed us to do in Matthew 18, in response to your decision to use an anonymous blog to criticise me repeatedly since September.

    You also gained access to our church facebook account without revealing your identity and then wrote to many of our church family to warn them about me, including children who were, not surprisingly, disturbed as were their parents. You also wrote anonymously to the hosts of various conferences I was invited to, to urge them not to allow me to speak. You know from the responses you received, some from Messianic leaders, that they share the Apostle Paul’s disdain for your methods. (this is just the opening, not Sizer’s full open letter)

    I certainly wouldn’t call what Seismic Shock did acceptable. It is stalking and intimidation. Contacting members of his church and CHILDREN? This was what was turned over to police as well I assume.

    Look at the closing to the open letter:

    p.s. Why are you using the IP address of Agaf HaModin, the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate?

    So I guess when he registered his blogspot that was what he registered to be his url.”

    Um.

    I don’t where the rights and wrongs of this are. I posted angrily about the threat to free speech myself when I first saw all this. But … we shouldn’t be uncritical. We need to think whether this is really a free speech issue.

  15. Posted 28Jan10 at 10:18 pm | Permalink
    Laurence

    Joseph Weissman is no anti-censorship hero, or victim.

    The only purpose of his blog is to harass Stephen Sizer, and to paint Sizer as an anti-Semite.

    As well as obsessively stalking Sizer, Weissman has also threatened the children of Sizer’s parish, and was blocked by his university from continuing his obsessive smearing.

    I really don’t think Index On Censhorship should be glorifying a stalker who harasses kids.

  16. Posted 01Feb10 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
    Emmauel

    Seismic a ‘Christian’? Pull the other one. This load of balderdash (or BS in reality) is aimed at muzzling free speech of those who do not buy Zionist lies, plain and simple.

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