What happens when you ask GCHQ for the data they hold about you?

GCHQ logoA few weeks ago I asked GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) to send me any information they held about me as part of their Optic Nerve, ‘Tempora‘, PRISM or other similar programmes. This request was made under the Subject Access Request provisions of the Data Protection Act (1988). Their reply is intriguing:

“GCHQ has conducted a search of its records and determined that it has not processed any personal data to which you are entitled to have access. You should not assume from this response that GCHQ has or has not processed any personal data about you. GCHQ only investigates individuals whose activities relate threats to the UKs national secruity, economic wellbeing of the national or serious crime [sic]. Unless you have been involved in such a threat it is unlikely that we would be interested in you.”

So GCHQ may have processed my personal data, but if they have they are not going to tell me becasue I am not entitled to know. If they don’t hold any data about me then wouldn’t it have been easier to say that? As far as I understand the DPA (which isn’t very well), there are only limited circumstances in which an individual is not entitled to their data, such as where it’s not possible to disentangle other people’s data who you don’t have access rights to from yours. But GCHQ don’t say this is a factor. Neither do they say they have any sort of special exemption from the DPA. So on what grounds am I not entitled?

The line that GCHQ “only investigates individuals whose activities relate threats…” is untrue, unless their definition of “investigates” excludes the act of mass untargeted surveillance (or invasive universal targeting). But I didn’t ask them this – I asked them for any information they hold about me, not whether I am being investigated.

I need some expert advice on the Data Protection Act…

The policing of prostitution in West Yorkshire – the view from the street (Part One: the Joanna Project)

Photo of the Joanna Project team meeting MP Hilary Benn.

The Joanna Project team. (Photo from MP Hilary Benn’s website)

The police’s approach to tackling prostitution has come under the national media spotlight of late as part of a wider debate about how society views sex work. In previous articles I looked at how West Yorkshire Police, along with most other forces, has chosen not to adopt elements of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which has been instrumental in helping Merseyside Police achieve a 67% conviction rate for crimes of rape against sex workers compared to a national average conviction rate for rape of just 6.5% (2010 data).

The policies and processes that individual police forces adopt, and the standards and behaviours that police leaders set for their officers are of course critical, but to understand the full picture it’s essential to look at what actually happens on the street on a day-to-day basis. Do the interactions between individual police officers and prostitutes working on the streets of West Yorkshire tend to make the working women safer, or do they put them in more danger? Do the interactions support an exit from the cycle of addiction and prostitution which is prevalent among women working on the streets?

To try and answer these questions, I requested interviews with all the support agencies which West Yorkshire Police told me they liaise with. The first of what I hope will be a short series of interviews is presented below. This interview is with Jackie Hird from the Leeds-based Joanna Project.


What is your relationship with West Yorkshire Police like?

We’ve established a good working relationship with WYP. We certainly don’t live in their pocket – but they know who we are, and we know who they are. We’ve built a closer relationship in recent times as Inspector Christopher Bowen (Holbeck Neighbourhood Operations Inspector) has taken over. He’s been very proactive in contacting us. We have a planning application in at the moment for a support centre in Holbeck and the police have been very supportive of that.

I’ve been here for 4 years and I’ve seen a definite change in attitude, at least in the senior officers. A couple of years ago I attended a meeting hosted by the police and they were making statements there about needing to see the women as victims and looking at the bigger picture, recognising they have multiple needs and that policing alone will not solve things. This meeting was the beginning of the formation of the strategy called Responding to Prostitution in Leeds: A Partnership Strategy. I know there are working women who will tell stories about encountering officers who are less than helpful, but it can take time for attitudes to filter down. I don’t think you’ll get every officer signing up to that.

We do an evening outreach and sometimes officers will come across who don’t recognise us – by and large, once they find out who we are and what we’re doing, they’re respectful of our activities.

What interactions do you have with the police?

We are part of the Ugly Mugs scheme so we would use that if there are any ‘dodgy punter’ type allegations. The police will contact us too. For example, there was recently an incident of rape, so the police alerted us to that and said if anyone had any information to please let them know. They said to put the word out that they were taking the incident seriously. They do make efforts. There’s been an issue ongoing for a while where a particular person has been a cause for concern. Different agencies, including the police, have met to try and resolve the situation. We wouldn’t give information to the police about a client unless it was for their safety, or if someone was missing, or if they’d given their permission to be discussed at a multi-agency meeting to try and help them in some way, for example with exit strategies. We don’t get involved in the police’s duty to uphold the law.

How good are WYP at encouraging your clients to report crimes and to see them through to convictions?

It’s quite difficult to get our clients to report crime and to take it the distance through to conviction. They see violence as an occupational hazard. The women we work with are street sex workers, which is quite different to many indoor sex workers. All the women we support have huge addiction issues. For them, it’s a cycle of working, using, working, using. They’re out there driven by their habit. So things like ‘reporting crime’ can be very low on their priority list. They might think ‘it’s awful what’s happened to me but I still need to work and score.’ I know sometimes there have been efforts made by the police to get women to follow through on statements, but it’s not always where the women are at. Our experience is more that the problem is when the case gets to court. Juries and magistrates etc. don’t see the women as they should – as credible witnesses. They think ‘well, what were you doing out there anyway’.

The women themselves may not see a more enlightened approach from the police. They might not see the bigger picture – they sometimes just see themselves as ‘being moved on’, ‘being lifted’, ‘being ASBO’d’. They don’t trust the police.

Have you heard of West Yorkshire Police’s “Operation Topaz”?

No, I’ve not heard of that.

What about your work to change the community’s view of prostitution – is that done in conjunction with the police?

It’s a hot topic at the moment because of this planning application.

The reason we didn’t go public about our proposal and have lots of meetings is because we’re aware lots of residents don’t want their area (Holbeck) trumpeted as a red light area and we were trying to respect that. Ironically, the challenge from some (but definitely not all) residents has thrust this in to the spotlight.

Holbeck is trying to rehabilitate its image. But sadly the reality is that it is where women are working. So being respectful of residents we didn’t make a big fuss about our building. And we know it will have absolutely no impact on the residents. It’s a very small building near an industrial estate – it’s not in the residential area. It’s not going to look any different apart from some clean curtains in the building. All anyone might possibly see is an occasional woman knocking on the door and being let in. We need the women to know where we are but we won’t be putting a big sign on the front of the building saying “working girls here” or anything like that! All people will see is the building that is there now. To suggest it will attract women in to the area is a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives women to work as street prostitutes. They don’t come here because we give them a bun and a cup of tea. We’ve actually been working in Holbeck for the last 10 years. This new proposal is just a small extension to our existing work. But somehow it’s become very visible and contentious which is frustrating.

I have invited different representatives of residents groups to meet with me and we have had some productive meetings. But I think when you’re involved in an issue like prostitution you become a kind of lightning conductor for all the anger about that issue, but I cannot solve it myself. I did not cause it. I’m just suggesting we could be a small part of a solution.

The Joanna Project and the police recognise each other’s aims – theirs is to uphold the law, ours is to help women exit prostitution – we both have an important part to play. One of the points I try to make to residents is that, because the women’s addictions are so strong, the police are not a deterrent from what they do. The addiction that drives them is much stronger than the fear of being caught by the police. The need to feed the addiction, which isn’t about pleasure but about stopping the pain, is the driver – that’s their rationale. Fear of getting an ASBO is nothing in comparison. But that can be hard for members of the public to understand.

Where are you in the application process for your outreach centre?

The planning officers have approved our proposal, but a councillor has requested that it go to a panel – this was originally going to be on the 6th March but has been deferred to 3rd April. So we wait for the councillors to decide at the planning meeting. All the objections and support for the scheme are public access.

Have you heard of the ‘Merseyside Model’ in the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance which has led to a big increase in conviction rates for crimes against sex workers?

Not heard of the ACPO guidance specifically but I would think that if Independent Sexual Violence Advisors are seen as being anything to do with the police then our clients won’t trust them. In terms of encouraging people to report crime and assist with that, that is something the voluntary sector would do in Leeds. We get the message across that just because you’re a working woman does not mean you should accept violence. We give that message strongly – it is not “OK”.

I don’t know enough about the hate crimes approach but it sounds like a very sensible idea. I think it’s the sort of thing which needs a council and political will to back it, not just the police will. I don’t know whether the political will is there or not.

Are more fundamental changes in law, politics or society needed to help tackle this issue?

I think society has this idea that these women just wake up one day and think “I’ll go and sell my body”. There isn’t the acknowledgement that it was a long and difficult journey to where these women are today. It very commonly started in the care system, in parental abuse, in neglect. A huge number of women will have been sexually abused as children. Society let these women down way back in their journey. Maybe their own parents were addicts. How do we get society to take responsibility for these people who have been damaged and let down in the past? Very commonly we hear of heroin addictions starting in the early teens. But when we see them later on in street prostitution people say “It’s all their fault” and that they “need to shape up”. Many of them won’t have completed secondary school – they often don’t have basic life skills. It’s OK helping women exit prostitution, but it’s naive to then expect them to be able to get a house and manage money, rent, bills etc when they’ve never done that before. Some have no supportive relationships because the only people they know are sex workers and other addicts. The journey to begin to build a positive life from that starting point is incredibly hard. There is very little acknowledgement of those issues. It’s a much bigger picture than just a woman saying “I’m going to take crack and heroin”.

Have Hilary Benn MP and local councillors come out in support of your outreach project?

Hilary Benn came to visit us a little while ago to learn of our plans. He certainly seemed supportive of them.



West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Topaz and the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation are discussed in this article.

How to win friends and influence planning panels: The Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes

The former Ice-Pak site at 49 Barkly Road, Beeston (image from YEP)

The former Ice-Pak site at 49 Barkly Road, Beeston (image from YEP)

In late 2013, hundreds of households across Beeston in South Leeds received a leaflet headed “Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes [BCAH]” encouraging residents to object to the proposal by Aspiring Communities to build a community centre on the former Ice Pak site on Barkly Road. Is the “Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes” a genuine campaign group? And if it isn’t, should people be concerned about the influence BCAH might have on the final planning decision which is expected within the next two weeks?

So, what is the “Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes”? Unlike most campaigns, it has no online presence. But here’s what I found out:

  • The “Honorary Secretary” of the campaign is Dr. William John Birch, a mining engineer by profession who has stood as Conservative Party candidate for councillor a number of times in the past. Dr Birch’s name appeared on a later version of the campaign leaflet, with an earlier version having been anonymous.
  • Dr. Birch is a member of the Beeston Community Forum. The Beeston Community Forum also object strongly to the Ice Pak development but two members of the Forum, including Vice Chairman Richard Bell (see comments section), have stressed that BCAH is not affiliated or linked to the Beeston Community Forum in any way and they are not aware of any other Forum members being involved with BCAH.
  • The BCAH leaflet has been hugely influential in encouraging people to lodge objections about the Ice Pak development with the Council. The vast majority of objections either mention the leaflet, or are signed versions of the leaflet, or are a petition based on the leaflet. The language in MP Hilary Benn’s objection letter suggests he may have also been influenced by the campaign leaflet.
  • Dr. Birch has lodged a number of objections to the Ice Pak development as “Honorary Secretary” of the Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes (see his letters of 16, 19 and 24 December 2013 under planning reference 13/05214). Dr. Birch uses phrases like “a local resident showed us“, “as it is our understanding”, “we would request that”, “to give the official response of our group”. But no one else’s name except for Dr. Birch’s appears on the letters and it appears that no one else lodging an objection has stated they are a member of BCAH, including the person who sent a hand written objection letter on 28 December 2013 from the same household as Dr. Birch.

I have contacted Dr. Birch twice since the start of the year having been told by an intermediary that he would be happy to answer my questions about his campaign. He has not responded to date, including to the last letter which he signed for in early February. In the letter I asked him about the purpose (in addition to opposing the Ice Pak development), history and membership of the Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes. I also asked if there was an opportunity for local people to get involved in the campaign (in addition to objecting to the Ice Pak development) and whether the campaign had any links to other affordable housing campaigns such as Hands Off Our Homes (Leeds). Finally, I asked Dr. Birch what he thought the chances were of affordable housing being built on the Ice Pak site should the Aspiring Communities proposal be rejected. Steve Williamson had previously suggested the affordable housing issue was a red herring.

All of this suggests it might be more accurate for the “Beeston Campaign for Affordable Homes” to be renamed “Dr. Birch’s Campaign to Stop the Ice Pak Development”. But what about the planning process? Could an individual have more influence on the process by presenting themselves as a campaign? The information that Leeds City Council’s Planning Team gave me about the process suggested to me there might be two ways that BCAH, as a “campaign group”, could exert more influence on proceedings than individual members of the public could.

Firstly, the views submitted by the BCAH “Honorary Secretary” could be separated out from those of the general public in the planning report which the Planning Team will present to the South and West Plans Panel for decision in the same way that the views of the  Beeston Community Forum and local ward members will be separated out. We will need to look at the actual report when published to see if this happens. Individuals who signed copies of the BCAH leaflet or the petition version will likely have their responses summarised by saying xx number of respondents signed a standard letter/petition agreeing with the points in the BCAH leaflet. But the report shouldn’t give the impression that these people are part of the BCAH campaign, and the Planning Team were keen to stress it is not a numbers game.

The second way that the BCAH “Honorary Secretary” might exert more influence than a member of the public is if any of the Plans Panel members (see picture below) or other attendees use the BCAH “campaign” to imply that a ‘group’ – which might be perceived as being representative or having relevant expertise – objects to the proposal. While neutral residents will hope that the  Plans Panel makes a decision based on the facts, it is ultimately up to each individual councillor to choose their words and tactics during what may well be a highly charged meeting.

The Planning Team are aiming to take the final report to the panel on 3rd April, but this is to be confirmed by the Chair, Councillor James McKenna.

South and West Plans Panel members. Clockwise from top-left: James McKenna (chair), Javaid Akhtar, Jonathan Bentley, Ann Castle, Mick Coulson, Robert Finnigan, Rod Wood, Paul Truswell, Christine Towler, John Hardy, Caroline Gruen.

South and West Plans Panel members. Clockwise from top-left, councillors: James McKenna (chair), Javaid Akhtar, Jonathan Bentley, Ann Castle, Mick Coulson, Robert Finnigan, Rod Wood, Paul Truswell, Christine Towler, John Hardy, Caroline Gruen.

Hilary Benn MP on Surveillance Laws, Undercover Policing and the Police State

Hilary Benn MP

Hilary Benn MP

Hilary Benn MP sent me the email below in response to a request for him to support the Don’t Spy On Us Campaign and to push for Parliament to launch an independent inquiry to recommend legislative reform on this issue.

“The revelations of Edward Snowden are and should be the subject of vigorous public debate.  As ever in these matters, particularly where security is concerned, there is a balance that needs to be struck, and the law needs to make sure that it keeps up with technological development. Given that three of the London bombers came from, or worked in, our community I want the police to be able to stop that kind of terrorism which claimed so many lives in London that day. But there has to be proper public and Parliamentary oversight.

On police surveillance operations, I share your concern not least because it has been reported in the newspapers that one of the protesters who tried to occupy my constituency office a decade ago was in fact an undercover police officer dressed in a clown’s outfit!

I have been trying, since this became public, to get an answer from the Home Office and the police, but to date none has been forthcoming.  There are of course occasions when it is wholly legitimate for the police to undertake undercover operations – for example in investigating terrorism and violent crime.

Finally, in spite of all the concerns you express, I really don’t think that we are living in a police state. You only have to look around the world to see what a real police state looks like.”

I asked Hilary Benn a couple of follow up questions, but he would not be drawn on whether the advent of mass un-targeted surveillance, which is one of the classic features of police states, moves us closer to becoming a police state. He also didn’t give a view on the dangers of the secret services driven assumption that “more data means better capability to prevent terrorism”. More data requires more resources (which we don’t have) to store and process it, and an increase in statistical errors such as seeing patterns where there are none and missing patterns that are there, as discussed by Professor Mark Harrison. The police and secret services knew about the 7th July 2005 bombers – three of whom had strong connections to Hilary Benn’s constituency – but were still unable to stop the attacks. Would mass-surveillance data have made any difference? It was interesting to note that the Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favour of a digital bill of rights that would prevent the government from embarking on the “bulk collection of data”.

Hilary Benn did express his support for the judge-led public inquiry announced in the last few days into undercover police spies.

National ATOS Protest 19-2-14: Interview with Tom Smith, the man who made it happen.

Tom Smith and Joe Salmon outside the Leeds Assessment Centre as part of the at the National ATOS Protest

Tom Smith (left) and Joe Salmon (right) outside the Leeds Assessment Centre as part of the National ATOS Protest

7:40am, outside Leeds Medical Assessment Centre. Transcript:

TS: I decided just before Christmas that I wanted to set up a demonstration against ATOS in Leeds so I put the idea out there on Facebook. A colleague of mine, Paul Kelly said, “Look, we’ve got something like 30,000 people saying they want to get involved, we should think about making it national”. So after some deliberation we decided to go for all 140 ATOS centres in the UK. Some of them won’t have anyone protesting there today, but ATOS have had to bring in lots of extra security to every single centre today – so it’s a hindrance to them – but my main reason is not to disrupt ATOS but to try and start a ripple effect in the public’s understanding of what is happening. After seeing Channel 4’s Dispatches programme ‘Britain On The Sick’, I said to my wife, “I’m going to do something about this. I don’t know what – but I’m going to do something”. So I started to investigate what was happening. As I dug deeper I was brought to tears by what I was finding out.

JC: What was your own experience of the ATOS process?

TS: I went through my ATOS process in January here at the Leeds Assessment Centre we’re stood outside now. I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t lose their claim, but even so, I was called in to reception and spoken to by the receptionist like I was something you wouldn’t scrape off your shoe. So I thought, “Alright, here we go…”. I got called in to the assessment room, and it was a nurse who it turned out had only been in the country a month. I asked her in what way was she qualified to assess me – a person with complicated syndromes. Her response: “because I’ve done the ATOS training course” – the training course only lasts a couple of weeks. I have COPD, chronic nerve damage to the left leg, growths on my hips, a prolapsed spine, I have PTSD, and I have a personality disorder. How could a nurse make an assessment of me? As it turned out, she didn’t even ask me any questions. She wrote down what was on my prescription and said to go. It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had in my life. You’re absolutely terrified.

ATOS pay their staff £50 for every client they get through within the half hour. They get paid a further £50 if they manage to get that person off disability benefits. Now, if I told you I’d pay you extra money to do something, it’s fairly obvious what you’d do. And they’re only allowed to pass 12.3% of the people that they see. This is what the doctor who went to the training centre in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme was actually told. It beggars belief – at the end of the day these are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, uncles, aunties – and they’ve been demonised by this Tory government and by the Tory press so people have started to see them as not human and therefore they become desensitised. This country has always supported its weak and vulnerable. But then Iain Duncan Smith comes in and, basically, he is doing a cull. It’s estimated that by the next general election, 60,000 people will have died as a result of this policy – there are some very uncomfortable historical equivalents to that kind of thing happening. I don’t see how you can tell people who are dying from cancer that it is their own fault.

JC: What do you think about the post on the ATOS website about the protests today where they’re saying they’re just following the government’s orders ? – quote: “We have been conducting assessments for benefits for over 15 years based on the policies and processes set by successive governments.”

TS: I think if you read between the lines that they’re accepting the guilt for what they have done. They’ve said in that blog that the protesters should not focus on the staff, because the staff do not make the policy. It’s ATOS that makes the policy and it’s ATOS that’s at fault.

The tears would come flooding for anyone who listens to the stories. There was a guy in Leeds who was an activist on these issues. He hung himself at the end of last year. And then the case of the man in Bradford who was appealing against ATOS’s decision. He didn’t have any money for 10 months. The day he finally got his money the poor guy died in his flat in Bradford. He had no heating. He hadn’t eaten properly for months. He was literally skin and bone – like someone from Belsen. How we, the general public, can sit back and let this happen I really don’t know.

At the end of the day, yes, I’ve sparked this demo and planted the seed, but 4,500 people are involved with just the setting up. It’s come from the ground up.

If anyone ever tells you that one person can’t make a change then have a look at this demo. I was the one person who planted that little seed, and the response has been overwhelming. It humbles you. Within about 3 hours of putting the idea online I had about 4,000 emails asking how can I get involved.

Yesterday, me and Joe Salmon were doing an interview for Radio Aire. About 20 minutes after, our phones were ringing and ringing with BBC Radio up and down the country wanting to cover the protests. I stood there and looked at Joe and burst into tears. I thought, what have we done?! They reckon on expecting 60 here today in Leeds, but I reckon they’re in for a shock – there’s going to be a hell of a lot more. You’ve got individuals who’ve said they’re coming, then the NUS, Unite the Union, Unison, NHS groups, Labour and Green party councillors too. In London we’ve got people like Hilary Benn, Dennis Skinner and John McDonald because today is Prime Minister’s Questions. My local MP, Phil Davies, who was very critical of the disabled a few weeks ago saying we’re all scroungers and should get up and work – he has emailed me to say he now supports the campaign.

The government have lost touch with reality – they don’t know what’s going on. Anyone who’s got a family member or a friend affected by this policy will have seen how the policy is taking away people’s dignity. People are literally having to go and beg. I know a demonstrator down on the south coast having to get by on £7 a week. You can’t do that – it’s physically impossible. But Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP think that is a satisfactory income.

JC: What will solve this? Will it be the next general election now that Labour have come out strongly against the policy? Or might it change before then?

TS: Labour brought ATOS in in the first place, but not to do what the Tories have got them doing. ATOS, who are a French IT company, have lost the contract – that was announced yesterday. But another French IT company are coming in to take over the contract – it doesn’t make sense! As for the next election, I think Labour will get in. The Tories have pushed things so far that even the middle classes are starting to realise that things have gone too far. With any movement, you can have the students involved, the working class, but it’s only when the middle classes get involved that something will really happen. I would love to think that this demonstration is the thing that starts a ripple effect. There are people from all different walks of life getting involved in it – if they haven’t already been affected then they’re starting to realise, “it could be me next”. Pastor Martin Niemöller got it right when he said, “…Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables, and I did not speak out because I was not sick. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

It’s atrocious that anyone should defend a French IT company – one who paid no tax on their £120 billion income last year – making these decisions on people’s lives. It should be people’s own GPs who know them and understand properly what they can and cannot do. It’s a sad state of affairs, but hopefully today will raise the awareness. People are going to stand up and say, “We’re not going to take this anymore – we’re not going to stand by while this is happening to the sick and vulnerable in my country”. The disability payments only equate to 1.8% of the total amount the government pays out on benefits. The amount of actual cheating to get benefits payments is like 0.02% of the total. It’s nothing compared to tax evasion, such as by ATOS. The 8% pay raise the MPs just gave themselves would pay for all Disability Living Allowance for 6 months.

We’re hoping to have BBC Look North, ITV, Sky, Russia Today and others covering the demonstrations today. It’s really interesting to think about why the BBC are covering this. They haven’t covered any demonstrations in the last couple of years. November the 5th – 4,000 people out – no coverage. Thousands out in Manchester for the NHS rallies – no coverage. But they want to get really involved in this. Why? There’s lots of interesting things going on. ATOS putting out their blog message – that’s not normal behaviour for a multi-million pound corporation. Police forces up and down the country are actually saying they support us – they are also seeing ATOS starting to take over parts of their operation so they see the dangers too.

Enough is enough – no more. We’re not going to sit back any longer.

The emerging tensions between police forces on how to police prostitution

A difference of opinion on policing prostitution: Association of Chief Police Officers members Chris Armitt, Martin Hewitt and Mark Gilmore.

A difference of opinion on how to police prostitution: Association of Chief Police Officers members Chris Armitt, Martin Hewitt and Mark Gilmore.

In a previous post (The policing of prostitution in West Yorkshire) I discussed how West Yorkshire Police is not following the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation in at least two important aspects, namely treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and employing Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to support sex workers. What does the Association of Chief Police Officers think about their guidance not being followed by West Yorkshire Police? Continue reading

Everything You Always Refused To Consider A Possibility About Woody Allen Because He Is Your Idol

Photo of Woody AllenThere was an outpouring of adulation on Twitter for Woody Allen a while back when the BBC aired a new documentary about him, so I tweeted the question, “Woody Allen: why do we still idolise him when we know he sexually abused a child? Does his accomplishment change a crime into a misdemeanour?” This upset one Woody Allen fan who, even when I shared links to the evidence, refused to accept the possibility that Woody Allen could have done anything wrong. When I rephrased the question to make it about Michael Jackson, who I’m guessing they’re not a fan of, they said, “Good question, yes, it’s weird how people only remember the good”. Just to be clear, this post isn’t about that tweeter. Their response is typical of how many people would have reacted (see some of the comments here), including probably me in the past – I used to be an Allen fan. Continue reading