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Spin & Blame

May 13, 2017

I’ve been reading quite a bit this week about the tactics used by the State to protect their reputation when something goes wrong.

This week, the media reported again on Southern Health and the fact that HSE will be prosecuting them over the death of Connor Sparrowhawk. This gave the Trust the 1000th opportunity to apologise directly to Connor’s family but for the 1000th time they chose to give their apology to the media, rendering their words a complete non apology. Sloven have repeatedly used these opportunities as a chance for some reputation management and have failed the sincerity test everytime.

I gave an interview the other day about Steven’s case and for the first time in years, I reread the judgment before the interview. Reading the section about the leaked press release took me right back to that day in court.

At lunchtime I was sitting on the wall outside the High Court eating my sandwiches. One of the journalists came and sat next to me and showed me the press release that Hillingdon had sent to all the leading media outlets the day before the hearing started. As I read the paper, I started to feel nauseous and couldn’t finish my lunch. The intention of the release was clear – to present Steven in the worst possible light and for somehow to present Hillingdon as the victim. The victim of a young man with “very challenging complex needs” and a father who “refused to cooperate with the Authority”. I’ve never kept the press release, throwing it away as soon as I got home. I wouldn’t publish any part of it even if I had held on to it.

The journalist was interested in my response to the release. I had by now spent 18 months listening to and reading Hillingdon’s narrative about Steven, so although I despised the language, I wasn’t shocked by it. Because of my apathy towards it, the journalist was forced to up the ante and he leaked it to the barristers and the judge. Their reaction brought home to me how much I had become desensitized to the language.  All in all, the last day of the hearing took a completely different direction and we stayed in court until the early hours of the evening as the judge tried to get to the bottom of who had wrote the release and their intention. As had been the case all week, this proved very difficult as nobody from the LA would take responsibility for their actions.

The judge called Hillingdon’s Head of Communications into the witness box and appealed to her to try and understand the LA’s positioning. In dismay, he said, “But this isn’t about your reputation. This is about a vulnerable young man in your care”. It hit the nail on the head – to try and salvage some pitiful reputation, they were prepared to throw me and Steven to the wolves.

Here is the paragraph from Justice Jackson, where he addresses the press release. Never has an LA been so trumped as their horrid methods of PR were outed:

“On 20 May 2011, the eve of the hearing, Hillingdon circulated a three-page media briefing note to most of the national media. The document was designed to counteract adverse publicity that Hillingdon has received, and against which it had not attempted to defend itself. Nonetheless, it is a sorry document, full of contentious and inaccurate information, and creating a particularly unfair and negative picture of Steven and his behaviour. I learned about the document by chance on the last day of the hearing, expressed dismay, and asked for an explanation. I am told that it was authorised by the Director of Social Care, the Head of Corporate Communications and the Borough Solicitor. It is now accepted “in hindsight” that an error of judgment was made in issuing the briefing note. That is indeed so, though again hindsight has nothing do with it. In addition, Hillingdon has unreservedly apologised to the court. That courtesy is appreciated, although an apology for the document is in truth not owed to the court but to Steven and his father.

I also note that Hillingdon has done its best to undo the situation by contacting every recipient informing them that I had directed that no part of it should be published in any circumstances. Again, I appreciate the intention behind this, but I should make clear that I gave no such direction. The only control that this court has exercised over reporting about Steven is in the form of the very minor restrictions on the reporting of the hearing itself, as referred to above. Other than that, the media will cover the story in whatever way it chooses, and no doubt it will continue to respect Steven’s need to be left in peace, as it has done since the hearing in February.”



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One Comment
  1. It’s not enough to ride roughshod over you. You have to be obliterated, ground into the mud until you are indistinguishable from it, for having had the temerity to challenge their overweening egos.

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