2: A Time-Line of Abuse

This is the second part of a two-part post.  Any factual errors are mine and I shall be very happy to correct them.

The sea-change in the O’Connors’ relationship with Caroline Nokes was sudden and devastating.  They accused her of reneging on her commitments to shared parenting and called on her to resign from the committee responsible for scrutinising the Children and Families Bill.  In June 2010 it had been revealed that she had had an affair with Tory Councillor James Dinsdale and in November 2012 she and her husband divorced.  The O’Connors – both divorcees themselves – began delving into her private life, accusing her, without evidence, of preventing contact between her ex and her daughter, whom they named on their website.

A vicious campaign was launched on Twitter and Facebook, with members of F4J sending abusive messages and even making death threats; one – posing as a woman – tweeted that he hoped Nokes would be ‘violently raped… and left for dead’.

A security review of Nokes’ house revealed areas of trampled grass; she was forced to change the locks and spent thousands on security measures.

The O’Connors’ claim that Nokes had abandoned her earlier commitments was untrue however; speaking about the Butler-Sloss amendment to the Children and Families Bill she said (Nokes, 2014a),

 The purpose of the Bill was to produce legislation which ensured the child’s need was the paramount consideration, and included the right to have an on-going, meaningful relationship with both parents.  The Bill which left my committee did this, and would have benefitted the child and non-resident parent alike.  The Bill which came back from the Lords does not.  It removes almost any expectation an absent parent may have of enforceable shared parenting arrangements.

One might query whether the weak wording of the original Bill would actually have achieved its aim, but her intention is clear.  She continued,

 To deny non-resident parents a meaningful role in the life of their child is not only unjust to the child, and detrimental to the parent, it is also contrary to the best interest of society.  The social, financial and emotional cost of family breakdown is too high a cost to bear, and we must do everything we can to encourage families to stay together, and if not possible, to work together after separation.  There is much research which shows children… deal better with family breakdown where there is an on-going relationship with both parents.  We must encourage shared parenting for the good of society, the parents and most importantly, the good of the children.

 It is interesting [that] those who supported [the Butler-Sloss] amendment are those who opposed the use of the phrase ‘shared parenting’ in the original Bill.  This amendment was another example of the ‘chipping away’ of what was intended to be at the heart of this clause – an automatic right for the child to be parented by both parents.  Unless you clearly establish a legal presumption in favour of absent parents spending a reasonable amount of time with their children, and more importantly, enshrine a right for a child to have a meaningful ongoing relationship with both parents, there will be no change in custody outcomes, and we will have missed the best opportunity in a generation to create a culture of shared parenting (Nokes, 2014a).

When Adrian Yalland, Nokes’ friend and a political lobbyist, defended Nokes on Twitter, he too became a target; the O’Connors made offensive allegations about his relationship with Nokes and in April 2013 publicly declared ‘war’ on the pair.  Yalland explains what this meant,

 The O’Connors have personally ‘declared war’ on Caroline Nokes and myself on Twitter; Matt has threatened on Twitter and his blog (twice) to personally send Caroline ‘to the knackers-yard’ and has incited others to ‘send this nightmare to the knackers yard’, has joked at the prospect of running her over, shooting her, hunting her with dogs, organised a ‘Nokes is pants’ campaign in which people sent soiled pants to her office, said on the F4J Twitter account they were driving around her village looking for her, which could be interpreted as stalking her at home, is suspected of sticking a GPS tracker on her car, and repeatedly accused her of betrayal to a bunch of volatile, desperate and angry men – who have then lashed out at Caroline and myself.  Then he sits back and says, ‘not us mate’.

Following complaints from Nokes and Yalland the F4J Twitter account was suspended in June and Matt O’Connor’s closed.

In an interview with the Southern Daily Echo Nadine O’Connor described her and her husband’s hounding of Nokes as a ‘blood sport’ (Davies, 2013); their followers were responsible for ‘well over 500 abusive Tweets, articles, emails, and Facebook postings’ and ‘numerous death threats, which include sending her to the knacker’s yard, being shot, run-over, violently raped, tortured and left for dead’ (Nokes, 2014b).  In an interview with police Matt O’Connor even claimed that his wife Nadine, would ‘kill’ Nokes if left in a room with her.

On her blog Nadine made false allegations about Yalland’s professional and private reputation; she and her husband wrote to his business colleagues and employer, alleging criminal business practices and making assertions about his personal life.  His business dealings collapsed and he was forced to change career.  When they posted online that Mr Yalland had been harassing their eight-year-old son he was sent a death threat by one of their followers.  He told The Independent their campaign of harassment had ‘destroyed my life’ (Dugan, 2014).

In December 2013 the stress of the relentless persecution led to a full cardiac arrest.

In 2014 Yalland decided to bring a libel action against Nadine O’Connor (Adrian Yalland v Nadine O’Connor (HQ14D02746)).  On February 20th Nokes dropped him off on the outskirts of Stockbridge and he walked to the O’Connors’ house to deliver a Letter Before Action in a final attempt at conciliation.  Matt O’Connor saw an opportunity both to resist service and to fabricate further allegations against Yalland.

After an altercation with Nadine while trying to deliver the Letter, Yalland had left the house and was in the street taking photographs of the house in order to prove delivery of the Letter; O’Connor came out of the house and initiated an angry exchange during which O’Connor either fell or threw himself to the ground; the incident was recorded on O’Connor’s iPhone and posted on the internet.

O’Connor claimed to have been punched in the face, but it is clear from the video he himself recorded that Yalland could not have punched him as both hands were raised above his head holding his own camera phone at the time; significantly, O’Connor refused a medical examination which would have confirmed any bruising.

Hearing the commotion, the O’Connor’s landlord, Martin Vince, emerged from the house and attempted to seize Yalland’s phone.  He grabbed him from behind with his arm over Yalland’s mouth and together they toppled to the ground.  O’Connor appears to have taken the opportunity to punch Yalland in the back of the head.  Fighting for breath, Yalland did the only thing he could and bit hard into Vince’s arm.

The O’Connors posted a photograph of the bite on the internet (apparently enhanced to increase the red content) and it was widely publicised; they also showed a photograph of O’Connor’s thumb revealing what they said was also a bite but which appears to be a cut from a knife.

After the O’Connors called the police Yalland was initially held on suspicion of assault, but he was released on bail and the charges were dropped.  Further attempts by the O’Connors to charge him for harassment and criminal damage were also thrown out, even after the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the evidence three times at the O’Connors’ request.

Nokes was interviewed by the police a week later and confirmed she had given Yalland a lift into Stockbridge and that he was delivering the Letter Before Action.

In October 2014, eight months after the Stockbridge incident, the O’Connors brought civil claims, accusing Yalland of causing injury, unlawful trespass, breach of privacy, stalking and harassment, and Nokes of aiding and abetting him.  They claimed he photographed and traumatised their eight-year-old son, Archie, vandalised their family car, and contacted social services with concerns about Archie’s welfare.

In fact, Yalland had re-tweeted a photograph of Archie which Nadine O’Connor had originally tweeted – and George Galloway had already re-tweeted – depicting Archie in blood-stained clothing brandishing Tony Blair’s severed head in one hand and a sword in the other.  Yalland was drawing attention to the O’Connors’ willingness to use images of their child for political ends.  On August 12th the police emailed Yalland a Police Information Notice (PIN) informing him that ‘an unproven allegation of harassment’ had been made, and advising him on how to avoid such allegations in the future.

The O’Connors falsely and repeatedly misrepresented this PIN as a ‘harassment warning’, and in one instance as a formal caution.  Standard wording on the PIN makes clear that it ‘is for evidential purposes only.  It is not a warning, formal or otherwise, and it has no status in law as any form of disposal or sentence in respect of a criminal allegation’.

The O’Connors approached a private investigator with a view to putting Nokes under surveillance; he told The Independent that Nadine O’Connor ‘was ranting immediately and asking if we had any affiliation with the Tory party.  She started talking about surveillance costs and vehicle tracking’; he chose not to get involved (Dugan, 2014).

The O’Connors began to make claims of a police cover-up of the alleged assault in Stockbridge.  In fact the police merely offered to keep Caroline Nokes’ identity private until such time as Yalland was charged and she would be called as a witness.  This was witness protection, in order to protect Nokes from the behaviour of the O’Connors’ supporters.  In the event, Yalland was not charged and there was no need to reveal Nokes’ identity, but the O’Connors discovered it anyway; Yalland believes they had found another, less scrupulous, investigator and were already tracking her car.

At a public meeting, Nadine O’Connor even accused the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Hayes, of orchestrating a cover up.  She said: ‘I can assure you that my child does not sleep at night… we are here today because we have no confidence in your police force and you have silenced us’.

Hayes replied that he was ‘not aware of your children being subject to criminality in your house’, and added, ‘You have in my opinion made things up’.

In August Yalland secured a default judgement against Nadine O’Connor, but at a case management conference in December she successfully applied for it to be set aside on a technicality, as Yalland had inadvertently applied for it 24 hours too early.

The basis of her skeleton argument was that Yalland had never served his claim and that she was only made aware of the claim by a third party on 25th August after the default judgement had been entered.

This was untrue: Yalland had sent the documents by recorded delivery and Nadine’s father had signed for them the following day.  Yalland had also sent scans of the documents by email and possessed ‘delivered’ receipts for them.

Furthermore, Matt O’Connor had placed on YouTube an audio recording in which he had stated to Chief Inspector David Winter of Hampshire Constabulary that, contrary to his wife’s claims, the couple had indeed received the papers through the post in July.  He posted the recording three days before his wife denied she had been served.

It is difficult to draw any other conclusion than that Nadine O’Connor was lying in her witness statement to the court.

She also argued that Yalland’s claim was vexatious and malicious, and applied for a Wasted Costs Order against him; as he had applied early this would have been normal practice but the judge refused: six months on from the claim Mrs O’Connor had still not filed a defence; more importantly, she had accused Yalland of a serious criminal offence and his libel claim was certainly neither vexatious nor malicious.  Instead Master Yoxall ruled that if Yalland were to win his case O’Connor would have to pay her own costs.

On 10th October HHJ Gerald threw the O’Connors’ claim for an interim injunction against Yalland out of court due to a ‘complete absence of evidence’: ‘there’s no sufficient evidence before me to find there is even an arguable case for a claim of harassment’.  In response they said they would re-particularise the claim, but they never did.

In December Matt O’Connor asked for a meeting with Yalland to attempt to head off further litigation and resolve the issues out-of-court.  O’Connor agreed to a number of conditions, including paying damages to a nominated charity of Yalland’s choice, issuing an apology to him and the removal of other libellous articles about him.

On January 11th 2015 Nadine O’Connor published an apology on her blog, albeit after the deadline had passed, stating,

 In December 2013, I published an article about Mr. Adrian Yalland which contained comments that in good faith I believed to be true.  I now accept the comments were not true.  I have therefore removed the article, and apologised for any offence caused.  Mr Yalland has accepted my apology and we both consider the matter closed.  I have paid a sum to a children’s charity in lieu of damages.

The statement on the F4J site was even more perfunctory,

 In April 2013, a dispute arose between Fathers4Justice, Matt & Nadine O’Connor and Adrian Yalland which resulted in legal actions on all sides.  The parties have now agreed to seek to resolve the matters amicably, and as such the dispute has been resolved.

In exchange, Yalland drew up his side of a Tomlin order[1] to withdraw his claim against Nadine O’Connor and was prepared to sign it if the O’Connors withdrew their claim against him.  They did not withdraw the claim, however, and Yalland duly applied to have it struck out.  The O’Connors’ intention appears to have been to avoid judgement against them while continuing to post libellous and false allegations damaging to Yalland’s reputation.

On 19th January 51-year-old F4J supporter and internet pornographer Tim Price was cautioned by police after he had posted on Caroline Nokes’ Facebook page (Knox, 2015):

 Caroline you deserve to be violently raped.  And I mean that.  I hope you are.  I hope you are left for dead somewhere after being raped.  Woman like you get what is coming to them.  There are a lot of people who wish you serious harm, torture and death.  Watch your back.

In a subsequent letter of apology he explained,

 At the time that I sent the message, I was following the Fathers4Justice Facebook page.  It was an area of interest for me, purely because of 50/50 shared parenting rights and equal opportunities.  However, I got myself wound up by utter hatred that came from this page.

The O’Connors denied any knowledge of the threats and denied the man had anything to do with them, dismissing Price as an ‘idiot’; they insisted instead, ‘You might find lively, robust debate about the issues, but never anything that could qualify as “hatred”’.

They followed up this implausible claim with the extraordinary assertion on Twitter that they had no members.  This was contradicted by the facts that they invite people to ‘join’ for £30 a year, or £600 to become a ‘lifetime supporter’, that the registration fee entitles subscribers to access a members-only forum and receive a membership pack (consisting of some old documents I wrote in 2010) and that they claim a ‘membership’ of 40,000+.  The website suggests, ‘Already a member?  Login here.’

Denying that their subscribers are actually members is obviously designed to enable them to distance themselves from supporters who send hate mail and death threats to people like Caroline Nokes and to deny responsibility for the actions taken by men wound up by the ‘utter hatred’ they disseminate.

Followers of the O’Connors’ antics will have noticed the astonishing hypocrisy of this denial: in 2012 they had slammed MumsNet for allowing anti-male posts on their forums labelling men rapists, paedophiles and wife-beaters and urged founder Justine Roberts, to adopt ‘a zero tolerance policy to gender hatred’.  Roberts responded that 70 posts had already been removed and they had issued 9 warnings but that it wasn’t possible to moderated 30,000 comments every day (Roberts, 2012).

In February the O’Connors found a new target, Ian Murray, the editor of Newsquest which owns the Southern Daily Echo and Romsey and Andover Advertisers and accused him of ‘a Putinesque attempt to censor stories about Caroline Nokes MP and the Conservative Party’.  They stated he was preferring Nokes’ version of events over theirs and was guilty of censorship and the distortion of facts.  They encouraged their supporters to email him and complain (O’Connor, 2015a).

On February 13th the O’Connors’ claim against Yalland of causing physical injury, causing alarm and distress to them and to Archie, harassment, stalking, breach of privacy and trespass was struck out.  They had never particularised the claim, despite having four months in which to do so, or detailed whom he had attacked and injured or what injuries had been caused.

No evidence as to place or time was adduced to substantiate the allegations of harassment or stalking.

The claims of breach of privacy and trespass were never properly pleaded, meaning that Yalland could not defend himself against them.

Yalland argued that there was little prospect of the claim succeeding and produced witness statements from former associates of the O’Connors showing that their claim followed a familiar pattern of vexatious allegations against other parties.

His Honour Judge Mitchell awarded costs of £7,400 to Caroline Nokes and of £3,570 to Yalland (who had represented himself).

With admirable magnanimity Nokes said after the hearing, ‘Over the last two years Mr and Mrs O’Connor, and their supporters, have abused and sought to intimidate me.  Their “war” against me has destroyed their credibility as a campaign group.  It’s now time for the O’Connors to wake-up and realise the damage they are doing to what is a really worthy cause’.

The O’Connors’ response was bizarre but typical (O’Connor, 2015).  They claimed they had not been told of the hearing, but they had received the same notification from the court that Yalland had.  He had also posted his bundle to them and emailed them his skeleton argument.

They claimed that proceedings were ‘on-going’ but this involved conflating the current proceedings with Yalland’s successful suit against Nadine for libel and a forthcoming March hearing to decide the level of damages to be awarded.

They claimed they had evidence that Nokes was ‘behind the harassment which forced us out of our home’ but did not present it, or any other evidence, in court.  They claimed they would appeal the judgement.  They sought to link the hearing to the General Election and Nokes’ bid for re-election.

The O’Connors also posted a video on YouTube: a puffy-faced Matt delivers an incoherent and irrelevant rant to camera, again without evidencing a single one of the allegations which by now are becoming very jaded.  One phrase stands out, ‘No lie can live forever’.

In the summer of 2014 a little old lady pushed a flyer through the O’Connors’ letterbox (and through every other letterbox in Stockbridge) inviting them to a Tory fundraiser BBQ.  This action represents the extent of the harassment and hate-campaign mounted by the local Tory mafia to tyrannise the O’Connor family.  Oddly enough, the O’Connors had attended the Broughton Branch Summer BBQ for the previous two years.

Matt O’Connor responded by disrupting a Conservative drinks party in Stockbridge.  On 4th September the police were called and he was arrested and charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 of using foul and abusive language.  Characteristically Nadine O’Connor videoed the arrest and posted ‘the video Hants police did not want you to see’ online, with a lurid commentary accusing the Hampshire Constabulary of being ‘thugs’, of ‘harassment and intimidation’ and of ‘acting for Caroline Nokes as her private police force so that they can get rid of people who oppose the MP’.

Numerous posts on the F4J Facebook page encouraged members – sorry, supporters – to attend O’Connor’s trial, contribute funds and ‘Protest against the political arrest and prosecution of the founder of Fathers4Justice and targeting of his family and Fathers4Justice’.  Needless to say, the supporters were never told what O’Connor was really on trial for.

Six of the faithful turned up on 20th February to the Aldershot Magistrates’ Court, but were apparently denied access, a situation O’Connor seems to have contrived so that he could continue to present the case as a political attempt to silence him.  He refused to participate and threatened a judicial review; the hearing was postponed until 26th March.

 

References

Davies, S. (2013, May 03). Fathers for Justice face Twitter ban over campaign. Southern Daily Echo.

Dugan, E. (2014, October 09). Fathers 4 Justice and the mother of all hate campaigns? The Independent.

Knox, P. (2015, January 23). Man arrested after chilling message sent to Hampshire MP. Southern Daily Echo.

Nokes, C. (2014a, February 12). Caroline Opposes Lords’ Amendment to Children & Families Bill on Shared Parenting. Retrieved from http://www.carolinenokes.com.

Nokes, C. (2014b, October 12). “I’m sick of living in terror from on-line bullies” says Caroline Nokes. Retrieved from http://www.carolinenokes.com.

O’Connor, N. (2015, February 13). Statement on behalf of Matt, Nadine and Archie O’Connor. Retrieved from http://www.fathers-4-justice.org.

O’Connor, N. (2015a, February 08). The Daily Echo, Romsey Advertiser, Caroline Nokes and the cancer of censorship. Retrieved from http://www.fathers-4-justice.org.

Roberts, J. (2012, March 17). Mumsnet statement about Fathers 4 Justice. Retrieved from http://www.mumsnet.com.

Romsey and Southampton North Conservatives. (2010, April 08). 08/04/2010 – Joint Statement with Fathers 4 Justice. Retrieved from Romsey and Southampton North Conservatives.

Southern Daily Echo. (2010, April 10). Tory backing for family law change. Southern Daily Echo.

 

 

[1] A Tomlin order is a form of consent order designed to stay further action, but which can be enforced by either party if the other defaults; the terms may be kept confidential in an attached schedule.

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