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Olympic Chiefs Flout Legal Principle By Threatening Citizen Journalist

Steam Roller on Sandy Lane Leyton Marshes: the machine of choice for the ODASteam Roller on Sandy Lane Leyton Marshes: the machine of choice for the ODA

A citizen journalist has received a bizarre letter from lawyers who claim to be acting on behalf of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), alleging ‘serious, false and defamatory allegations’ against the Authority and one of its employees.

The blog article was published on the Indymedia website and covers the eviction and arrest on 10th April of protesters campaigning against the controversial construction of Olympic basketball training courts at Leyton Marsh in Waltham Forest, East London.

The letter demands that a phrase be “removed from the blog immediately”, and makes the unspecified threat that if it remains published “you may well leave our client no option but to take matters further”.

The accusations of defamation imply that the ODA would initiate a libel action. The offending phrase refers to a witness statement that an ODA employee was obliged to submit in support of an injunction against protestors (High Court 4 April).

But public authorities are barred from using libel by the ‘Derbyshire principle’ - a legal precedent established in the case of Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd 1993 - that a government authority cannot sue for libel on behalf of itself, or on behalf of its employees. The letter to Rikki seems to challenge the Derbyshire Principle.

This is not the first time the ODA have leant on citizens to prevent criticism of themselves and their employees by those suffering the effects of its actions. In 2009, residents from Leabank Square, a housing estate opposite the Olympic site, were blogging vociferously, complaining about dust and noise coming from the Olympic site, when they received a letter almost identical to the one received by Rikki, threatening legal action over alleged defamation of an ODA employee.

In their letter to Rikki the ODA’s lawyers claim its clients ... “take its responsibilities towards its staff and those under its care seriously”.

Because of its location on the periphery of the Olympic construction site it would seem reasonable to believe that residents of Leabank Square would have fallen within the remit of the ODA’s care, however they endured years of dust from the highly contaminated site. And when they expressed their anger in no uncertain terms, they were threatened with libel.

The ODA should understand the reasoning behind the Derbyshire Principle, which is grounded on the concept of freedom of speech, and the comparative resources of a government body compared to those of an individual.

Local and national politics are a rough and tumble world, and employees of government bodies are likely to come under harsh criticism in carrying out their duties, that is how it is, and how, hopefully, it will always be, in a nation that believes in freedom of speech. If a government employee feels they have a good case for defamation they should take action of their own accord, which would be much harder to criticise.

The ODA’s tactics appear to have worked as the article posted by Rikki has been altered no longer containing the phrases outlined in the lawyer’s letter.

The ODA’s instructions to lawyers in this case could be seen as consistent with a primary concern of image management, rather than any compassion for those under its care.

The Olympics are a strange phenomena insofar as principles of national pride are invoked to support it. We have already heard David Cameron calling Len McCluskey’s suggestion of industrial action during the Olympics as "completely unacceptable and unpatriotic".

Would it not also be “completely unacceptable and unpatriotic” to suspend freedom of speech, the right to protest, and the right to withhold one’s labour during the Olympics?

The Olympic project is being conducted at staggering public expense, and is therefore a legitimate target for personal, public, and journalistic scrutiny. As such it can be argued that the ODA and the Olympics are also a legitimate focus for protest.

Rather than the action of a caring organisation the ODA’s instructions to lawyers could be seen as a waste of public funds. The ODA demonstrate a failure to comprehend a sense widespread unease with the the Olympic project, and the public’s right the express that unease.

UPDATE
The ODA has also launched proceedings against a number of named protesters from Save Leyton Marshes, and are claiming £335,000 in damages from them. Because of the scale of the claim from the ODA this could have the effect of leaving at least one protester homeless, a local mother who briefly crawled under a lorry at the site, and who was not arrested. It seems that her name may have been trawled from newspaper articles, as she freely gave interviews to the press,

Another protester connected with Save Leyton Marshes has received an 'interim ASBO’. The conditions of the ASBO are listed below.

Notice to ODA
Anticipating the possibility of a letter from your lawyers in response to this article, please note I refuse to enter into any contractual arrangement with the ODA or its lawyers preventing the publication and broadcast of any such letters to me.

ASBO conditions
Prohibits the following:

1) entering or remaining within 100 yards of any existing or proposed olympic competition or practice venue venue or route or paticipant's residence within england or wales

2) entering or remaining within 100 yards of any road being used on that day for the passage of the olympic torch or on which any olympic practice or competition is taking place, eg the marathon, within england or wales

3) trespassing on, or without the permission of the owner to interfere with, any building or land

4) taking part in any activity that disrupts the intended or anticipated official activities of the olympic games or diamond jubilee celebrations

5) obstructing the movement or passage of any olympic participant between their residence, practice venue, or place of work, and venues being used for competition or cultural purposes

"participants" are construed as including competitors, accredited officials, and spectators, at or in the vicinity of venues at which olympic events are taking place or are anticipated or intended to take place

"olympic" includes the uk olympics and para-olympics 2012
"diamond jubilee celebrations" shall be construed as referring to the following dates only:
state opening of parliament 9th may
royal river pageant and other associated jubilee events 2nd-5th june inclusive
the trooping of the colour 16th june

The “interim asbo” will be brought before a magistrate at westminster court on the 3rd may.


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