WM Police senior officer to council leader: no more using police resources against blogger

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Sandwell Council leader Steve Eling, left, and blogger Julian Saunders

Last month, the SKWAWKBOX reported on the fiasco when a legal case against the West Midlands blogger known as the Sandwell Skidder was postponed on its first day in court because the court had lost a letter from the Crown Prosecution Service asking for the blogger, Julian Saunders, to be barred from representing himself when cross-examining Sandwell council’s chief executive.

That case concerned an alleged public order offence involving, bizarrely, the use of a single, insulting word said by Saunders to the CEO, Jan Britton.

But behind that one questionable charge lies a year-long history of the council’s leader, Steve Eling, pressing West Midlands Police (WMP) to pursuing criminal action against Saunders – not just for a one-word insult but because of the extent to which his blog was discomfiting the council.

Some of that history has now come to light after Saunders lodged a Subject Access Request (SAR) with WMP under data protection laws, specifically asking for all correspondence it held to or from the council leader concerning Saunders.

Saunders has published a long and exhaustive article showcasing the often highly-redacted correspondence released to him in response to the SAR. But while the information is partial and heavy going, it reveals that a WMP Chief Superintendent dismissed Eling’s requests for criminal action – and said he was taking disproportionate police time, funds and resources for a matter that should have gone to civil court if Eling felt he had grounds.

Eling’s emails to an unnamed WMP senior officer extend over a period of almost a year, beginning in September 2017 through to the end of July 2018 – and exhibit a strident tone as Eling demands updates about the “hate inspired and malicious social media” to which he has taken exception:

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The correspondence continues over many months and included a warning from the police officer that pursuit of Saunders in relation to his blog claims would require WMP to release all information it holds about the matter:

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The emails from WMP to Eling even indicate that WMP discussed Saunders at its ‘Gold meeting’ – normally for major or high-level operations.

But the exchange came to a head when, seemingly unhappy with what he perceived as WMP’s lack of action against the blogger, Eling demands that the force ‘take responsibility‘ for Saunders’ writings:

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This demand earned Eling a sharp retort from the Chief Superintendent:

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The resources, time and cost the investigation into Saunders has [sic] taken is more than proportionate in my view…

The investigation into Saunders is now concluded…

I would strongly advise that if you wish to pursue a legal challenge against Saunders that you consider a civil actionwe will not investigate further unless an obvious criminal threshold is met.

The SKWAWKBOX invited Steve Eling to comment. He declined to do so “in the current circumstances” – but stated, without explaining what his purpose in doing so was, that he had forwarded this blog’s email to West Midlands Police.

SKWAWKBOX comment:

More than proportionate” is surely another way of saying “disproportionate” – and the senior officer’s words “legal challenge” appear to be a recognition that Eling was using police resources to ‘challenge’ Saunders’ claims about him or the council, rather than doing so in a civil action where a court could judge whether Saunders’ claims were false – or indeed true.

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