Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Jeremy Duns and Steve Roach - Telephone Taping
My name is Emily James, and I am a human rights lawyer who campaigns against the surveillance society.
I believe your treatment of Steve Roach is outrageous and you should be held to account for it.
The details of the phone conversation are here on your blog
You acknowledge that it is illegal in the UK to tape a phone conversation with a person without their permission. And yet you went ahead and taped Mr Roach and have refused to destroy the tape despite his request to do so.
Your defence of this is: 'I'm a journalist investigating a crime'.
Okay, let's examine that statement.
One, it is an 'investigation'.
I assume that you are investigating Stephen Leather's use of fake identities to write Amazon reviews. But Mr Leather has already admitted this at the Harrogate crime festival. Why does it require telephone taping to prove it further? Moreover, your conversation with Mr Roach was about correcting the terrible and offensive error you made in accusing him of being another person. Why was it necessary to tape him? What were you investigating in this phone call?
Two, you say you are a journalist.
Really? According to journalisted.com, you have written five articles since 2009. The link is here. These are all on the arts pages (and mostly about James Bond). Are you a member of the National Union of Journalists? Do you or have you ever worked for a major news organisation? Has an editor commissioned you to write something about Mr Roach, and if so who are they and which publication? Journalists are given a specific opt-out from the law, but they have to be working for a news organisation, and the telephone call has to be in pursuit of a specific article. Just because you write for the arts pages once or twice a year, you do not have carte blanche to tape phone conversations whenever you feel like it.
Three, you say there is a 'crime'.
As a lawyer I understand the basis for this claim. Vendors are prohibited from posing as consumers. There is a problem here, however. No one has ever been taken to court for writing a fake Amazon review. Therefore, we don't actually know whether it is a crime or not - that is for the court decide (not you). My suspicion is that the problem would be the issue of 'material loss'. The consumer would need to have suffered a loss as a result of the fake reviews. The trouble here is that Amazon offers a full refund on e-books. So even if someone buys a book on the basis of the fake reviews they can simply get their money back if they are unhappy with it. Whilst it may well be unethical to write fake reviews (and I happen to agree with you that it is) I don't believe a court would conclude it was illegal. But that's just my opinion. Likewise, saying it is a 'crime' is just your opinion. Until it comes to court we just don't know.
The important point is this. You are not justified in taping phone conversations over something that may or may not be a crime. It has to be something that we know for certain is a crime.
In conclusion, this call was not part of a legitimate investigation, you were not an accredited journalist working for a publication whilst talking to Mr Roach, and we do not know if what you were discussing was a crime.
Therefore what you have done to Mr Roach may, I believe, be illegal.
I won't say it is. Unlike you I believe people should have a chance to defend themselves, and it is only a court that can decide whether something is illegal or not.
But you should answer these questions. They are important.
I intend to pass these points on to the Director of Public Prosecutions on the grounds that an offence may have been committed. I hope that they decide to follow them up. The spread of telephone taping is insidious and we have to make a stand against it.
I have also put them up on this blog so that they may achieve a wider audience.