Presumed Guilty (cont.)

Concluding the search for “Special Notice 11-02”, the Metropolitan Police Service’s never-before-seen document overturning the presumption of innocence

Earlier this month, I blogged about my enquiry to the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service requesting a copy of “Special Notice 11-02,” an official police document issued in 2002 which – according to this controversial Feb. 10 Guardian article by police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe – said that police officers should “accept allegations made by the victim in the first instance as being truthful.”

Today I received a copy of “Special Notice 11-02” from the Met’s Information Rights Unit. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time the document has been made available to a member of the public, thus answering a couple of previously unanswered questions recently asked by blogger Anna Racoon (you can read her thorough post on the subject by clicking here).

First of all, the document does indeed appear to reverse the presumption of innocence for suspected sex offenders (however, the wording is slightly different to that used by Hogan-Howe in the Guardian). Here’s what it says:

Special Notice 11-02 Principle 1

Second, the document appears to have been authored – or at least approved – by the Assistant Commissioner of Territorial Policing.

Special Notice 11-02 Assistan Commissioner of Territorial Policing

In ‘02, this position was held by Michael J. Todd QPM (deceased), who was appointed chief constable of the Manchester Police Service later that year.

There is still no explanation as to why “Special Notice 11-02” remained hidden for 14 years. That may prove to be a question worth asking. Stay tuned.

Click here to read a copy of “Special Notice 11-02.”


Life in the Stone Age

And now for something completely different…

I grew up in a divided area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the tail end of what was known as “the Troubles,” a 30-year period of political strife, paramilitarism and sectarian violence.

My family’s house¹ was embedded within a small, segregated Catholic community dubbed “Parkside,” which consisted of four narrow, heavily concreted terraced streets.


The street sign for Clanchattan Street, where I lived from 1995 to 2002. The sign currently resides at Commercial Court, in Belfast’s vibrant Cathedral Quarter.

Parkside was situated on an interface adjacent the Protestant community of Mountcollyer, where – as legend has it – Jonathan Swift hatched the idea for his famous novel, Gulliver’s Travels, while admiring the view of “Napoleon’s Nose” from his home at Lilliput Cottage.

On the corner stood a twice-abandoned industrial building, informally known as “The Old Shirt Factory.” Local boys would use the open windows on the building as target practice.

In the mid-nineties, the local council constructed a barrier, 150 metres long and 2.5 metres high, to separate the two communities. An industrial horror of brick and sheet metal fencing, it initially ran dead straight down the centre of an abandoned house; the perfect symbol for a community divided.

Evidently, this did little to ease tensions between the two warring communities. Sectarian riots were a nightly occurrence, and riot police backed by the British Army (stationed in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007) were routinely deployed to disperse rioters.

Much of the violence took place just out of the way of the main residential area, but there were a few isolated incidents that hit close to home.

The worst of these occurred during the early hours of Sunday morning, August 13, 2000, when armed paramilitaries wearing masks and balaclavas arrived in mini-buses and began attacking homes and cars with paint bombs, baseball bats and bricks. The loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was believed to be behind the attack.

The intensity of violence during this time was described by the assistant chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (defunct) Alan McQuillan as ‘the worst in 20 years.’

Via BBC News:

“Some of the rioting that we have seen in north Belfast this summer is the worst we have seen in Belfast really since the Hunger Strikes.

“It is that level of ferocity and violence. And when we are dealing with that level of violence and ferocity, we are going to find that there are casualties.”

Walking home from school during my teens, I’d slip down the alleyway next to my house to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

When my sister was just eight years old, she was struck on her forehead with a brick while walking to the corner store with my mother. The boy responsible, who was reportedly in the youth wing of the UDA, died a short while later when a pipe bomb he was attempting to throw at Catholic rioters exploded in his hand.

Due to the high intensity of violence, in 2002 Parkside became the first interface area in Northern Ireland to have static CCTV cameras installed. These were mounted on top of four towering, 20-foot-tall Orwellian steel monoliths. The uneasy suspicion that we were drifting into a police state was brought sharply into relief when, following a series of nighttime attacks on residents, it was revealed the cameras weren’t actually turned on.

But measures to keep the community in check didn’t stop there. Parkside’s one saving grace, an exquisite Victorian park complete with ripe old conker trees and a quaint little duck pond, was thought to be the only park in Western Europe with a barrier (a continuation of the same one mentioned earlier) dividing it into two parts.

The park’s plush Victorian-era features visibly jar with the modern addition of the brutal “peace gate.” Alexandra Park as it looked in the 1800s…

Alexandra Park old 2


…and the park as it looked a few years ago (the gate was officially opened in 2011).

Gated entry, Alexandra Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Photo by Allen Leonard

Every now and then, the park would explode in a flash of violence. I remember playing football with a friend, when two local lads jumped over the gate on the far side of the park and sprinted past us. We watched in awe as a large man dressed in a tuxedo, his white shirt drenched in what appeared to be blood, appeared outside the gate.

He shouted to us something along the lines of “we’re gonna get you for this” – exactly like a villain from a bad movie. As we later found out, he was in fact a known member of a loyalist paramilitary organisation in Belfast. He had been attending a wedding reception; apparently, the two Catholic lads mentioned above had broken in and smashed a bottle over his head.

As a result of the ongoing conflict between the two communities, Parkside fell into decline. By the time we moved out in 2002, many of the houses had already been abandoned and were in a state of dereliction (cue Bruce Springsteen). Over the next eight years or so, conditions only grew worse.

In 2010, a local community television station made a documentary about residents’ attempts to force the council to implement a regeneration scheme that had been proposed in 2005.

After much kvetching, the council caved in to residents’ demands, and in 2011 the area was razed, then subsequently rebuilt, as part of a multi-million pound regeneration project.

My old street as it looked prior to regeneration…

Clanchattan Street 2

Photo by Julian Dobson

…and how it looks today (feel free to scroll around).

While clearly a damn sight better than the Dickensian squalor it once was, it’s sad to think that I’ll never be able to revisit the streets where I used to play football with my friends.

Never mind. As they say in Belfast: dry yer eyes, mate.

¹My house was inadvertently photographed by US photojournalist Marissa Roth as part of a 30-year project examining the effects of war on women, titled “One Person Crying: Women and War.” Click here to see the photo (my house is the one on the corner, facing the camera).

Voice in the Wilderness

Nina Teicholz by Laura Rose

“I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science” – The (ongoing) story of how top US nutritionists tried to gag New York Times best-selling author Nina Teicholz [Updated: CSPI’s BMJ retraction request goes missing – more after the jump]

As readers of Shooting the Messenger and The Sidebar (my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s world-beating website) will know, there have been some major developments in recent months re: efforts by members of the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to gag journalist and author Nina Teicholz.

Taking stock of the story so far, it’s remarkable how closely each new development seems to mirror Teicholz’s own account of previous efforts by nutritionists to suppress dissenting viewpoints.

Via her seminal 2014 book on the history of nutritional science, The Big Fat Surprise:

At a conference that [Danish researcher Uffe Ravnskov] and I were both attending near Copenhagen in 2005, he stood out in the crowd simply because he was willing to confront this gathering of top nutrition experts by asking questions that were considered long since settled.

“The whole pathway, from cholesterol in the blood, to heart disease – has this pathway really been proven?” he stood up and asked, rightly though rhetorically, after a presentation one day.

“Tsh! Tsh! Tsh!” A hundred-plus scientists wagged their heads in unison.

“Next question?” asked an irritated moderator.

For Teicholz, who started her research “expect[ing] to find a community in decorous debate,” this incident illustrated a surprising lack of tolerance within the nutritional sciences for alternative viewpoints, or even simple scientific inquiry.

Unfortunately, her anecdote would prove eerily prescient.

On November 5 last year, a letter signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, was sent to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

The letter – organised by Bonnie Liebman at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based advocacy non-profit – requested that the journal retract The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23 article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC.

If there’s any doubt as to whether this constituted an attempt to silence a critic, all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC signed their names to the letter.

But the effort to gag Teicholz didn’t end there.

In March this year, she was disinvited from the National Food Policy Conference, a prestigious Washington, DC food policy panel at which she was scheduled to speak the following month (her replacement – wait for it – was president and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research & Education Maureen Storey).

Sound familiar? Check out this excerpt from The Big Fat Surprise:

As [Ancel] Key’s ideas spread and became adopted by powerful institutions, those who challenged him faced a difficult – some might say impossible – battle. Being on the losing side of such a high-stakes debate had caused their professional lives to suffer. Many of them had lost jobs, research funding, speaking engagements, and all the many other perks of prestige.

…they were not invited to conferences and were unable to get prestigious journals to publish their work. Experiments that had dissenting results, they found, were not debated but instead dismissed or ignored altogether.

Things took a sinister turn in late March, with Peter reporting on how DGAC chair Barbara Millen and US Department of Agriculture exec Angela Tagtow conspired with Thomas Gremillion – director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which organised the conference – to kick Teicholz off the panel (click here to read Peter’s May 2 article showing the extent of Millen’s involvement).

Piling-on the anti-Nina Teicholz bandwagon was nutritionist and Huffington Post columnist Dr. David Katz, who was quoted in Ian Leslie’s acclaimed April 7 Guardian article, The sugar conspiracy, describing Teicholz as “shockingly unprofessional” and “an animal unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Via The Big Fat Surprise:

…slander and personal ridicule were surprisingly not unusual experiences for…opponents of the diet-heart hypothesis.

Last month, several prominent physicians criticised Katz for his ad hominem remarks, leading Yale University’s School of Medicine to publicly disassociate from its otherwise unrelated namesake, the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centerof which Katz is the founding director.

Bringing the whole sorry story up-to-date, this month Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed Harvard professor and DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu’s efforts to solicit European signatories to Bonnie Liebman’s CSPI retraction letter.

Is Teicholz surprised by the extreme measures taken by members of the DGAC to shut her out of the debate? Here’s what she had to say:

“Even though I had covered the vicious politics of nutrition science extensively in my book, I couldn’t quite imagine the force with which the various attack strategies would be applied against me. Virtually every tactic that Keys and his allies used to malign anyone who challenged them – false accusations about supposed errors and supposed industry backing as well as just sheer name-calling – has been employed aggressively against me. I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science.”

Like those whom she wrote about in The Big Fat Surprise – researchers such as John Yudkin, Pete Ahrens and Mary G. Enig – Teicholz has dared to challenge the scientific consensus on nutrition, and has paid the price. Yet unlike those before her, Teicholz remains a prominent voice of dissent.

Is the tide starting to turn on diet and nutrition? Will we soon see a crack in the consensus? Wouldn’t that be a big fat surprise.

Update, 14/07/2016: The CSPI’s November 5, 2015 retraction request of The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23, 2015 BMJ article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC, has gone missing from the CSPI’s website, in its place this 404 notice:

CSPI BMJ 404 Page

According to Teicholz, the BMJ is preparing to announce it will not retract her article.

A PDF of the CSPI’s retraction request is available by clicking here.

An updated, December 17, 2015 version – absent the names of 18 signatories – is available by clicking here.

Homeopathy on the NHS

UK homeopathic hospitals: Atlanta, GA reporter and I ask oversight agency for a standard of care review

Homeopathy on the NHS


On April 25, my US blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich and I co-signed and co-blogged a request for a review of “crystal therapy” and other dubious medical treatments being offered by a Liverpool hospital.

On May 2, we blogged about a similar request we made re: a Derbyshire hospital offering “energy therapies.”

On May 11, we blogged about a similar request we made re: a Norwich area medical facility offering “Thought Field Therapy” and other iffy treatments.

We filed our requests with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), “the independent regulator of health and social care in England.”

Today we filed the following request with the CQC re: the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital, and Bristol Homeopathic Hospital.



9GAG on This

Clickbait website 9GAG lifts automated content from popular social networking website Reddit

For producers of “clickbait,” Reddit – the self-titled “front page of the Internet” and 27th most popular website in the world – is a treasure trove of copy-and-paste-friendly content.

Without getting swamped by copyright issues, the reason clickbait websites such as 9GAG presume to be able to borrow content from Reddit without permission is that the content on Reddit is a. user-generated and b. often consists of little more than a photo-with-caption.

In the words of Stephin Merritt, “some of it is just transcendental, some of it is just really dumb.” Then there’s this 9GAG head-scratcher:

9GAG Stolen Content

9GAG seemingly reposted this strange photo-with-caption from a stranger-still sub-section of Reddit called SubredditSimulator, which comes advertised as “a fully-automated subreddit that generates random submissions and comments.”

Note that the above photo has been watermarked “via”

If the purpose of “clickbait” is to get clicks, lifting content from Reddit is a quick and inexpensive way of doing so. A caveat: if you’re not clever enough to produce your own content, at least make sure you can distinguish actual content from automated gibberish.

Big thanks to Kelsi Michelle White for prompting this post.

Presumed Guilty

The search for “Special Notice 11-02”, the UK Metropolitan Police Service’s never-seen document overturning the presumption of innocence [Updated: Read the Met Police’s response to my enquiry by clicking here]

Earlier this year, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe wrote a controversial article for the Guardian arguing that police officers “should not unconditionally believe every alleged rape victim.”

The article alluded to a document issued by the Met in 2002 called “Special Notice 11-02,” which according to this 2014 High Court ruling said that officers should “accept allegations made by any victim in the first instance as being truthful.”

SD and NBV -v- The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis Special Notice

The revelation that the presumption of guilt had been formally codified into official police policy was regarded as “genuinely shocking” by those working within the criminal justice system. The question remained as to why – 14 years after publication – this was only now being made public.

The Met has yet to release “Special Notice 11-02.” There are, however, clues pointing to how it can be obtained. The above referenced 2014 High Court ruling is one. Another comes from the archived Metropolitan Police Authority website, where, according to this Nov. 11, 2002 report by the Met’s Planning Performance and Review Committee, “Special Notice 11-02” was at one time “available on request.”

Police Authority Special Notice 11-02

Earlier this week, I tried my luck requesting a copy of the notice via a general enquiry at the Met’s current website. I’ve since been informed my enquiry is being treated as a Freedom of Information request. Stay tuned.

Thought Field Therapy (and More!)

Why is UK’s Hoveton & Wroxham Medical Centre offering dubious “alternative” therapies? US reporter and I have asked UK oversight agency

Hoveton & Wroxham Medical Centre

On April 25, my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich and I co-signed and co-blogged a request for a review of dubious medical treatments being offered by a Liverpool hospital. On May 2, we blogged about a similar request we made re: Derbyshire hospital offering “energy therapies.”

We filed our request with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), “the independent regulator of health and social care in England.”

Today we filed another request with the CQC re: Hoveton & Wroxham Medical Centre (see the map) which – according to their website – is offering these treatments (all links to

“Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (NLP)
“Time Line Therapy”
“Life Coaching”
“Emotional Freedom Techniques” (EFT)
“Thought Field Therapy” (TFT)
“Eye Movement Integration”
“Energy Healing”

Irina Valentino Hypnotherapy

CQC Letter Hoveton-page-001

See also: Crystal Therapy on the NHS, my April 23, 2016 item on the Aintree University Hospitals’ promotion of Crystal Healing and Chromotherapy.

Worst in Show

Police Scotland arrests man for Nazi dog video – I’ve asked authorities to advise dog owners on how to behave their pooches online

Police in Scotland have reportedly arrested a 28-year-old man from North Lanarkshire on hate crime charges over a video he allegedly posted online of a dog gesturing a Nazi salute.

Via the Guardian:

The Guardian May 9 pug hate crime

The video/apology, via SWNS TV (trigger warning – fascist pug):

I’ve asked Police Scotland to confirm the arrest and to further advise on what precautions dog owners can take to avoid causing offence online. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Peter M. Heimlich for linking me to the pug-nacious video above.

See also: The #ThinkBeforeYouTweet Police, my April 10, 2016 item on the Greater Glasgow Police force’s warning to social media users to “think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend.”

Silencing Science: The War on Nina Teicholz

Prominent Harvard prof/researcher Frank Hu solicited European colleagues to sign/circulate demand for BMJ to retract article by author/journalist Nina Teicholz – she says her article criticized a fed gov review headed by Hu

This item is reported by me, crack US (Atlanta, GA) reporter Peter M. Heimlich, who’s cross-posting at his world-beating website, The Sidebar, and my girl, New Zealander Kelsi White. Given the content of the story, our “hands across the water” effort seems fitting.


Frank Hu MD PhD MPH (source)

On Monday Peter reported how Barbara Millen PhD, chair of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), and USDA executive Angela Tagtow tag-teamed an effort that resulted in author/journalist Nina Teicholz being kicked off a panel at a national food policy conference held last month.

Teicholz is a high-profile critic of the DGAC’s methodology and findings (which have been widely criticized by medical experts and organizations).

It’s not the first time Millen tried to muzzle Teicholz. 

Last November, Millen signed a public letter to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). The letter demanded the retraction of a September 23 article by Teicholz which – you guessed it – criticized the methodology and findings of the DGAC.

Claiming Teicholz’s article was riddled with errors” – a claim disputed in a recent Guardian article (see below) and elsewhere – the letter was organized by the DC advocacy nonprofit, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

E-mails obtained via a public records request (click here to read) show that another DGAC member, Dr. Frank Hu, a prominent professor/researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, asked a colleague to sign and circulate the retraction demand which resulted in a chain letter exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

Bonnie Liebman


It started with an October 31, 2015 Dear Colleague” e-mail in which CSPI executive Bonnie Liebman asked dozens of nutrition science professionals to sign the letter.

The next day, Hu e-mailed this to Prof. Miguel Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez at the University of Navarra, Spain:

Hi Miguel,

Would you like to sign the attached letter to retract the BMJ article? if so, please email Bonnie Liebman.

I would greatly appreciate if you can ask your colleagues in Spain and other European countries to sign the letter. I think it is extremely important to retract the terrible BMJ article for the sake of science and public health.

Many thanks



Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez (source)

Later that day in this e-mail (slightly re-formatted for ease comprehension), Martinez-Gonzalez copied Hu on an e-mail he sent to about 20 colleagues, stating Yes, of course, Frank.”

From: Miguel Ángel Martínez González
Date: 1 November 2015 at 11:36
Subject: Fwd: Letter to BMJ re Dietary Guidelines–Please respond by Nov. 3
To: Antonia Trichopoulou <>,, Katia Esposito <>,, Federico Jose Armando Perez Cueto Eulert <>, “ligia.dominguez”<>, Matthias Schulze <>, Iris Shai <>,,, Angeliki Papadaki <>, Arne Astrup <>,, jose luchsinger <>, Nikolaos Scarmeas <>, Christian Carpéné <>, Olle Melander <>,, Marc Molendijk <>, Adriano Marçal Pimenta <>, Helfimed Study UniSA <>
Cc: Frank Hu <>

Yes, of course, Frank.

I’m forwarding to my friends and colleagues this invitation to sign the attached letter:

I have read the full version of the attached letter and I agree to include my sign on it. I endorse its full content and the request to the BMJ to retract the journalist’s article.

Dear colleagues,
if you agree, you can send an email to Bonnie Liebman <> with a similar content to what I have written above in blue font.

I would thank you all very much if you are so kind as to ask also to your friends from different European countries to sign the attached letter for the sake of science and public health.

Best regards,


Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez
University of Navarra-CIBEROBN
Research Gate

Here’s one of the recipients of Martinez-Gonzalez’s pass-along…

Angeliki Papadaki

…who obligingly added another link in the chain letter which she states was instigated by Frank Hu”:

From: Angeliki Papadaki []
Sent: 01 November 2015 12:48
To: Arne Astrup; Saris, Wim; Inge Huybrechts;; Inga Þórsdóttir; Andy Ness;; Agneta Yngve; Sibylle Kranz;;; Antonis Kafatos; Jayne Woodside; Janet Cade; Dianne Ward
Subject: Fwd: Letter to BMJ re Dietary Guidelines–Please respond by Nov. 3

Dear colleagues,

Please see attached a suggestion for a BMJ retraction letter, instigated by Frank Hu at Harvard. We were asked to circulate the letter for signatures.

If you agree, please send an email to Bonnie Liebman ( with a similar content to the below, in blue font, and circulate to your colleagues.

I have read the full version of the attached letter and I agree to include my sign on it.
I endorse its full content and the request to the BMJ to retract the journalist’s article.

Kind regards,


Why did Hu encourage colleagues to demand a retraction of what he called the terrible BMJ article for the sake of science and public health”?

We don’t know because he hasn’t responded to multiple inquiries.



But here’s what Nina Teicholz e-mailed Peter yesterday:

My BMJ article was a critique of the science used in formulating the 2015 DGA expert report. Frank Hu chaired the review on saturated fats, which I critiqued in a number of ways: it did not consult the “Nutrition Evidence Library” per standard USDA practice, and although the studies covered in the review had conflicting and contradictory conclusions regarding whether saturated fats do in fact cause death from heart disease, the review nevertheless concluded that the evidence on this point was “strong.” (Neither of these facts is disputed as part of the retraction request.) The question of whether sat fats cause heart disease has, over the past 5 years, undergone tremendous re-analysis and challenge, yet the Hu review did not reflect that ambivalence. In effect, it did not comprehensively review the most current science on this subject.

So was Dr. Hu making a good faith effort to address “an article riddled with errors” or was he attempting to censor a high-profile critic?

If he made himself available, along with that question, I’d ask him for a reaction comment to this section from Ian Leslie’s lively and informative April 7 Guardian article about the nutrition science wars:

In September last year [Teicholz] wrote an article for the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), which makes the case for the inadequacy of the scientific advice that underpins the Dietary Guidelines. The response of the nutrition establishment was ferocious: 173 scientists – some of whom were on the advisory panel, and many of whose work had been critiqued in Teicholz’s book – signed a letter to the BMJ, demanding it retract the piece.

Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data. As a consultant oncologist for the NHS, Santhanam Sundar, pointed out in a response to the letter on the BMJ website: “Scientific discussion helps to advance science. Calls for retraction, particularly from those in eminent positions, are unscientific and frankly disturbing.”

The letter lists “11 errors”, which on close reading turn out to range from the trivial to the entirely specious. I spoke to several of the scientists who signed the letter. They were happy to condemn the article in general terms, but when I asked them to name just one of the supposed errors in it, not one of them was able to. One admitted he had not read it. Another told me she had signed the letter because the BMJ should not have published an article that was not peer reviewed (it was peer reviewed). Meir Stampfer, a Harvard epidemiologist, asserted that Teicholz’s work is “riddled with errors”, while declining to discuss them with me.

See also: Voice in the Wilderness, my May 18, 2016 recap of how the DGAC in cahoots with other prominent nutrition scientists tried to gag Teicholz.

The Coddling of the Political Mind

Should politicians have a “safe space” away from the public eye?

Via Section 35 of the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, which relates to the formulation of government policy.

The purpose of section 35 is to protect good government. It reflects and protects some longstanding constitutional conventions of government, and preserves a safe space to consider policy options in private.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, “safe spaces” are a modern invention popular with students on university campuses.

The Safe Space Network defines the term as:

a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe…

In 2015, “safe spaces” found fame as the subject of public ridicule, most prominently with the publication of Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s seminal essay for The Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind.

The current movement [on university campuses] is largely about emotional well-being. [It] presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable…this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness.

In February this year, VICE magazine’s Solomon Hughes reported how The Department of Health was using Section 35 to withhold details of meetings between Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt with leading NHS privatisers.

In 2010, the government announced they would release details of Ministers’ meetings, called “Transparency Data”, on a quarterly basis. In 2015, data on Health Ministers’ meetings was badly delayed, before finally being released as part of huge government “data dumps” in the days before Christmas, which included bad news about cuts to services, new policies and so on. Critics said the government was trying to “bury bad news” in a “blizzard of information so that embarrassing news is hidden in the avalanche”.

VICE waded through that avalanche and put in eight separate Freedom of Information requests for more information about Health Ministers’ meetings with health privatisation companies like Virgin Care. We received a single response for all the separate inquiries. The answer was, basically, “no”: the government would not release any documents relating to the meetings.

Officials decided that “the balance of public interest is against disclosure” in every case because “there is a very strong public interest in ensuring that there is a safe space within which Ministers and senior officials are able to discuss issues freely and frankly. Putting this information in the public domain would mean that officials may be impeded from offering full and frank advice in the future, potentially resulting in poorer decision making and public services.” In other words: the public can’t know what we said in case they don’t like it. This is a safe space from democracy.

Should we presume that politicians are so emotionally fragile that they require a “safe space” away from public scrutiny? Or is it simply that the concept is being used and abused by the UK government to limit freedom of information?