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(en) Freedom 6319 5th Oct. 2002 - Council's sick harassment

From FreedomCopy@aol.com
Date Tue, 22 Oct 2002 11:07:19 -0400 (EDT)


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The campaign group Justice for the Mentally ILL was set up two years
ago to stop unannounced visits to the homes of mentally ill people living
in the Manchester area.

Although the government's 'Best Practice Guidance' (in the form of its
'Verification Framework') specifically says that local authorities should
give people prior notification of any visit to their homes by council
employees, a number of authorities have refused to sign up to the
procedure. Until recently, Manchester City Council was one of them.

The council's policy was made perfectly clear in March, when
Councillor Claire Nangel (who has responsibility for arranging visits to
the sick and disabled in the city) said during a 'public question time' that
the council wouldn't be signing up to the 'Verification Framework'. She
told the meeting that "in every single local authority the introduction of
the framework has led, not only to a large increase in costs, but also to
significant benefit delays".

Last year, after the council had ignored repeated requests to stop
unannounced visits to the homes of the mentally ill, Justice for the
Mentally ILL launched a website called 'Stop the Harassment'. This was
aimed at disseminating publicity about 'immoral visits'. It referred to the
case of a mentally ill man who got an unannounced visit soon after the
death of his mother, which (it was claimed) had caused him further
mental health problems.

Members of the public were asked to write to officers and councillors to
protest at their policy, and the organisation announced that it would take
direct action itself. This would involve unannounced visits to the homes
of key officers and council members working for Manchester City
Council.

When campaign activist Gary Daniels found on Friday 20th July that the
campaign website had been closed down, along with his own internet
account, he was furious. He immediately telephoned AOL, his internet
service provider, who told him they'd closed his account because of a
website he was hosting.

Speaking about the incident, Gary said "AOL told me there was nothing
illegal or non-factual on our website, but Manchester City Council had
found the website offensive. AOL told me they were a family ISP and
said they'd received a letter from Susan Orrell, the council's solicitor. I
was on the telephone for three hours that Friday talking to AOL about
my account and the campaign website. They eventually told me I could
have my account back if I agreed to withdraw the website."

Manchester City Council have agreed that they wrote to AOL about the
site on two separate occasions. In a letter officials sent to people who'd
written in to protest at their actions, they confirmed that they'd written to
AOL about the site last October, and that they'd believed it had been
removed.

They also confirmed that they'd written to AOL again in June, saying
that the site was 'potentially defamatory'. They said that AOL had told
them on 19th July: "We have taken the appropriate action against our
member, and the site has been removed. For reasons of privacy we are
unable to reveal details on individual actions taken, but options available
to us include written warnings, account suspensions and complete
termination of service." Finally, the council said - somewhat ironically Ğ
that they'd not closed the website down but had asked AOL to review it.
A public relations officer for Manchester City Council declined to
comment when asked if the council had threatened legal action against
AOL and others, or if the council had contacted the campaign group
before complaining to AOL. "The Council have no further comment to
make to the statement already issued", he said.

AOL said that, while they couldn't comment on an individual case, the
company had a set of rules which defined what was acceptable conduct
for their members. These rules (the conditions of service) were
contained, they said, in both the Members' Agreement and the
Community Guidelines. Members' use of the AOL service constituted
an acceptance of both these documents.

A representative of the company said, "it is essential for the benefit of
our members that the content generated by AOL members in chat
rooms, message boards, web pages, etc. reflects AOL's community
standards, and we may remove it if, in our judgement, it does not meet
those standards. When we do, the member may receive a warning about
the breach of AOL's standards if their account (in any of their screen
names) was responsible for putting the objectionable content online. If it
is a serious offence or they have violated our rules before, we may
terminate their account. It is not practical or realistic for AOL to
pre-screen content on the AOL service, but AOL is committed to taking
appropriate action in respect of inappropriate content once it has become
aware of the existence of such content."

On Friday 26th July, Manchester City Council suddenly changed tack
and announced that, in future, they would notify people of most
'verification visits'. The campaign group says it sees this as a welcome
breakthrough and a total vindication of their opposition to unannounced
visits to the homes of the sick and disabled. They believe that, without
their campaign, this reversal in council policy would never have
occurred.

In their view, the concerted mass letter-writing and the threatened direct
action - that is, unannounced visits to the homes of key officers and
council members - strongly influenced the council's decision to notify
people before a visit takes place.

Speaking about the campaign, Gary Daniels said "we eventually got
what we wanted because a lot of people wrote to Manchester City
Council, protesting about their actions towards our campaign group and
their policy of unannounced visits to the homes of the sick and disabled.
We can't give enough thanks to those people who emailed their personal
protests to Manchester City Council."
Derek Pattison




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