Wonderful evening. Some boys tried to see if they cld throw rocks over our garage. They could. 2 cars damaged – 1 windscreen smashed.
In later followups she stated that her neighbours had also had their “back windscreen” broken. Clare Blair lives on Evergreens, off Green End Road, in East Chesterton, North Cambridge. East Chesterton residents kicked her out of her seat on the City Council in May this year, but according to the Orchard Park Community Council website she remains a community councillor there (confirmed by minutes of an 11 May 2011 meeting).
Having seen Clare Blair’s tweets, including one complaining she was on-hold to the police for fifteen minutes and another saying how she gave the police her name, date of birth, town of birth and “type of house” when she did get through I replied to note when she was a city councillor responsible, along with other local councillors, for setting the police priorities for the area she did not ask the police to record the costs of crime.
Vandalism of cars is a real problem in North Cambridge, and elsewhere in the city. Over the years I’ve seen many examples ranging from broken windows, and scratches to damaged wing mirrors and bent or snapped aerials. I have written about my own experiences and having noticed that Cambridgeshire Police were not taking this kind of crime seriously tried to understand why not. I determined that unlike other police forces Cambridgeshire were not routinely recording the costs of crime and so were not grasping the significance of what was happening and treating it with due seriousness. They couldn’t see in their statistics the difference between an event which had caused thousands of pounds of damage, and one which had caused almost none. I attended my local police priority setting meeting in March, July and November 2009 and argued each time that the police should be asked to record the costs of crimes, it is something I still continue to raise when appropriate and will continue to do so until we get a standard of policing here in Cambridge which is at least as good as that provided elsewhere. I am very unhappy with my councillors who appear to accept a second class service for Cambridge, and particularly for Arbury and the rest of the North of the city.
I also noted that Clare Blair had sat in silence when on the 12th of November 2009 Inspector Kerridge of Cambridgeshire Police, speaking to a priority setting meeting of the North Area Committee cited damage to vehicles as an example of the very lowest level of crime.
Clare Blair’s tweet about being asked for lots of details about her reminded me of the time Cambridgeshire Police asked me how tall I was when I was reporting my home had been broken into, something which prompted me to say the police ought focus more on criminals and less on those reporting crime.
I suspect Clare Blair will still be a member of the Liberal Democrats; there are only a couple of hundred Liberal Democrats and they are in the majority in three of the city’s four police priority setting areas. It would be fantastic if Clare Blair, as a result of her own experience, realised that she was wrong when a councillor and asked her party colleagues to ask the police to take damage to vehicles more seriously. I also thought it important to point out while Clare Blair was complaining publicly about vehicle crime, she had not in my view taken the actions she could have done to counter it when she was in a position to do so as an elected city councillor.
Cambridge MP Julian Huppert expressed his sympathy for Clare Blair in a twitter response to her tweets.
Cambridgeshire Police Non-Emergency Number
I thought Cllr Blair’s tweets also raised interesting questions about the police’s non-emergency number. I know from my own experience and those of others I have heard from that it can take a very long time for calls to get answered, and then callers can spend a long time on hold. As I reported myself on twitter recently another odd element is when they “transfer you to the police” – which is baffling as it raises the question of who it was you were speaking to in the first place. I should take this opportunity to note that the Cambridgeshire Police non-emergency number is now 0345 4564564. A large proportion of households in Cambridge have fridge magnets displaying an old number which is one digit different, and is still all over the internet, including on local council websites. Those phoning the old number, either from memory, their mobile phone memories, or fridge magnet, get a useless message simply saying the service which was on that number is no-longer available. I understand and support the move away from a system which it cost a lot to call from most mobiles, but think the transfer has been very badly handled. (I’ve tweeted my suggestions towards the councils and Cambridgeshire Police)
Bizarre Tweets Follow
I went to sleep on the Friday night thinking the short, unremarkable, Twitter exchange was over and was shocked to find a tirade of rather bizarre tweets from Clare Blair had been published the next morning. I might have expected her to try and defend her record as a councillor, or perhaps even say her views had been changed by her personal experience, (I would have been particularly interested to learn if the police were now doing any better at recording the costs of crimes like these) however I didn’t expect what she had written:
@RTaylorUK you really are a rather sad individual Richard aren’t you? Obsessive, fixated and introverted in the extreme. Shame really.
@RTaylorUK And a mysogynist as I recall from your numerous comments about women. A real shame given your intelligence and potential.
I recall asking @RTaylorUK once why he made so many disparaging remarks about women in his blog. He replied:there’s too many women in power.
I have never made the comments that Clare Blair has attributed to me. I responded to say:
Ex Cllr @clareblair I think you should delete, retract & apologise for your latest tweets about me.
The tweets were not deleted and Clare Blair even went on to repeat her ludicrous, inaccurate and defamatory statement again later that day.
On the Saturday morning I was faced with the dilemma of what to do if someone publishes online grossly defamatory statements about you. My response was to straight-away request the removal of the material and an apology. That decision was fairly straightforward, harder was deciding if to respond publicly, eg. via Twitter, or privately (perhaps via a lawyer’s letter, making clear the takedown request should be considered the first step in the pre-action protocol for defamation cases). The problem being that a response in public would draw attention to the defamatory material; pointing to defamatory material can itsself be considered defamation and I would in effect be defaming myself. However by going for the option of responding in public I would be able to make my position clear, probably to a significant number of those who would have read what Clare Blair published . I would be able to get some form of instant “balance” if not exactly redress. Other considerations included the fact all the good lawyers I’ve ever spoken to have advised avoiding court if at all possible, and that a key principle behind much of what I do is openness and transparency so responding openly, in public, felt like the right and appropriate thing to do.
Not only is Cllr Blair’s statement balanced when I publish it here with my own denial, but the fact everything I’ve written about all our local councillors, including ex councillor Blair is available on this website for anyone to read means it can easily be seen that I comment on the performance of our councillors based on their actions, or lack of them, irrespective of if they happen to be male or female. A couple of people have asked Cllr Blair to provide an example of a derogatory remark about women, but as yet she has not supplied one.
I am grateful for the supportive tweets I received from a range of people, including:
@ConfirmOrDeny who wrote:
Cambridge lucky to have @RTaylorUK his content is reliable, factual and well thought out. I’m suspicious of attempts to discredit him.
@GrumpyInCambs who wrote:
@ClareBlair: ive bn reading RT’s reports 4 years & always found them v. detailed & informative. Women have 2 take criticism same as men.
@ClareBlair: Why such a personal attack on @RTaylorUK ‘s character?! If u can’t take criticism, don’t be a Cllr. Otherwise, grow up.
Absolutely!! Outrageous. RT @RTaylorUK: Ex Cllr @clareblair I think you should delete, retract & apologise for your latest tweets about me.
@AndyBower who wrote:
Outrageous comments by @ClareBlair. @RTaylorUK is an equal opportunities satirist when it comes to highlighting idiocy and digging holes.
@rec53 who wrote:
.@ClareBlair @RTaylorUK tends to limit observations to behaviour, treating everyone equally regardless of their gender or species
.@ClareBlair Suggest that if you’re going to make accusations, you back up with facts, name-calling isn’t useful. @RTaylorUK
Clare Blair States She Went to Information Commissioner About Distressed Women
The odd things Clare Blair was coming out with continued with a tweet stating:
@grumpyincambs even wnt 2 IOC for another very distressed woman.Could do nothing as domestic website even if looks like prof.So not simple.
Blair later clarified that she meant the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The only request I have had from a woman, other than Cllr Blair, to take material down from my site has been from Labour’s Cllr Hart. I noted that request in the comments of the relevant article, but left the material up.
If Clare Blair really did go to the Information Commissioner they will have a record of it. John Cross @ConfirmOrDeny has offered to make an FOI request to find out if such a complaint or enquiry was made. Often FOI requests are refused on the grounds an individual is asking for personal information about themselves; having someone else make this request, rather than me, may help avoid this particular snag. I am very happy for the ICO to release any information it holds with respect to complaints about rtaylor.co.uk and as Clare Blair has now made public the fact she contacted the ICO I can see no barrier to them at least confirming or denying the contact Clare Blair claims took place actually did.
The Data Protection Act applies to individuals as well as organisations ( See S.5(3)(a)) so the ICO would not have, as Blair claims, dismissed an enquiry or complaint on the grounds of my website being “domestic”. My activities publishing material on this website are in my view clearly not covered by the S.36 Domestic purposes exemption, though they are largely exempt on the grounds of being Journalism, literature and art.
I have not received any related notification coming under the terms of S.10 of the Data Protection Act relating to my website at rtaylor.co.uk ; such a notification ought be a precursor to a complaint to the information commissioner. (There was a well publicised complaint about my publication of video of the North Area Committee in October 2010, there the two individuals involved were male. I published my response to that takedown request online).
Letter from the Chief Executive of Cambridge City Council
In one of her latter tweets of the 9th of July Clare Blair referred to a letter from the Chief Executive [of Cambridge City Council] “highlighting risk of perception of gender bias”. This could suggest that I have been formally warned by Cambridge City Council about what I have been writing (perhaps I have?). What the tweet did not make clear is the letter from Antoinette Jackson, who was then the council’s “Director of Customer and Democratic Services” and is now the Chief Executive, was written in response to a discussion she had had with Clare Blair.
Now Clare Blair has publicly referred to this letter I think it is important that it is in the public domain, and to make sense of it the letter from Clare Blair to me also needs to be published as it is cited. Back in February/March 2009 I largely ignored these emails as being slightly bonkers, though I did I think alert some councillors to what I thought was inappropriate behaviour by Antoinette Jackson in giving the weight of the council to Cllr Blair’s views.
From: Clare Blair
Subject: Your comments
Date: 25 February 2009 10:19:45 GMT
To: Richard Taylor
Cc: Antoinette Jackson (Cambridge City Council Director of Customer and Democratic Services ) , Simon Pugh (Cambridge City Council’s Head of Legal)
I write to object in the strongest terms to your inaccurate misreporting of anything I said last night which as you yourself pointed out were restricted to private comments.
Firstly I asked City officers present is Cllr Smith had arived yet, as I had understood that she, like me, was intending to come. Councillors often attend meetings of resident associations or other groups, as you well know. Cllr Bick later clarified that Cllr Smith had been unable to attend.
Secondly I made a comment to someone else attending and sitting with me that I had recently been to an event in London with a constituent that had actually turned out to be extremely interesting but which I had debated going to as I had little time . Whilst I would likely have been happy to tell you that as well, I have to point out that I made that comment, as with the first, in a private conversation and not as a public statement and I must query your perception that you can listen to, record, comment on and publish private conversations. Let alone misrecord and misinterpret them.
Reading your site it is certainly clear that you write about women differently to men. You seem unable to simply report on us without adding a personal and highly subjective comment. Your second paragraph illustrates that point perfectly though one of my favourite examples was when you wrote ‘Cllr Blair. who coughed to gain attention,……’ ! For goodness sake, if one can’t cough without you reading some sinister motive into it, what a sorry state of affairs. The simplest audit of your site shows the number of times you add an adjective when describing something a woman did, or a subjective clause.
Given that, as you say, I did not speak publically last night, it is strange indeed that so much of your report is devoted to me and your ‘perceptions’ of what I did and did not think, say or do. Or to recording and reporting on private conversations. Or indeed, the many times you have photographed me covertly and the number of times you comment on me even when I am simply present at a meeting but in a capacity which does not require me to speak (as last night).
I have now asked you several times to refrain from the subjective personal remarks and stressed that it is making me feel harassed. That is also why I let you know last night that I was concerned about your site.I must ask you again please to refrain from actions that give rise to concerns about harassment and stalking.
I would also ask you to remove from your site all references to my private conversations last night except with yourself and all subjective personal remarks about me.
Cllr Clare Blair
From: Antoinette Jackson
Subject: Web content about Councillor Blair
Date: 2 March 2009 12:56:08 GMT
To: Richard Taylor
Dear Mr Taylor
I have discussed with Councillor Blair her email to you of 25 February 2009 entitled “Your Comments”.
I am concerned that you now appear to be recording Councillors’ private conversations on your website. Whilst I am sure all councillors would accept your right as a member of the public to comment on their comments in public meetings and their policy statements, I do not think it is reasonable for you to comment on private discussions. I understand from Councillor Blair you have amended the text on your site – please make sure you keep any comments to public matters in future.
Councillor Blair has also raised with me her perception that you treat female councillors differently from male councillors. I think it would be very unfortunate if you were judging councillors on their gender rather than their role and contribution. In the light of Councillor Blair’s comments, you may want to consider whether you are being evenhanded in the way you report council business to ensure their is not bias in your coverage of female councillors.
Director of Customer
and Democratic Services
Cambridge City Council
I made no reply to these letters, and made no changes to my website, or to my approach to reporting on and commenting on civic matters in light of them. I would expect these letters would be available from the council to anyone making a request for them.
I have never covertly photographed Clare Blair; though a year after the letter accusing me of covertly photographing her, by co-incdence she appeared in a photo I took (openly!) of Church Street, Chesterton.
While Cllr Blair reportedly thought I had amended text on my website, I did not. The meeting referred to was the 2009 AGM of the Friends of Midsummer Common, my article, including the comments made by Cllr Blair before and after the meeting is available via this link. The article where I describe then Cllr Blair as “coughing to gain everyone’s attention before launching into a speech” is also still available, such detail and “colour” does make reports such as mine on council meetings more readable than the dry official minutes. It gives an impression of the way Blair behaved as a councillor.
Encounters with Clare Blair
- 7th October 2008 Then Cllr Blair accosted me at a CB1 Transport Issues Meeting and shouted at me from about a meter away telling me that she does not collect childcare allowance. The background to this is that when I first started observing City Council meetings often Cllr Blair’s apologies would be given along with the explanation that she had to look after her children. I was interested to see if Cllr Blair was both collecting an allowance for childcare and apparently not attending meetings due to them being held during school holidays. At that time it was not possible to view members’ allowances online, and I urged her to use her position as a councillor to get them published. My encounter with the then Cllr Blair came around three weeks after I had asked the council to publish the details of members’ allowances myself.
- 25th February 2009 Friends of Midsummer Common AGM. I noted at in the article I wrote following the meeting: “Cllr Blair suggested to me after the meeting that my website is sexist, claiming I am critical of more women than men. I am sure this is nonsense.”
- I can only recall two other times we’ve spoken in person: as we both picked up our bikes outside the Guildhall one evening I said “hello” and she replied: “I don’t want to speak to you”, and more recently we said “hello” but no more, as we passed each other in an aisle in Tesco.
- Prior to one council meeting Cllr Blair closed the doors between meeting room one (where the councillors were sitting) and meeting room two (where council officers and the public were gathering to observe the meeting), only opening them again once the meeting was just about to start.
- Our only other exchanges have been during formal council meetings, such as when I asked why, as Executive Councillor, she didn’t have the “Scores On the Doors” website updated in light of environmental health inspections which prompted the closure of restaurants. To this day I think you can have a restaurant the council has closed down having a positive rating on the council website!
I cannot recall any other time we have spoken, at which she could claim the remarks she is wrongly attributing to me were made.
I have been critical of Clare Blair’s performance as a councillor, but I have always focused on her speeches, votes and actions. I was particularly critical of areas where I felt she was going against the Liberal Democrat manifesto on which she had been elected. She was elected on a manifesto of transparency but supported secrecy when it came to a number of key meetings within her East Chesterton ward such as that on church street parking. Cllr Blair was instrumental in gaining support for Police seizure of cars avoiding speed humps, using laws which councillors, including Cllr Blair approved for also using against vehicles speeding on Fen Road. The problem with the use of ASB laws in this context is they deny people the option of due process going to court if they want to protest their innocence. (I’ve raised this at the Police Authority and have recently chased police authority member Cllr Wilkins for an update.) As well as secretive and illiberal acts I’ve also drawn attention to the plain odd such as when she argued the Co-Op on Chesterton Road shouldn’t be allowed deliveries before 9am (which would have denied people their newspapers and fresh baked goods in the mornings!).
Everything I’ve written about Clare Blair and other councillors, is available on this site. I welcome comments and often act on them. I regularly update my articles in the day or so after publication for typos (and I encourage people to let me know of errors they’d like fixed), I always ensure substantive changes are made transparently; either through the use of
strikethrough or with a note in the comments.
One reason people with ideas on how to make their city, or country a better place don’t speak out and share what they think might be good ideas (as I try to) is that what has happened here with Clare Blair making up completely inaccurate nonsense about me is one of the risks. I’m all for robust debate, that’s essential for testing people’s views and seeing if they stand up to challenge, but behaviour like that seen from Clare Blair isn’t acceptable, and our society needs to have accessible routes for rapid and proportionate redress.