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Friday 23 November 2012

Gross Negligence: Prof John Britton and Stephen Williams MP Should Resign

In this blog post, I aim to make the case that both Professor John Britton and Stephen Williams MP should resign due to both gentlemen evidently exhibiting gross negligence in the course of their duties.  Let's start at the very beginning.

If you haven't read the Hands Off Our Packs blog post by Angela Harbutt, titled FOI reveals arrogance of ASH, please do so now, as it will give you the necessary details of what I am about to cover. 

In the latest HOOPs blog post, we learn that a junior Research Fellow at The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (UKCTCS) at the University of Birmingham sent an e-mail, to numerous unknown parties in tobacco control, that asked colleagues to wantonly cheat the plain packaging consultation by signing multiple charities' petitions in order to falsely inflate the numbers of those who support plain packs.

Who sent the morally-bereft e-mail asking others to sign multiple petitions is hardly the issue here.  No, what we need to concern ourselves with is the person who approved the e-mail to begin with. That man is Professor John Britton, of the University of Birmingham, who is one of the directors of UKCTCS as well as a board member of ASH UK.  

The FOI also reveals that Professor John Britton personally approved the e-mail that was sent to a unknown number of people.  If in fact he did not see one of his junior research fellows asking people to sign multiple plain packaging petitions, that is gross negligence. If, however, he did notice it and said nothing until someone pointed it out, that is also unforgivable and negligent.

The simple fact is this:  Professor John Britton failed to do his job properly. It matters not at all who sent the e-mail, which was seen by untold scores of tobacco controllers and public health workers, people who may or may not have signed multiple petitions as initially directed, believing it was sanctioned by UKCTCS. The only thing that matters is that Britton approved the e-mail the first time around, which was sent out and redistributed.

It is evident then that Professor John Britton, Director of UKCTCS, board member of ASH UK, is to blame for this atrocious breach of the public's trust.  For this reason, Professor Britton must step down from his roles with UKCTCS and ASH immediately.  If the anti-smoking movement is to have any legitimacy, any integrity, it cannot be whilst Britton is at the helm of any tobacco control-related matters.

Britton's resignation from UKCTCS and ASH would be mandatory, however, perhaps Britton should also retire from his role as an educator.  Whether this man has any business influencing the minds of our young adults is certainly a matter for debate, but we would expect Britton to do the right thing and remove himself in order to satiate the public's need for order and trust in Britain's finest educational institutions. We believe that Britton remaining at University of Birmingham as an educator dishonours every British citizen who believes in fair-play, integrity and responsibility as fundamental aspects of our educational systems.  For the sake of Britain's respectability, for the sake of its students past, present and future, Professor John Britton should step down and retire.

* * *

There is also the case of Stephen Williams MP to consider.  Stephen Williams, elected by the good and decent peoples of Bristol, to honourably hold the office of Minister of Parliament and to act on the people's behalf, shamelessly signed off a document created by ASH UK, the secretariat for the APPG on Smoking and Health, that falsely suggested the that Hands Off Our Packs Campaign was complicit in falsifying signatures for its petition against plain packaging.

The covering letter, dated 19 October 2012, signed by Stephen Williams MP
An excerpt of the article in the APPG on Smoking and Health winter bulletin.
To understand the scope of Stephen Williams's gross negligence, it is important to note several things.

First, the covering letter is dated 19 October 2012, signed by Williams and therefore this is a de facto endorsement of the contents of the enclosed bulletin.

Second, as Simon Clark notes in his blog post on this matter, he provided a response to the Department of Health's Andrew Black on 30 August 2012, in which it is written that the signature gatherer acted on his own accord, not at the behest of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign team.  Nearly 50 days had elapsed between Simon Clark's response to the Andrew Black and when Stephen Williams sent out the winter bulletin to members of Parliament.

Third, note the language in the bulletin.  It says "campaigners running a petition against plain packaging cheated to boost their results" in the opening paragraph.  This is untrue. We know that it was only one person. Using the word "campaigners" and displaying the Hands Off Our Pack logo next to the article deceptively implies that many or all of the people working for the Hands Off Our Packs campaign had falsified signatures to boost results. This is most untrue.

And this winter bulletin, signed off by Stephen Williams MP, was subsequently distributed to other MPs in a most false and deceptive ploy to tarnish the good names of hundreds of thousands of British citizens who signed the petition in good faith as well as the HOOPs campaign team

Did Stephen Williams MP seek out to verify the circumstances of the incident at any time over the preceding 50 days before the bulletin was distributed to ministers?  No, he did not. And whilst a young man took it upon himself to add two signatures to the petition, which is completely unacceptable, that is hardly of an order comparable to UKCTCS's actions, where a person knowingly and wilfully told others to falsify signatures on multiple petitions. At no time did Stephen Williams MP seek to understand or clarify the incident with the HOOPs campaign or FOREST before sending out the document to MPs.  Almost 50 days had passed, more than enough time to write the truth in the winter bulletin. It would seem, however, the Stephen Williams MP is not interested in facts or the truth.

Is this the behaviour we should expect from our MPs? To defame honest British citizens working on a campaign and to deliberately mislead fellow MPs?  I put to you that it is not. We should not stand for it, and we expect a much higher standard of those we elect into public office. This is scandalous behaviour.  For distributing the defamatory winter bulletin and endorsing its contents, Stephen Williams MP has disgraced and tarnished every member of the APPG and all of his fellow ministers in Parliament. He should at once apologise for his transgressions to all of the good citizens of Britain.  His only recourse at this time is to immediately and voluntarily resign from his role as the Chairman of the APPG on Smoking and Health.  If Stephen Williams MP had any integrity whatsoever, he would immediately resign as an MP as well. 

It is evident to us that both Professor John Britton and Stephen Williams MP have acted irresponsibly and with gross negligence. They have tarnished the reputations of their colleagues, perhaps irreparably.  We therefore ask both men to do the right and honourable acts of resigning from their positions of enormous influence on the good and decent citizens and young students of Britain.  To do anything less shames all of us and destroys the confidences we have held in our trusted public figures and esteemed educators for centuries.