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Monday 10 September 2012

Steve Taylor - An Incomplete History

Please note: This is an off-topic personal interest post, which has almost nothing to do with the usual topics and people covered on this blog.  The only connection is that the subject had tweeted about the Hands Off Our Packs campaign and this brought him to my attention. I dug deep into this man's background and discovered that he has quite a history. Since then I've been following this man's story very closely. He is not a nannying tyrant like those usually featured on these pages, but I believe the story is worth writing about, so I'm writing it.  I have no affiliation or interest in any of the charities mentioned below.

On 7 September 2012, Steven (Steve) Paul Taylor, a.k.a Steve Taylor Corps, was sentenced to jail for 16 months for defrauding the League Against Cruel Sports charity (LACS) for nearly £15,000. He is expected to serve about 8 months in jail.  This is not Steve Taylor's first criminal conviction for fraud, but we will come to that later.

Steve Taylor first came to my attention on 27 June 2012.  On Twitter he had sent a tweet panning one of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign videos, although it's not clear which film he meant. I was a bit surprised that anyone who had a social marketing and public relations business called "Incredibly Social" would publicly tweet this:

It seemed rather anti-social to me, so I replied back to that tweet (which is below).  What followed next was a quick search on who this guy was and a series of tweets between Taylor and me. Unfortunately, he deleted most of tweets before I could save them, and what I have saved is a bit limited and does not show the entire conversation. Nevertheless, it was his smugness and arrogance that irked me enough to look into who he was. And what I found was quite revealing.

My first port of call was to check his website (which is no longer accessible and was so short-lived that not even the Wayback Machine had time to archive it) for contact info for a full name, but despite a claim on his site that he was a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, nowhere on his site did he give his full name. That was odd. My next stop was to look at the domain registration of his web site.  So I did a WHOIS lookup on and found it registered to "Taylor Corps."  The administrative contact was listed as Steven Taylor.  Gotcha.

Before we go further, here are the saved tweets I do have, with explanations, and while I admit it is a bit petty, I hope it shows you why I became interested in Taylor's background:

The first tweet exchange. Note the #smug hashtag. This arrogance prompted me to look into his background.

The second exchange, after a quick search. I found two articles about a Steve Taylor under investigation for defrauding to different charities. I wasn't sure if it was him, but his reply almost confirmed it.
Sacked League Against Cruel Sports worker held in fraud probe - BBC News Surrey (21 November 2011)
Prisoner charity focus of fraud inquiry - TES Newspaper (15 September 2006, updated 11 May 2008)

This tweet received no reply, but at this point I was thinking that perhaps Steve Taylor was astroturfing for one of the usual suspect charities, like ASH, BHF, or CRUK. Turned out he wasn't, but we'll get to that.

Our  third exchange, me taunting him a little. Very likely I would have stopped here if he admitted who he was, but he didn't. I have a suspicion (based on that the tweet came from his Blackberry and the #ttfn - ta ta for now tag) that he was out at the pub and a bit drunk by this point.

Our fourth exchange. This is the last tweet I had saved before he deleted all of his tweets. I wasn't really planning on blogging about him, I just wanted him to admit who he was.

I also found this tweet on Twitter, which I retweeted. Evidently, somebody (I do not know who this is) was unhappy with Steve Taylor as far back as March 2012:

From here I do not have any more of Taylor's tweets to me saved, which is a shame. But I had noticed that Taylor's company, Incredibly Social, had done some social media and web site development for some businesses.  So, a bit inebriated myself by this time, I tweeted to one of them, only to find out that Steve Taylor was managing their Twitter account on their behalf:

I don't have the reply to this saved, but Steve Taylor said it was he managing the account, that I was dumb, and that I should call the pub directly.
After getting Taylor's response through the pub's account on Twitter, I tweeted:

The reply I got from Taylor was that I was merely the Twitter equivalent of gravel on the motorway. He deleted that tweet to me, but he re-wrote it and tweeted it again (note: I have only just captured this tweet, and Taylor has since changed his Twitter name at least twice - his latest Twitter name is @leaguesteve):

OK, so now you see how all of this came about.  Yes, a bit petty all around.  I was quite "pished" by this point, and I went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, all of Taylor's tweets to me were deleted.

Undaunted, a bit hungover, and still unsure if Steve Taylor had been astroturfing for the likes of ASH or other charities (which was my original mission to find out), I restarted my Internet search into his background.

If Taylor had any links to ASH, CRUK or any other charity that is actively campaigning for Plain Packs, I couldn't find any trace of them on-line.  The closest link to any "cancer" charity that I could find was the Michelle Harby Foundation, for which Steve Taylor had been the secretary.

Who registered their domain? Steve Taylor.

You will no longer find any mention of Steve Taylor on the foundation's web site -- it has been scrubbed completely, which is fair enough. 

To find out more on Steve Taylor's past involvement with the Michelle Harby Foundation, you have to rely on local news reports, the foundation's Facebook page and a few other sites:

Foundation honours mum - This is Devon (1 March 2011)
Facebook Wall Post indicating Taylor is a trustee of the charity  (22 May 2011)
Michelle charity launch - This is Plymouth (25 May 2011)
Love of music and the beach shared and remembered through the Michelle Harby Foundation - The People's Republic of South Devon (2 June 2011)
Memorial trust award first award - Cornish Guardian via This Is Cornwall (21 Sept 2011)
Michelle Harby Foundation Facebook wall photo shared with public
Scholarship is foundation's first award - Plymouth Herald via This is Cornwall (23 Sept 2011)
Twtrland Profile Page indicating Taylor (@stetay) is secretary for the foundation

Steve Taylor - @stetay
Image via

Anyway, I could find no link between Taylor and ASH or between the Michelle Harby Foundation with other charities. One is left to presume that Steve Taylor was not astroturfing on behalf of anyone, nor was the charity advocating on behalf of other charities' campaigns. No, one presumes Taylor was just being an arse by tweeting his opinion to Hands Off Our Packs.

But who is this guy? I wondered. What is his story?  I was quite interested to find out. This was no longer about his slight at Hands Off Our Packs. I felt oddly compelled to find out all I could about this guy, for no particular reason other than he irked me the night before.  Not web stalking, more like investigating. Interestingly, one of the first things I noticed was the Guardian reported that Taylor is the nephew of Lord Clark of Windemere. Wow.

Anyway, I knew he was under investigation for the LACS fraud thing, which I'll cover more near the end of this post.  For the moment, however, let's focus on the other story, about the Prisoner Education Forum charity investigation. How odd that here are two very different charities that this guy worked for and there were accusations of fraud for both.

Here's how TES, a teachers' network organisation, reported it (emphasis added):
Police have launched a fraud investigation into a charity which campaigns for better education for offenders.

The Forum on Prisoner Education was wound up over the summer after its yearly budget of £150,000 ran out in less than five months. Steve Taylor, its director, and a former prisoner, quit in May.

Police in east London, where the forum was based, confirmed they are investigating a complaint relating to possible fraud at the charity, but declined to comment further.

The forum has failed to submit any accounts to the Charity Commission since its registration three years ago.
Mr Taylor, 30, told FE Focus that he was not aware of any police investigation and that he had not been involved in any fraudulent activity, but there had been overspending. 
Oh? So Steve Taylor was a former prisoner. Interesting. OK. OK. Picture becoming clearer.  TES goes on to say (emphasis added):
Mr Taylor has revealed in a newspaper article that 10 years ago he served four months in prison for an offence of deception.

He became involved in prison campaigning after the death of a friend in custody and he says trustees of the charity knew about his conviction and supported his appointment.
Right. Had to track down that article then and go back farther. I believe it might have been this one from the Guardian in 2001 called Interviews: Prisoners on their life in jail, written by Steve Taylor of course:
Steve Taylor, 24
Sentence: four months
Crime: deception

I spent some of my sentence in Armley jail in Leeds which is a hellhole. You spend 23 hours a day in your cell. You get books out of the library that have the last 20 pages missing. You get visits if the officers can be bothered. You get mail when they can be bothered. It's just a warehouse for people.

Fortunately I spent most of my sentence in HMP North Sea Camp which is an open prison. The buildings are a mess but the way it's run and the resources available are fantastic, and it's probably got the lowest re-conviction rates of all prisons. You've got to work because if you refuse they take you back to the local prison; there's a big farm which supplies the prison service with food and an excellent education department where I worked as a tutor, teaching basic skills to inmates who couldn't read or write.
If you read that article in full, the last paragraph talks about what it's like being gay in prison, how those who are openly gay may be housed with the sex offenders. Taylor said "[t]here really needs to be some policy movement in that area."

Here's another article -- a kind of diary written by Taylor for the Guardian in 2000 called Chain Reaction, which begins with:
Through a mixture of my own naivety and stupidity, I spent a short time in prison, and was released in February last year to be "tagged" at home. This meant that I had to stay at home between 7pm and 7am seven days a week for two months. Maybe my diary of that period might offer some insight of what is to come for Jonathan Aitken, who is now serving the last two months of his sentence under "home detention curfew".
Evidently, prison life helped to mould Taylor's future careers as director or trustee with various charities. He worked on a youth crime campaign for the National Children's Bureau, and then became a member of Howard League for Penal Reform and the British Society of Criminology.  His first proper charity role was likely with the Howard League for Penal Reform, a campaigning charity, for which he worked until about 2006.  Taylor is also credited as contributing to a 2002 documentary called "The Experiment" as part of an ethics advisory group.

The BBC reported on Taylor in its article "How drugs end up behind bars" in 2002 (emphasis added):
Ex-prisoner Steve Taylor, a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform, says there are two main reasons that drugs filter in from the outside world.

"Prison authorities are not always as cautious as they could be in checking for drugs; and in some cases they are not going to be because drugs calm prisoners down. It does the guards a favour to deal with people who just vegetate."
In 2004, Taylor also joined the Forum on Prisoner Education organisation (FPE), a pressure group charity where he became its Director and from where he lobbied ministers of Parliament. For instance, here's a link to a Memorandum of Evidence that Taylor wrote for MPs about prisoner education.  He also advocated for Internet access for prisoners. Then in 2005, Taylor was awarded the Longford prize for his ""outstanding contribution to social and penal reform."  The Independent reported Taylor's achievement in December 2005, but Taylor didn't feel up to discussing his past:
During the two years that Mr Tayor has headed the Forum on Prisoner Education pressure group, he has appeared regularly in the media, given evidence to Parliament and produced a widely praised report calling for inmates to receive unrestricted access to the internet.

In addition, he tours jails giving practical advice to inmates on gaining qualifications as a route out of crime.

Mr Taylor, 29, who declines to discuss why he was jailed, said: "It's important to me that we spend as much time as possible talking to people on the ground to see what we can do to help. I have to make sure we're in the real world. I can't be bothered with hypothetical carrying-on about abstract issues."
By all appearances then, it seemed that Taylor had certainly turned his life around after his brief stint in prison, and things were definitely looking up for the young man. He had political influence and direct access to MPs.  He was honing his media skills and was often quoted in various news sources regarding penal education.  TES called him a "staunch defender of offenders' right to learn" in this article in 2005:
Mr Taylor has been an outspoken advocate of the work of prison lecturers, once being quoted as saying: "No one comes into prisoner education for the money. People do it because they want to make a difference to people's lives and communities."

The forum has been a regular critic of Government prison policy, citing the size of the jail population, which it says has increased at the same time as a reduction in the amount of education for prisoners, increasing their chance of reoffending.

While being open about serving time in prison, he has been reluctant to speak about it - pointing out the charity believes everyone should be given a second chance after their release.
Steve P. Taylor - Writer/Activist
Image via "facts about Steve P Taylor"

But Steve Taylor's time advocating for prisoners' rights was not to last.  As previously noted above, the FPE ran into "financial difficulties" and closed down in 2006. Taylor denied any involvement in fraudulent activity, and it's unclear what the findings of that investigation were. Internet searches have revealed nothing more on the matter, but perhaps I missed something.  Furthermore, the Howard League for Penal Reform's annual report for 2005/06 indicates that Taylor was no longer a trustee of their charity from June 2006 (PDF).

For a short time, there was even a Wikipedia page about him, mainly about his writing career (he wrote a book). But that page was deleted in early 2009. Curiously, but most likely unrelated, the one person who voted to keep Taylor's entry on the site has been banned for sockpuppetry.

At some point in 2009 or earlier, Taylor joined the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). The earliest references I can find date to June 2009, where he appears on Iain Dale's Diary, and October 2009, where he appears in the press as LACS's head of campaigns and communications. Perhaps he genuinely believed in the charity's mission, or perhaps he desired to make use of his PR background and previous charity and campaign work.  Whatever his reasons, LACS certainly had political influence at Parliament, and Taylor's previous experience dealing directly with MPs would serve him well in his new role.

Indeed, by now Taylor had mastered the art of the sensationalised blurb, for here in respect of five men arrested for hare hunting, he is quoted by the Wiltshire Tiimes as saying:
“Hare coursing was banned by the Hunting Act. People who want to bring it back say it is pest control but it is a blood sport

“Some hare coursers suggest muzzling the dogs so that the hare doesn’t get eaten, but the problem is that the greyhound, or dog, causes even more damage to the hare with the force of the dog. It is a horrifically cruel sport and we would welcome Wiltshire Police taking a hardline approach on it.” 
A few years later, upon release of a campaign video spoof for LACS, Taylor said:
"The film's a bit of fun but it makes an important point. The hunters are the only group of criminals in society who flirt with this idea that they are in some way victime (sic) of the law, rather than transgressers (sic) of it."
To my regular readers, no doubt the tone of these statements sounds a lot like the rhetoric of the tobacco control industry's spokespeople. It is a learned skill.

In fact, the skill of firing off letters of complaint demanding retractions or corrections at the media is a classic PR tactic, which Taylor employs here in 2010:
A report on the ‘thriving’ population of Irish hares on Oyster Island featured at approximately 39 minutes into the above programme. In the voiceover, the reporter says that, in hare coursing “…the dogs are muzzled to minimise injuries, and after competitions, the hares are released back to where they came from.”

We believe this to be inaccurate and misleading and would like to see an urgent correction on a future edition of the programme.


In the interests of accurate and balanced reporting, we would ask you to correct these errors as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely
Steve Taylor
Head of Campaigns & Communications
Earlier setbacks forgotten, and notwithstanding a minor issue of censure with the Charity Commission, it would seem that things were looking for very good for Steve Taylor once again.  But things took a turn for the worse for Taylor again in November of 2011.  LACS dismissed Taylor for gross misconduct. From the press release dated 17 November 2011:
Steve Taylor, a member of staff at the League Against Cruel Sports has been dismissed for gross misconduct following a disciplinary investigation concerning expenses claims.

The disciplinary papers have been handed to the police and the Charity Commission has been informed as the member of staff concerned has previously worked for other charities.
This was followed up the next day by Guido Fawkes, clearly enjoying a brief moment of irony. And a few days later with Steve Taylor's arrest on suspicion of fraud.

On 2 April 2012, Taylor was charged and accused of one count of fraud by false representation. Then in June, the Plymouth Herald (via This is Plymouth) wrote:
A SALTASH man accused of defrauding an anti-hunting organisation is to appear at Crown Court next month.

Steven Taylor, aged 35, was arrested last year.

Taylor, who worked for Surrey-based charity the League Against Cruel Sports, was released from the charity following a disciplinary investigation centring on expenses claims.
He appeared at Guildford magistrates court yesterday where his case was committed to Guildford Crown Court on July 27 for a plea and case management hearing. He was granted unconditional bail by Guildford Magistrates.
And a little over a week later, Steven Paul Taylor came to my attention on Twitter, which you have already read above.

One thing I did not expect to happen was that Taylor would plead guilty at his hearing. I figured he would plead his innocence and take the matter to a proper trial.  But he did not, and I have no idea why.  So he had a little over a month to get his affairs in order before his sentencing on 7 September 2012.

During this time I checked up on his tweets occasionally.  When he slagged off a small business's web site map (much in the same way he panned HOOPs), I couldn't resist a jab at him:

So am I going to write to Mr Taylor?  Here's my answer to him on that:

OK, yes, my tweets were a bit petty.  Besides, my handwriting is terrible, and it would seem HMP High Down doesn't have Internet access for prisoners. If only Taylor had succeeded in that campaign I could have sent him a tweet or something.  Perhaps everyone deserves a second chance, or even a third and fourth chance to make things right. I sincerely hope that Taylor has finally learnt his lesson.

In closing: on 7 September 2012, Steve Taylor was sentenced to jail for 16 months. It is expected he will serve about half of that.

***[[ Update 18 November 2012:  for a minor update on this post and to learn of Taylor's first fraud conviction, see also this post. ]] ***