‘It’s time to speak truth to power’ – David Smith hits back at council

15 Oct 2014 @ 5.12 pm
| Opinion, Politics

After council leader James Alexander outed him as outspoken Twitter critic ‘Jack Hamilton’, David Smith resigned from his job at The Retreat.

Here he reveals why he felt it necessary to hide his identity and counters the accusation that he was an online ‘troll’

I have been an outspoken commentator and campaigner on mental health in York for many years. From the appalling waiting lists for talking therapies to inappropriate police detention and the closure of vital services I have not been afraid to share my thoughts and challenge injustice.

Much of this was as a public figure but what about when I discovered deeper problems – a lack of accountability, conflicts of interest and political point scoring being used as an excuse for cutting basic services?

Those important issues fell outside of my public role so after considering the alternatives, I decided that although not my favoured approach, the only way I could speak out whilst protecting the charity I worked for was to use a common technique and have a pseudonym.

The comments I made as ‘Jack Hamilton’ have been labelled offensive, abusive and discriminatory by council leader James Alexander and his Cabinet member Cllr Dafydd Williams. This is categorically untrue.

It is only my different viewpoint that led to me, like other commentators, being labelled abusive simply because I asked challenging questions.

Repeatedly, I asked why things were done a certain way, how decisions were reached, who was responsible. The response was silence.

I questioned the ability of our civic leaders, public officers paid at our expense, to develop solutions and work in the best interest of their residents. The response was again silence.

When I mistakenly posted a selfie from the wrong Twitter account recently, did James Alexander or Dafydd Williams call me to discuss their concerns? No.

They asked the council’s chief executive, Kersten England, in a role which should be politically neutral, to phone my boss despite knowing she was out of the country on holiday to “make her aware of the situation”.

They then not only contacted my employer but also all of the individual trustees of the charity I worked for, the press, the charity commission and numerous other third parties to complain of abuse, discrimination and “trolling”.

Messages of support

They didn’t simply complain as politicians either; they complained on behalf of City of York Council. Cllr Williams went even further by deliberately pointing out that he is also a Justice of the Peace.

They explicitly told The Retreat its relationship with City of York Council was damaged and they wouldn’t be able to work with the charity whilst I was employed there.

York Human Rights Festival

‘In 2012, with the full support of CYC and council leader James Alexander, Cllr Sonja Crisp, City of York Council’s cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “The Human Rights City project aspires to promote a community where institutions, organisations, businesses and individuals can debate, learn, understand, embrace and apply human rights principles to their daily lives.”’

Freedom of Expression
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities…”
European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10

I understand they also used city council resources to compile a dossier of “evidence” and sent that to my employer too.

My position was made untenable and it was clear the only way I could protect the charity I love from deliberate harm was to resign.

The response to my resignation has been overwhelming. Colleagues, friends, people I’ve never even met before have inundated me with messages of support.

These are what kept me strong through the difficult times and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.

Since resigning I have been offered new opportunities and the prospect to speaking out more vocally is increasingly appealing. I started working in the charity sector 20 years ago to fight injustice and if recent events have taught me anything it’s that the fight is far from over.

Having avoided politics in the past maybe now is the time to stand up, speak truth to power and do whatever is needed to make sure we residents are no longer patronised, bullied or ignored.