Monday, 18 April 2016

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

Verso Group (UK) Ltd has taken up some of my time of late, starting with a "junk call" clearly claiming to be from Verso Group (UK) Ltd, but apparently not (according to a man calling and claiming to be from Verso Group (UK) Ltd).

Personally, and this is totally my own honest opinion, I cannot see how the original call (here) was not in fact from them - I see no motivation for someone to impersonate them. The call seemed to be trying to use "tricks" to be a survey rather than even a lead generation call and even had the caller stating he would give my details to other companies. None of that shit works (well it does not really work anyway) if you are not actually calling from the company you say you are in the first place. However, in the interests of fairness, and understanding how things like this can be frustrating for those impacted, I have to re-iterate that the call was apparently not in fact from Verso Group (UK) Ltd, according to the man calling and claiming to be from Verso Group (UK) Ltd. I may yet get the call traced though if this goes any further. I hope this post is the end of it.

Now this is where the fun starts.

My employer started getting hassled (no other word for it) with a couple of emails and several calls, all claiming to be from Verso Group (UK) Ltd, and one particular director (that I won't name here today). They start (in email) asserting the call recording must be removed as it is confidential. Then (in calls) they insist it was not them calling. We try to call back several times and are told this gentleman* is in meetings or on a call. I tied up quite a lot of our company solicitor's time on this as legal threats were made against my employer in emails and calls, and even a "threat" to come to the office, which we welcomed and waited all day for.

To be clear, my employer are not involved. They do not host my blog and I do not post here or on social media in an official capacity. The call was to my home number. Oddly, to my wife's number (more on that later).

I have posted links to these blog posts on twitter automatically, and even a comment that we tried to call back mentioning the person that called the office. Several others have commented on twitter too.

Then, on the 10th, I get a call from Bedfordshire Police Crime Bureau advising that this person, who is a director of Verso Group (UK) Ltd (as I understand it), has called them alleging that I am harassing him on twitter!

Note this call was also to my wife's number, one I never publish as associated with me, so where did the police get it? I am asking them. The same number as the junk call definitely not made from Verso Group (UK) Ltd.

First off - no actual official complaint has been made to the police (phew!) - we are a week later and the police have confirmed that. They also confirmed the call I got was genuine, and I am working on getting permission to publish the recording...

But it got me thinking - I have not looked at the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 in any details before. Could I have been harassing someone without realising it?

For a start I am not 100% sure what "harassment" means. I may post on twitter to make a point, or further a discussion. I have no intention to "harass" anyone. The definition in the Act does include causing "alarm" and "distress". The problem is that I am reading this legislation like an engineer and not a lawyer. We do not always come to the same conclusions :-)

I cannot find a requirement for "intent" in there, which is a shame, just that I should know it ought to be harassment of another, and the test is that a reasonable person would know that if they knew all the facts. Given the level of religion and mental ill health in society, finding a "reasonable" person may be hard. But oddly, "intent" is not in there. So I could be harassing someone unintentionally.

However, there is some light at the end of this, my "conduct" would also have to be "unreasonable". Naturally I don't think I am ever unreasonable. There is also allowance for preventing or detecting crime. The junk calls, are they a crime? Certainly unlawful, so maybe.

It is also good that you can only harass an individual, and not a company. The Act makes that clear. All posts about Verso Group (UK) Ltd, even if they are harassment, would be of a company and not an individual.

The other caveat is that one has to do it twice. To make it an offence you need a "course of conduct" which, for one person, is twice at least.

This raises some interesting points for social media, like twitter or even my blog. I state on my blog, and expect in other social media, that if I do harass or otherwise offend people, I expect them to "block me". Social media allows that. So if I "upset" you once, you block me, so the second time cannot be upsetting you. Would a "reasonable person" think the same? That would make all but the most convoluted social media "harassment" non existent, surely? I can see some blocking on twitter for this particular gentleman*.

Anyway, someone has not had the nerve to follow through and actually make an official report against me. I almost want him to - as that would be wasting police time, and would also give me a good excuse to get the original call traced.

Even so, is this really the way a reputable company handles complaints? Accuse people of harassment and report them to the police. I think not.

The offer is open for a meeting at our offices resolve this - that makes this blog post more than "reasonable" and not harassment.

What I do take from this is that one cannot harass a company!

* I say gentleman but he is listed as "Ms" not "Mr" on some company check sites, as several people have pointed out on twitter.


  1. I received spam from Verso Group (UK) Ltd in March this year.

    The domain referenced was and claims:

    "Verso Group is registered in accordance with the Data Protection Act and practices 100% opt-in permission marketing."

    Given your *confirmed* experience with them and my own, they might well be registered with the DPA but I would call shenanigans on their claim of sending only to 100% opted-in recipients as I have never opted-in to receive any of their shit.

  2. One thing I do take from this - if you felt like being evil, you could make a complaint to the police, highlighting the e-mails and calls to your employer, and the allegation made to the police, and reporting it as harassment yourself. You are (last time I checked) a person, not a company, and the director in question has engaged in multiple courses of action that a reasonable person would believe were intended to cause you alarm and/or distress - after all, the goal of contacting your employer is to get your employer to threaten you to take down the recording, as is the goal of alleging harassment to the police...

  3. I love it when these companies say we are 'Registered in accordance with the DPA', like it is a positive step that shows what good citizens they are.

    It is a criminal offence not to be registered, so in effect they are just saying 'please pat us on the back for not being criminals'

  4. Given the emails and messages that you've gotten from the director, might he have a case to answer for harrasment?

  5. "I state on my blog, and expect in other social media, that if I do harass or otherwise offend people, I expect them to "block me". Social media allows that. So if I "upset" you once, you block me, so the second time cannot be upsetting you. Would a "reasonable person" think the same? "

    I speak only for myself here, and have no idea whether I'm a 'reasonable person', but if someone was harrassing me on social media, I would not class me "blocking" their postings as any kind of solution to the issue.

    Yes it stops me seeing their postings directly, but if the offensive postings continue (whether or not I see them), surely so does the harassment? IANAL etc.

    1. And this is sort of the debate I expected - if you do not see or know of the postings, you cannot be being harassed can you, surely. Ignorance is bliss?

    2. But in a way that could be seen as worse by some. If your tweets/postings were seen by those I do business with, or even my friends, it could adversely impact how they view me - and I would be oblivious to the cause of this and unable to counter it.

      Just as an example, I could say you owe me money (you don't) and you disagree. I start hassling you on twitter about it in an attempt to get you to pay up. You block me. I keep tweeting that you owe me money and you are an untrustworthy type who doesn't pay his debts. Now your employer sees the tweets and starts wondering what is up, and this starts to have an impact on their view of you in a negative way. This could then lead to a lower pay rise, or missed promotion.

      In this case, ignorance is not bliss and is actually harmful. If you report it to the police and they have a chat and one of two things hopefully happens
      1. They stop and leave you alone
      2. They issue a small claims claim where you get to prove they are full of it

      Alternatively, they keep going as they were and the police step in more to stop them.

    3. Good argument... Of course you get in to issues of 'reasonableness' when it is a matter of, say, owing money. I think there may be something special on harassing debtors, but in general contacting you to get the money, many times, as long as not "unreasonable", is not going to be harassment.

    4. Harrassment is "the offence in England of using threatening or abusive or insulting words within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be harassed thereby". So an action that "victim" is unaware of cannot be harrassment.

      If someone publishes damaging untruths about another person then that's potentially defamation.

    5. Good point - there are other measures such as defamation for the scenario you suggest Bored Student Tech

    6. Section 7 of Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - paragraph 5

      "References to a person, in the context of the harassment of a person, are references to a person who is an individual."

      So - a nice expensive, pay all the costs into the court up front, civil case for defamation is the route a company would have to take, as they cant according to statute, be harassed.

    7. Arguably, blocking isn't enough to avoid harassment - there is no guarantee that I see the service from my accounts alone (e.g. noticing something targeted at me when I glance at my wife's screen, or a co-worker's screen, or someone's service that grabs public postings and shows them). So, while I may no longer get notified of them on my devices, unless you restrict your postings to a closed group that knows not to show the postings to me, you could still be harassing me.

  6. OK so repeatedly tweeting something might be harassment and/or defamation. But:

    (1) if blocked, the person is unaware, so not harassment, and:

    (2) assuming the content is true, then not defamation either.

  7. I don't think that blocking is a satisfactory defence for any kind of serious harassment on social networking.

    It is very easy for you, as an affluent white male, to say whatever you like online and get by with minimal friction. It isn't the case for everyone. I would suggest that thinking blocking is anywhere near a decent defence is an example of privilege.

    If you are the subject of a concerted social media harassment campaign the harassers will not care if you block them (and will quite likely do something like screenshot it and post it as further evidence to their cohorts of how you are unreasonable and must be punished).

    The harassers will be seeking to whip up outrage against the target, in the hope that others will pile on, and that upsetting messages will be seen by the nearest and dearest of the target.

    I am not suggesting that saying mean things about someone online should be illegal, nor am I suggesting that everyone is responsible for what random other persons ("the mob") do in response to things they have posted online. I'm just saying that it's naive to think that blocking and ignoring is always going to provide a satisfactory defence against others' upsetting online behaviour.