Dancing to the Tune of Neo Nazis

mark lewis 3
Just one of the many offensive tweets sent to Mark Lewis………………..

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Today (26 November) the disciplinary hearing of Mark Lewis (ML) ended. His punishment was a fine of £2,500 and costs of £10,000. I attended the hearing today and Friday (but not on the first day, Thursday).

ML was alleged to have breached the following principles of the Solicitors’ Code of Practice

  • Principle 2: act with integrity;
  • Principle 6: behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services.

There were two alleged offences. The first (#1) was that on 26 May 2017 ML posted two profane comments on Facebook. The second (#2) was that in 2015-16 he responded offensively over around 18 months to the neo-Nazis on Twitter (including telling Alison Chabloz that she should die). It must have been the neo-Nazis such as Chabloz and Jason Schumann who brought this second complaint. How appalling that the SRA and the Tribunal both dance unquestioning to the tune of neo-Nazis!

ML’s defence to #1 was that he is being treated for Multiple Sclerosis which causes claustrophobia. His stem cell trial treatment includes monitoring by MRI scans (which require one to pass through a ‘tunnel’ in the MRI machine, a tunnel barely wider than the human body).  So he needs strong tranquillisers (clonazepam – which he described as a ‘horse tranquilliser’). He wrote the comment on Facebook while he was in bed after an MRI treatment and not ‘compos mentis’, still under the influence of the drug. As soon as he realised what he had done, he deleted the comment and attempted to apologise profusely. (The papers included a medical report from a Professor called Dr Joseph). But the person (‘X’) he offended is not a Facebook ‘friend’ of ML and ML thought he had no way of contacting him to apologise. X’s father sent ML’s comment to Private Eye. They didn’t publish anything but a journalist phoned ML and he tried to route the apology through her.

The advocate (Rupert Allen) for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) gave no indication that he appreciated the Twitter abuse which ML suffered.  He said that ML didn’t have to respond to his abusers, he could have blocked them or reported them – or he could have left Twitter altogether. ML’s response was impassioned but dignified. Blocking them was like “closing the curtains when there is a baying mob outside wanting to kill you”.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness.  If you report them to Twitter, they just return under a new name. He had reported them to the police as well. Why should he leave Twitter? – That is the response of a weak Jew, the response which has led to pogroms and death camps in the past. He did not “run away from Nazis”.  His responses (he said) were mild compared to the abuse he was getting. Not responding is “the route to the gas chamber”. Two of his abusers have been convicted (John Nimmo and Alison Chabloz).  At his office ML is on the police ‘red alert’ list. The police have warned him to vary the time of his departure. His office has had to install additional security. If there is trouble the police would be with him in four minutes. There are people who want to kill him. He wanted to give out the message that ‘I might be a solicitor and I might be Jewish but I’m not scared of you – I will fight you back as strongly as you’re fighting me’.  He said to Rupert Allen “You can’t understand the experience of being attacked by someone who wants to kill you. You don’t know what people thought or did.” He wanted to use “shock tactics”. Rupert Allen responded that the tweets ML had sent to his abusers did not stop them. ML said that on the contrary, it had had some effect; the SRA had not seen all the conversations. If the SRA wanted to know the effect it needed to interview those who had made the threats to ML.

On 24 August 2017, the SRA issued a ‘warning notice’ to all solicitors about social media use. As a result, ML stopped responding to his abusers. Rupert Allen (or it may have been J Colin Chesterton, the Tribunal Chair) asked ML if he accepted the new code of conduct. ML said he did but that professional obligations are not the same as personal feelings. After receiving the warning ML had emailed the SRA saying “I don’t take one word back. I’d rather be struck off than apologise to a Nazi”.   Rupert Allen said that this indicated that ML did not respect the new code of conduct. ML responded that it did not indicate that – it indicated that he did not apologise for his tweets to the neo-Nazis before the SRA warning had been issued (“Before I would have been running away as a coward, now I am running away because my profession has told me to do so”). ML said he had spoken to a man at the SRA and had explained the nature of the abuse and that the man said that his responses were perfectly justified.

Timothy Kendal summed up on ML’s behalf. He began by quoting from a previous professional standards case (‘Wingate’). ‘Integrity’ is a broader concept than honesty. It’s more nebulous, less easy to define. But the duty of ‘integrity’ does not require professionals to be ‘paragons of virtue’. One should not set unreasonably high standards. As a result of the News of the World phone hacking case, ML became “a lightning rod for the antisemites”. ML had received thousands of abusive tweets but had only responded to around ten of them (“He has shown enormous restraint”). He said that the despicable war by some on the far Right against ML has been “protracted, disgusting, life-threatening, unacceptable by any standards….”.  As regards offence #1, he questioned whether ML’s actions had in any way endangered the ‘provision of legal services’ (Principle 2, see above). And if the public knew that ML was not compos mentis when he sent the offensive message, surely they would not question his ability as a lawyer. And as regards offence #2, in 2015 and 2016 there were no professional standards for responding to this kind of attack, there was no guidance.

On Monday (today) the Chair announced the Tribunal’s decision. On offence #1 they found that Principle 6 had been breached but not Principle 2; on offence #2 they found that both Principles had been breached.

Tim Kendall then spoke in mitigation. He read out a letter dated 16 October 2018 in support of Mark from the following MPs and members of the House of Lords: Ian Austin, Lord Pannick QC, Baroness Deech, Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth, Alex Sobel, Louise Ellman, Andrew Percy, Chris Bryant, John Mann and Tom Brake.
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The rather important unanswered questions are these:

1. The SRA knew that Mark Lewis had complied with the August 2017 warning notice and that he had sent a profuse apology to X.  The SRA should also have understood why he nevertheless said he did not regret his messages from before August 2017 when the warning notice was issued. Why then was this three-day hearing necessary? Particularly given that it was presumably neo-Nazis who complained …

2. In what way did ML’s response to antisemites indicate an absence of ‘integrity’ or threaten public confidence in lawyers?   Surely a regulator which threatens to punish professionals who protest against racism is itself lacking in ‘integrity’?  

3. In what way did ML’s social media comments affect his competence as a lawyer?

4. If this had been about a black or Muslim solicitor responding to racism, would there have been a similar hearing?

Postscript: WE ARE ALL MARK LEWIS!

Mark Lewis stood up to racism on behalf of us all. The least we can do is to ensure that he does not suffer financially.  Please donate to this crowd funding campaign and please send this blog and/or the crowdfunding link far and wide:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/standuptoneonazis

Mark and his Partner Mandy Blumenthal are very grateful to all donors.

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Appendix 1  – Just to remind ourselves of the words of a song by one of the group of neo-Nazis who plagued Mark Lewis

Here are the words of (((Survivors))) by Alison Chabloz:

Hello everybody … Thanks for tuning in … New demo … It’s called “Survivors” … With three sets of brackets around it … “

My name is Irene Zisblatt and I come from Hungary
Can you believe what evil Nazi bastards did to me
They gassed me once, they gassed me twice
But escape I did
Over the electric fence
Landed on the train

I saw them taking babies and then tearing them in two
And creepy Dr Mengele he removed my tattoo
They tried to turn my brown eyes blue
Make lampshades from my skin
For months I swallowed diamonds
And shat them out again.

(Switches to tune of Hava Nagila)

Come on, my brother
Tell us another
Story for cover
Of tribal gain
Safe in our tower
Now is the hour
Money and power
We have no shame

Let’s cheat and lie on film
No one suspects a thing
Bigger the lie is better for us!
Every fake survivor
Every fake survivor’s laughing
Fake survivors’ tongues are wagging
All us frauds are busy blagging
Spin and yarn there’ll be no gagging
You shall pay
All the way
Every night and day!

My name is Elie Wiesel may I show you my tattoo
[Talks … “Oh … Where’s it gone?”]
I wrote a book for US kids to study while at school
It’s full of nonsense tales of course
What do you all expect?
But it made me very wealthy
As a liar I’m the best

At Auschwitz they burned babies
Though the water table’s high
Fred Leuchter’s work on ditches, well it made me almost cry
Treblinka was a another one
There was no funeral pyre
And I cannot speak Hungarian
But oh boy can I lie

Tell us another
Come on my brother …. [Repeats, see above]

History repeats itself
No limit to our wealth
Thanks to your debt
We’re bleeding you dry
We control your media
Control of your books and TV
With the daily lies we feed you
Suffering victimisation
Sheeple have no realisation
You shall pay
All the way
Until the break of day

My name is Otto Frank and my daughter’s name is Anne
The poor girl died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen camp
She wrote an introduction
To her famous diary
But the rest was penned by Levin
And then publishèd by me

Two thousand and sixteen the copyright came to an end
The Anne Frank Trust decided once again the rules to bend
We truly had no choice although
The whole thing really stank
But the book now has two authors
Yes they’re Anne and Otto Frank.

Tell me another
Come on my brother …. [Repeats, see above]

Bank notes let’s print some more
We love to see you poor
Let’s start a war
Our pockets to line
There is no more doubting
Every nation’s debt is mounting
While the bankers keep on counting
Pension fund has now gone awol
Nothing left upon your table
You must pay
Night and day
Until the end of time

Appendix 2 – The SDT has published the record of the case

The other members of the Tribunal were Mr William Ellerton and Mr Millius Palayiwa(the lay member). Bios can be found in the 2017 SDT Annual Report.

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