Campaigners issue legal warning over peer’s ‘disgrace’ comments


Disabled activists were forced to threaten a peer with legal action after she attacked their campaigning efforts as “a disgrace” on a high-profile website.

Black Triangle campaigns against the unfair use of the government’s work capability assessment to reclassify disabled people as “fit for work”, and has played a major role in raising awareness of concerns about Atos Healthcare, the company paid to carry out the tests for the government.

But in a posting on the website Lords of the Blog – run by the Hansard Society – the crossbench peer Baroness Murphy described the grassroots campaign as “nasty and inaccurate tosh” and said she was “surprised that people should be taken in by it”.

She also wrote that Black Triangle’s “campaign to frighten people with disabilities” was “a disgrace”.

The website features regular blogs by members of the House of Lords, such as the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.

Furious members of the Black Triangle campaign emailed the site to warn Baroness Murphy, a former professor of older people’s psychiatry, that her comments were “libellous” and “inaccurate”.

They also asked the Hansard Society – a political research and education charity – to post a reply warning of possible legal action over the remarks, which it refused to do.

A spokeswoman for the charity said it was “investigating” Black Triangle’s complaint, although Baroness Murphy’s comments appear to have since been removed from the site.

Black Triangle will now write to Baroness Murphy, with backing from other disabled activists, to ask her for a face-to-face meeting.

In their letter, they say: “You may find some of the comments and posts on the BT website and Facebook page make uncomfortable reading but we can assure you that Black Triangle has gained a well-deserved reputation amongst disabled people for honesty and ‘telling it like it is’.

“Dissent from ‘mainstream’ opinion is not yet a crime and Black Triangle is a valued voice of a cohort of disabled people which is seldom heard by politicians, who prefer to listen to people like themselves.”

They say they are “dismayed” that she does “not appear to understand the depths of justified anxiety being experienced already by disabled people”.

The letter says: “We find it extremely disappointing that you have used your position to attack Black Triangle without any evidence to support your assertions that it is deliberately frightening disabled people for some unspecified but presumably sinister reason.”

Baroness Murphy told Disability News Service that she would be “delighted” to meet Black Triangle, but she refused to withdraw the remarks she had made about the campaign’s website.

She said: “Of course they are allowed to say whatever they like. Undoubtedly there are problems which are legitimate concerns to raise, so I would be delighted to meet them.”

She was unable to point to any particular remarks on the Black Triangle site that she objected to, but she said she did not like the “way the website is presented” and the “over-the-top” way they describe some politicians.

She said: “They talk about people as if they are not human and yet they are saying they are treated themselves as if they are not human.”

6 October 2011


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