When the Despicable Cry Defamation

The ‘facts’ seem pretty clear.  Penelope Dingle died of rectal cancer.  It’s very likely she’d still be alive today if she had taken the advice of her doctors and not a homeopath called Francine Scrayen.

You see, instead of accepting conventional treatment for her cancer, Mrs Dingle accepted Ms Scrayen’s reckless and medically inexpert assurance that she could cure it homeopathically.

And yet, now, Mrs Scrayen has seen fit to issue a legal threat against blogger ‘Dan Buzzard’ for doing little more than echoing the findings of the Coroner’s report into Mrs Dingle’s death.

In his report, the WA Coroner considers contentions that:

  •  Mrs Scrayen was Mrs Dingle’s primary health advisor at the time of her death.
  • Mrs Scrayen was aware that Penelope had been suffering rectal bleeding for approximately 12 months before she recommended a visit to a medical practitioner.
  • Mrs Scrayan assured the deceased that she could cure rectal cancer using homeopathic methods alone and that the deceased would not require surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
  • The homeopath repeatedly assured Mrs Dingle that the treatment was effective (curative) and encouraged her to persist with homeopathic treatment.
  • She discouraged Mrs Dingle from taking pain relief, saying that the relevant medications would interfere with her monitoring of the disease and the effectiveness of the homeopathic treatment.
  • Even when Mrs Dingle was in unspeakable pain as a result of a bowel obstruction, and her life was hanging in the balance, Ms Scrayen tried to dissuade her from having emergency surgery.

It was claimed, says the Coroner,

“that it was only as a result of a graphic description of the circumstances in which the deceased would die within hours given by the registrar at the hospital which caused the deceased to finally agree to surgery in spite of the advice of the homeopath. Unfortunately the cancer by that time spread to her liver, lungs and bones and treatment from time onwards was effectively palliative.”

In her own words, Mrs Scrayen assessed her understanding of medical issues as ‘relatively poor’.

The Coroner found that:

“the number and extent of [Mrs Scrayen's] contacts [with Mrs Dingle] was grossly excessive for any legitimate professional interaction and provided evidence of an increasing unhealthy dependence of the deceased on Mrs Scrayen and her homeopathic remedies and treatments.”

He found that Mrs Scrayen was, indeed, purporting to treat Mrs Dingle for her rectal cancer.

He confirmed that Mrs Scrayen was well aware that Mrs Dingle had been bleeding from the rectum.

Mrs Scrayen’s own notes begin recording bleeding in October 2001 and it is not until November 2002 that she writes the mild comment ‘perhaps see a doctor’. There is no evidence that she pursued that vague thought with Mrs Dingle.

The Coroner believed that Mrs Scrayen’s claim that she had not told Mrs Dingle to avoid conventional treatment, “was entirely inconsistent with the account of the deceased as recorded extensively in her diaries”.  Personal correspondence written by Dingle to Scrayen confirms that Mrs Dingle was firmly of the opinion that Mrs Scrayen opposed conventional treatment.

Indeed, Mrs Dingle later wrote to Mrs Scrayen:

“You told me, however, that I must use the homeopathy alone, or you would be unable to prescribe your treatment accurately. You told me Dr Barnes’s protocol would interfere with the homeopathy, as would the intravenous Vitamin C, I was having. As would painkillers. Even our suggestions of other treatments such as massage, chiropractic, reflexology, herbalists and other protocols to run concurrently etc were rejected by you. You also prescribed the diet I was to follow.

I believed you and cancelled all my other treatments. Unlike you, the other practitioners never said they could cure me.
If you had said homeopathy might give me a cure and it might not, that it was impossible to tell, do you really think I would have risked your protocol? I would not have. I would have considered homeopathy as a support therapy only, as I had originally intended.”

Letter addressed to Mrs Scrayen dated 29 November 2004

The Coroner did not accept Mrs Scrayen’s claim that she was not treating Mrs Dingle for her rectal cancer. Damningly, he added that, he did not generally regard Mrs Scrayen to be ‘a witness of truth’.

Later in his report he repeats this charge:

“I make the observation that having observed Mrs Scrayen give evidence I did not consider her to be a witness of the truth in respect of these matters.”

Despite Mrs Scrayen’s denials, the Coroner accepted the testimonies of numerous witnesses that she had, indeed, tried to discourage Mrs Dingle from agreeing to potentially life-saving surgery.

The Coroner says:

“In my view Mrs Scrayen’s advising against surgery in these circumstances was an outrageous thing to do. Mrs Scrayen had minimal medical knowledge and was giving dangerous advice on matters in respect of which she had no expertise.”

The Coroner accepted that:

“Mrs Scrayen discouraged the deceased from receiving appropriate pain management and that she did tell the deceased that she was imagining much of her very real pain.”

In fact, the Coroner found that in some of her advice, “Mrs Scrayen was not [even] acting in accordance with the Australian Homeopathic Association Code of Professional Conduct”.

Reading the Coroner’s report, he does not appear to have accepted any of Mrs Scrayen’s half-baked denials that she was not responsible (at least in part) for the death of Mrs Dingle.

Recently, it has been announced that Mrs Dingle’s sister is taking civil action against Mrs Scrayen.

Mrs Scrayen and her legal attack dogs appear to have taken issue with two posts of Dan Buzzard’s:

Scammed to Death: How Francine Scrayen Killed Penelope Dingle

and

Homeopath Francine Scrayen in court for the death of ‘her patient’

As a result of these posts, Dan  has been threatened with defamation action if numerous statements made in his posts are not retracted.

Honestly, I have read the coroner’s report and Dan’s posts and as far as I can see every statement to which Mrs Scrayen’s lawyers refer in their letter is borne out by that report. If I were Mrs Scrayen I would not want to have the truth of these statements further tested in a court of law – I seriously doubt she would come out of it any better than she emerged from the Coroner’s report.

There is perhaps, one statement of Dan’s with which I’d take minor issue.  In one post Dan says that Mrs Dingle died “after giving up conventional treatment in favor of the witchcraft that Ms Scrayen sold”.  Obviously ‘witchcraft’ is meant metaphorically and I think it could be strongly argued that readers could reasonably be expected to interpret it in that way. My only comment is that perhaps Dan should have put scare quotes around the word “witchcraft”.

What Mrs Scrayen did to Mrs Dingle was despicable. According to the Coroner, she is a dishonest person of questionable character. Mrs Scrayen’s ego was so overblown that, despite admitting that her medical knowledge was ‘poor’ she took total control of Mrs Dingle when she was at her most vulnerable, treated her with nothing more than sugar pills and bad advice, and actively discouraged her from seeking pain relief or conventional medical care. As a direct result, Mrs Dingle died where, in the absence of Mrs Scrayen and her influence, she would almost certainly have lived.

I believe Mrs Scrayen must know that all of the statements made in Dan Buzzard’s blog posts are well-borne out by the evidence. Yet, she has chosen to compound her misdeeds by trying to hush him up with threats and intimidation.

There is far too much of this going around. We saw the same kind of shameful intimidation recently used by Melinda Tankard-Reist against blogger Jennifer Wilson in the #MTRSues scandal. The Burzynski clinic has used the same tactic to try to silence critics of its shonky cancer treatments.

When ‘The Despicable’ cry, “Defamation!” bloggers are increasingly choosing to stand their ground. Any one of us could be next, and it is imperative that we band together against these attempts to curb our freedom of speech.  Of course, we have a responsibility not to make false accusations against individuals, but in the cases of Dan Buzzard, Jennifer Wilson and Rhys Morgan it seems very clear that the legal threats are designed purely to scare them into silence. It is schoolyard bullying of the worst order.

The best defence is to invoke the ‘Streisand effect’ against this kind of vexatious bullying.

By all means check the facts yourself. But, if you are satisfied that the blogger has reported on an issue truthfully and responsibly and that a defamation threat has been invoked purely for the purpose of restricting their freedom of speech, then spread the word. Those who make vexatious defamation claims should be aware that it’s likely to have an effect quite opposite to what’s intended.

Lawyers might also like to consider that most of us bloggers are so poor we don’t have a pot to piss in, and that financially, suing us is rather pointless exercise.

Have a look at Dan’s posts and make up your own mind.  If you think he’s in the right and he’s being unjustly bullied, use some ‘people power’ and spread the word.

If it comes to legal action against, Dan, I for one will be putting my hand in my pocket to help get him the very best lawyer we can.

Chrys Stevenson

Some brilliant bloggers have suggested that Ms Scrayen and her lawyers should refer to the precedent of Arkell vs Pressdram 1971.   For the edification of my beloved readers, here is the lowdown on the case from Wikipedia.

“An unlikely piece of British legal history occurred in what is now referred to as the “case” of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971). The plaintiff was the subject of an article relating to illicit payments, and the magazine had ample evidence to back up the article. Arkell’s lawyers wrote a letter which concluded: “His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply.”

The magazine’s response was, in full: “We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.”

In the years following, the magazine would refer to this exchange as a euphemism for a blunt and coarse dismissal: for example, “We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram”. As with “tired and emotional” this usage has spread beyond the magazine.

You learn something new every day, don’t you?

7 thoughts on “When the Despicable Cry Defamation

  1. Alison says:

    In 2004 I was ‘bullied’ and ‘threatened’ with legal action so that I closed down and destroyed my personal blog. It involved political comments, literary pieces, descriptions of my area and memories of my childhood and parents.
    All gone.
    Because I got scared, being new to computers, blogging and expressing myself. I was using a blog to ‘practise’ my writing and observation skills.
    All gone.
    I am sorry I got scared but like Chrys said; We don’t have a pot to piss in and our house is all we have to lose. We can’t afford that and living in a tiny village the word would soon spread that I could not be trusted.

    My daughter was working for the PS and had a friend who was in the legal section. She took my blog to the person and he went through it and said I did not defame anyone. I was merely ‘telling the truth’ which the gay couple wanted to keep secret. Well it was the worst kept secret of our town.

    So please do as Chrys suggests….we need NOT to be silenced, we blogger types. We need to have freedom of speech and observation.

    Thank you Chrys for your continuing bravery and writing prowess.

  2. [...] When the Despicable Cry Defamation (thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com) [...]

  3. Dan Buzzard says:

    Alison, I originally started my blog as a way to practice my writing skills. It then evolved into an outlet for expressing my views on Science and Politics. This isn’t the first time people have tried to silence me, but it is the first time someone has tried using Lawyers to do so.

    I feel a moral obligation to defend my views especially when they are based on facts. I am fortunate the Australia has a pretty good court system and reasonable defamation laws. So I am confident that any legal action will only push Homeopathy into the spotlight and show would be bullies that you can’t suppress the truth.

  4. lizditz says:

    As I often do, I am keeping a list of responses at Dan Buzzard Writes the Facts; Homeopath Francine Scrayen Threatens With the Law. I’ve added this post to the list.

  5. [...] well, there’s an excellent post here at Chrys Stevenson’s blog titled When the Despicable cry Defamation. For some balanced [...]

  6. [...] When the Despicable Cry Defamation (thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com) [...]

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