Monthly Archives: April 2015

Savile and Surrey Police

Surrey Police’s report that Jimmy Savile carried out 46 sexual assaults on 22 pupils and one visitor to Duncroft approved school in Staines makes truly appalling reading.

But, as always, I will focus on the language used when the report was announced – and draw your attention to sections where the passive is used instead of the active – the gaps that appear when you turn the sentences into active ones are always interesting.

Publishing the report, Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Cundy said: “The Outreach investigation was launched to ascertain the level of offending at Duncroft school, to look at the knowledge of staff and, in conjunction with the CPS, to determine if any criminal charges should be brought.

“In January 2013, when the force published its report into the original investigation at Duncroft (Operation Ornament), we identified several key failings. These included that the focus on a specific time period between 1977 and 1979 was too narrow and the decision not to interview staff at that time should have been reviewed.

“As today’s report shows, extensive investigative work has since been carried out to review all material available from Mind and Barnardos, who each managed the school for a period between 1974 and 1979, as well as speaking to former members of staff. In total, 44 statements have now been taken, 300 officer reports submitted and 166 former pupils contacted in relation to this enquiry.

“Inquiries in the original 2007-09 investigation pre-dated much of what we now know about Savile and his pattern of abuse. The force has always accepted there are things which should have been done differently in Operation Ornament and these were highlighted in the report published by Surrey police in 2013.

“I thank all those who came forward during the course of the Outreach investigation as it is only with their support that a large number of other offences by Savile at Duncroft have been uncovered.”

I find it very hard to assess his statement as so much of it is in the passive – is there something to hide or is he just incapable of using a sentence with a subject, verb and object. At the very least, those who drafted his statement make him sound really weird and unconvincing.

Lets take a couple of paragraphs.

First, the second sentence in this one.

“In January 2013, when the force published its report into the original investigation at Duncroft (Operation Ornament), we identified several key failings. These included that the focus on a specific time period between 1977 and 1979 was too narrow and the decision not to interview staff at that time should have been reviewed.

The second sentence is a series of verbal contortions. This enables Cundy to avoid saying who took the decision to focus on 1997-99, who took the decision not to interview staff and who failed to review that decision.

Is this a case of a police officer talking – well – like a police officer or a classic case of shifting the responsibility to an ill-defined process and ensuring no individual is identified in the statement. I leave that to you to decide.

Then there is the second sentence in this paragraph.

“Inquiries in the original 2007-09 investigation pre-dated much of what we now know about Savile and his pattern of abuse. The force has always accepted there are things which should have been done differently in Operation Ornament and these were highlighted in the report published by Surrey police in 2013.”

“Things which should have been done differently” – again the use of the passive. A natural phrasing would have been to identify who should have done things differently and who at a senior level was responsible for this failure.

Again I leave it to you to decide whether you find his use of language natural or evasive.

However, since Cundy mentions the 2013 investigation, I thought it worthwhile to go back to that report. And if you think today’s statement is overburdened with the passive, you should read what what Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby uses then.

http://www.surrey.police.uk/News/News-Stories/Full-news-story/article/2943/report-published-by-surrey-police-into-its-investigation-of-jimmy-savile

I suggest you read it. For now, I will mention a couple of pars, which show that, as is so often the case, it is processes that are blamed not individuals – and mirrors the comments made today

Kirkby said: “I agree with the Director of Public Prosecutions that the officers involved were experienced and committed individuals who acted in good faith by seeking to work within national guidelines.

“The internal review has identified a number of learning points which will influence the way future reports of historical abuse cases are dealt with in Surrey.”

So my advice is this: every time you see a passive, turn it round and ask who might have been the subject if there had been an active verb.

The deceptions of media policies – Janner, the Met and many more

I had not really wanted to return to Lord Janner, Alison Saunders and the Met for a few days.

But the combination of a lack of other relevant topics today and an interesting article in yesterday’s Times has lured me back into the subject – and led me to think that there is another area of evasion that is worth pursuing.

This is the corporate concept – which I am certain can only grow – of having a “media policy.”

The Times article reports accusations that Special Branch files on Lord Janner were destroyed more than a decade ago. I leave it to those with more expertise on this issue, to assess the claims.

I was intrigued by a comment in the last par of the story which said:”The Met (Metropolitan Police – London’s police force) said last night that its media policies prevented it from discussing a named individual.”

Assuming this to be a correct report, and interested that there was such a thing a media policy, I looked it up on the Met’s website. Sure enough there is one: http://www.met.police.uk/foi/pdfs/policies/media_policy_2014.pdf

The statement is pretty vague but at no point that I can see does the policy (as opposed to any legal restraints there might or might not be) ban discussion of a named individual. Indeed the words “named individual” don’t appear in this document.

The most relevant paragraphs are:

“MPS officers and staff should be as open and transparent as possible about all policing activity whilst ensuring operations, investigations, prosecutions, tactics and techniques, and the safety and security of the public are not compromised by the release of information.

We should protect any personal and confidential information we hold, including information about victims, witnesses, and suspects. We should release only that which is approved at the appropriate level as being necessary for a bona-fide policing purpose, including the maintenance of public confidence.”

That is so vaguely phrased that it can be used to justify almost any decision to discuss or not discuss something. However, it would seem to me that the “maintenance of public confidence” could well be an argument for talking about the Janner case.

I am going to look out for other corporations that are adopting media policies.

But to start with here is the one used by the Crown Prosecution Service, the official prosecutors in England and Wales. It has a statement on its website called: “Publicity and the Criminal Justice System; Protocol for working together: Chief Police Officers, Chief Crown Prosecutors and the Media.”

It is worth reading though it probably wont leave you much wiser about what they will actually say to the media.  http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/agencies/mediaprotocol.html

A more appropriate summary of the policy might be: If you win, say how brilliant you all are; if you lose, issue a statement saying it was someone else’s fault.

I am not going to say here whether the Met was right to remain silent about Janner – or whether companies should have media policies.

But I do want to warn you not to be seduced into acquiescence by those little phrases used to justify evading the subject. Phrases such as “media policy,” “reviewing our procedures,” “research proves,” “independent experts say”, “legal advice” “confidentiality agreement.”

It is all too easy to accept corporate speak like this without challenge.

Instead, check it out. Is it really media policy? Who is responsible for the procedures that have failed? Does the research really prove anything and is it really independent? Is that legal advice as rigid as they suggest and is the confidentiality agreement legitimate?

Its the only way to ensure that those in power are not evading and avoiding the questions they are being legitimately asked.

.

Passing the buck on Lord Janner?

Another weekend – and yet more evasion and obfuscation from most of those who could/should have been involved in bringing Lord Janner to trial on charges of child sex abuse.

I have already examined the language used by Alison Saunders, who is in charge of the English and Welsh prosecution service (CPS) https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/the-evasive-language-of-alison-saunders/

https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/the-evasions-of-alison-saunders-continued/

But now more people are coming out of the woodwork; and the language used by those involved is revealing – this doesn’t of course prove who is telling the truth but it is interesting that some involved are keen to speak clearly while others are not.

I am grateful to The Sunday Times, which spoke to three crown prosecutors who were among those accused of missing chances to bring Janner to court.

Kate Carty said: “I have no knowledge of it… I am not able to comment further.” Martin Howard was “aware” of an investigation into Janner but said that the police “never spoke to me about it, or referred anything direct to me.” Janet Meek said that “the decision not to prosecute was not taken by me” and cited the Official Secrets Act as a reason not to discuss the case.

Carty: “I have no knowledge of it” – these are the words of a person being excessively defensive in their use of language – it leaves a nice escape route if something else emerges.

Howard: “referred anything direct” – of course that leaves him a let out if something was “indirect.” Again the structure of words seems strange and defensive.

Meek: Her use of the Official Secrets Act. Well, I am not a lawyer but the Sunday Times found a CPS prosecutor who doubted if this was an appropriate use of the Act.

Then there is her use of multiple nots and particularly her use of the passive in saying that “the decision not to prosecute was not taken by me.” Interestingly this suggests that a decision not to prosecute was taken by someone. And it is intriguing that she hides herself at the end of the sentence rather than saying: “I did not take….” – this is the natural way to formulate a sentence.

The way the prosecutors speak is a contrast to the language of those on the other side of the argument. Former detective Kelvyn Ashby said that he was not allowed to arrest an MP. His words are clear and precise and use natural forms of the English sentence construction

The same applies to Peter Wanless’s letter to Saunders and the comments of the Labour MP Simon Danczuk as they added to the pressure for more information to be released about who was responsible for the decision not to prosecute Janner.

I know which evidence I would find more compelling if I was sitting in the jury.

As the Daily Mail so aptly put it on Saturday: “Janner: The stench grows.”

The evasions of Alison Saunders (continued)

More evasion.

That has been the response of the Crown Prosecution Service (the presecution authority in England and Wales) to the latest onslaught on its boss Alison Saunders (Law chief faces new onslaught on Janner, as The Times put it). She has decided not to prosecute the former Labour MP Lord Janner over paedophile allegations.

You can find my thoughts on the language used in Saunders’s first response to criticism of her initial decision  https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/the-evasive-language-of-alison-saunders/

Look now at how her spokesman reacts to a critical letter sent by an all-party group of MPs.http://news.sky.com/story/1469725/letter-urges-prosecution-against-lord-janner

“The DPP (Saunders) was not unduly influenced by anyone when making this decision. As head of the CPS – an independent prosecuting authority – the DPP is used to making difficult decisions and will continue to do so independently.

“The DPP understands concern over inaction against those in positions of power in the past, which is why she has recognised our past failings and initiated an independent review of previous handling of the case.”

First lets look at the phrase: “The DPP (Saunders) was not unduly influenced by anyone…..”

Note the use of the passive which makes it possible to evade identifying who has done the influencing – the phrasing is clever as it initially has you nodding in comfortable agreement.

Then you notice that the stement says “unduly influenced.” In this particular case the DPP should state who has “influenced” Saunders’s decision, rather than cower behind the passive – I find it interesting that the DPP is admitting that she can be influenced but does not feel the need to say who has done the influencing.

Then there is the use of the extraordinary word “unduly,” which means either “without cause or justification,” or “unrightfully, undeservedly” or “to excess, beyond the due degree.” Those words imply a very extreme degree of behaviour and allows an enormous scope for what could be deemed “due” influence.

In other words the phrasing reveals nothing. Look at the gaps that are revealed when you use an active verb and meaningful adverbs.

“???? tried to influence the DPP by stating ABCD to her.” So her spokesman is hiding more than he is stating by using the passive.

Then there is a phrase about “difficult decisions.” Of course she gets the difficult decisions – that is her job. I dont need to be told that again.

Then lets move on to the phrase “understands the concern…” This means absolutely nothing – understanding does not mean agreeing with or accepting – though that is the impression she has tried to leave in earlier statements.

And finally, the CPS has done what so many powerful organisations do – order an investigation into what happened in the past for which the current leadership is not responsible.

This is meaningless to. She was being asked to respond to criticism of her own behaviour – not what was done in the past.

I am not going to guess the intent behind the way Saunders and her team use langauge. I am though certain that the effect of their phrasing is to make them sound less than convincing and extremely evasive. If I was in a jury and heard or read sentences structured like this from a legal professional, I would simply not believe them.

Why dont lawyers and the police speak like normal people?

Not long after pointing out the inadequacies (intenational or otherwise) of Alison Saunders’s grasp of the English language, I came on a new example of the way lawyers and police makes themselves sound totally implausible.

A woman was charged over her role in a row over a garden fence. The case (the details don’t really matter) was thrown out after 15 minutes. Yet the police and Crown Prosecution Service went into the most extraordinary verbal contortions to defend their actions.

I hope you find them as unconvincing as I did.

Defending the decision to pursue the case, a CPS spokesman said: “The allegation was that the damage to the tree went well beyond pruning and that it had been hacked back to little more than a stump. The compliant was the result of an ongoing and acrimonious dispute between the neighbours.

“A caution was not available as no admissions to the offending were made and so the police took the decision to charge.”

Note the tedious obsessive use of the passive. This makes the comments sound defensive and evasive – they would have been so much clearer and sounded honest if they had been delivered in sentences with subjects, verbs and objects.

And the South Yorkshire police were no better. A spokesman said about the case:  “A thorough investigation was conducted that resulted in a woman being charged and brought before the courts.”

Why couldn’t he just say: “We investigated the incident thoroughly, decided to charge Ms Gaynor (the woman involved) and the CPS brought the case before the courts.”

Why do lawyers and the police so often use language that makes them sound so defensive and which suggests they have something to hide.me

The evasive language of Alison Saunders

Have you noticed how Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions – head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the government prosecutors in England and Wales – resorts to the passive and sentences starting with “it” when she is under pressure?

She has done this recently in statements put out by her office when there is bad news to respond to.

I know that lawyers, more than most, have a tendency to cower behind the passive sense when it suits them.

I am not  certain whether this is instinctive, a planned tendency to evade making a direct comment – or just because they have the same illiteracy levels as other trades (including journalism).

I find it particularly hard to assess the CPS because, if my memory is correct, commenting  every five seconds is relatively new. In the past they said nothing at all; now, when it suits them, they say as little as possible at great length.

Look at their website and pick some examples (www.cps.gov.uk).

Saunders herself was very keen to associate herself with the decision to conuslt on how to give greater assistance to those giving evidence in court. Her statement used the active a lot – and sentences had subjects.

Look too at the positive language of Anamarie Coomansingh, Senior District Crown Prosecutor from West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service’s Complex Casework Unit, after the successful prosecution of child abuser Simon Harris.

“When he was no longer able to teach as a result of his abuse of young victims in Devon, he turned his attention to Kenya where he set up a charity to work with children. Many of these boys in Kenya were illiterate, homeless and extremely vulnerable. Aware of these facts, he callously took advantage of their circumstances and their surroundings to sexually abuse them.

So you see CPS lawyers can be positive when they have a victory.

But look what happens when they are on the defensive. One example is the de Freitas case – http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/09/police-eleanor-de-freitas-rape-complaint-perverting-course-justice – for the full details.

Saunders was keen to say this “was one of the most difficult I have seen,” as she did when questioned on assisted suicide. She said:  “This is, of course, an emotive subject on which many hold strong views and these cases present difficult and complex decisions for prosecutors. Each case must be considered on its own facts and merits and prosecutors must weigh each public interest factor depending on the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment.”

Surely she was appointed became DPP was because she had the capacity to take the difficult decisions, not to tell us they were difficult.

And note how, in the last two sentences, those who have to take the decisions are put well down the sentences rather than in their natural position at the start.

And so to this week; it has not been a good one for Saunders or the CPS. The media are damning their decisions on operation Elveden (journalists accused of making illegal payments to public officials) and her decision not to prosecute the alleged paedophile Lord Janner.

Lawyers tend to use a lot more words than real people. Saunders is far from concise in her statement justifying the decision to drop the Operation Elvedon prosecutions.

For example (and remember this is a considered statement), she wrote:

“In these circumstances the police inquiry was inevitable as was the subsequent duty on prosecutors to decide if the evidence was sufficient to prosecute. The CPS made every effort to provide advice on charges as quickly as possible, and the majority of the decisions made by the CPS in relation to these cases were completed within three months of a file being received from the Metropolitan Police.”

She could have said (you can drop the “In these circumstances” because it is blindingly obvious – and I have not even tried to put in active verbs). And of course, if you are providing advice “as quickly as possible” it is obvious you are making every effort. She also say “in relation to these cases” – what other cases could she be talking about.

She could have said:

“The police inquiry was inevitable and prosecutors had a duty to decide if the evidence justified a prosecution. The CPS advised on charges as quickly as possible and took most decisions on prosecution within three months of receiving a Metropolitan Police file.”

Without even thinking it is possible to cut 20% off one paragraph.  Saunders clearly does not believe in the clarity that comes from brevity.

And then there is the Janner case. Her extremely long statement used more words than necessary. Just a tweak of the grammar would have delivered much greater clarity.

Note too how she does not name the individuals responsible for failing to prosecute Janner in 1991, 2002 and 2007.

Take this paragraph.

“In relation to the other three previous investigations, the CPS also now considers that the evidential test was passed. It follows that the CPS judges that mistakes were made in the decision making at the time by both the Leicestershire police in 2002 and the CPS in 1991 and 2007. Lord Janner should have been prosecuted in relation to those complaints.

This is a wonderful phrase; “mistakes were made in the decision making at the time.” Mistakes dont make themselves – someone makes mistakes. “Decision making” is gloriously vague – it doesn’t say where the buck stopped – a typical bureaucrat’s approach to blame a process rather than an individual.

Let’s look at another sentence: “It is a matter of deep regret that the decisions in relation to the previous investigations were as they were.”

She starts with “it is a matter of deep regret.” Why cant she just say “I regret” rather depersonalising it. “Decisions in relation to the previous investingations” – all the words except the first one were unnecessary. “The decisions… were as they were.”Perish the thought that they should say the word “wrong” even though that was the clear implication of her statement. Nor does she state specifically who took those decisions.

Why cant she just say; “I regret the fact that the CPS and Metropolitan Police took decisions that I believe to be wrong.”

She does indeed get to use the “wrong” word  when she says it is “of obvious and particular concern that such proceedings did not take place as a result of what the CPS now consider to be wrong decisions.”

Firstly, if something is obvious, you dont need to state it is obvious.

Secondly there is no specific link to individuals – you can work it out of course (institutions if not people) but why not state what has happened in a straightforward way.

I would though make this point.

The modern fashion is for CPS lawyers to appear in public – and their presentation is often superb.

But they need proper media training to make the contents of what they say more credible when they are explaining a loss or a setback.

The legal trade shies away from clarity and brevity when this happens. That may be fine in the courts but not in the real world – and when they talk in this way, they seem as credible as a dodgy witness.

The evasions of Clydesdale Bank

The good news is that Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks have been fined £21 million because some of its staff falsified documents to avoid compensating victims who were mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) – the two banks are part of the same group and owned by National Australia Bank.

But, far from showing clear contrition, Clydesdale Bank in the form of its acting chief executive Debbie Crosbie, resorted to the worst uses of evasive language I have seen – and I seen quite a lot. And it contrasts so vividly with the clarity of the statement from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Intentionally or not, Ms Crosbie’s statement gives the impression she has something to hide.

Responding to the announcement of the fine, she said: “We deeply regret any instance which led to the Financial Ombudsman Service receiving incorrect or incomplete information from us. These practices were not authorised or condoned by the bank. As soon as this issue was discovered, we took immediate steps to to stop it; we made the regulator aware and rapidly introduced strict new monitoring procedures.”

Contrast  this with the words of Georgina Philippou of the FCA; “Clydesdale’s failings were unacceptable and fell well below the standard the FCA expects.”

Lets go through it step by step.

1. The statement starts of with the word “we.” Is this the board, the management, everyone at the bank – or perhaps Crosbie has delusions of royalty.

2. Cosbie only regrets any “instance.” Unfortunately instances cant lead to anything – it is the actions of people – and the FCA are clear that it is the failure of the institution.

3. Note the use of the passive in the second half of Crosbie’s first sentence. “….led to the Financial Ombudsman Service receiving incorrect or incomplete information from us.” It is surely not about the ombudsman receiving this information but someone sending it.

So the first instance in its entirety is a non-apology in that it is an apology for instances which result in someone receiving wrong information. It is utterly meaningless and valueless.

4. The second sentence says that the practices were not condoned by the banks. “Practices” – what a wonderful word to use to describe what the FCA regards as “unacceptable failings.” And look at the way the way she slips into the passive – always a sign for the reader to be on the alert.

5. And note that she says these practices were not condoned by the banks – again that means nothing given the nature of the allegations – does she mean the board, senior management – down to what level of management is she referring to. Again that is an utterly meaningless statement.

6. Then we move on to: “as soon as this issue was discovered.” Yet another example of the contortions she has gone through to avoid using the word “failings.” We have already had “instances” and “practices” and now we have “issue” – her advisers must have spent hours over their Thesaurus to find ways to replace the words “inappropriate policy.”

7. Then she reverts to the use of “we” – again without saying who “we” is. But she – or we – are much keener to be associated with actions taken to deal with the “inappropriate policy” identified by the FCA. They may indeed have taken these actions – all I would point out is that it is a classic defence for organisations that are heavily criticised to say that they have anticipated the report and already taken action to rectify the situation (see almost all of my earlier blogs).

8. And finally there is the reference to the introduction of “new monitoring procedures.” A wonderful word – procedures. It again takes the responsibility away from any individual. Crosbie does not for example say who was responsible for the clearly inadequate old procedures – and who was ultimately responsible for the bank operating to the correct procedures.

So we have 50 words, which contain just about every evasion and avoidance tactic. I cannot understand how anyone would draft a statement that makes their own institution look so deceitful.

David Smith and neutral commentators

David Smith, the excellent Economis Editor of the Sunday Times, has resolved a problem that I have become increasingly worried about – some might say obsessed with.

That is the way the BBC describes some consultancies/think tanks etc as “independent” while calling others “right-leaning” or “left-leaning.” https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/just-who-does-the-bbc-sanctify-with-the-description-independent/

The BBC, probably through editorial laziness, is using the wrong word when it describes some organisations as “independent.” It is perfectly possible to be both left-leaning and independent or right leaning and independent – indeed every think tank or research organisation whose website I read uses the word independent to describe itself.

It is not easy to find a word to define organisations like the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) or the Intergenerational Foundation which are critical from a centrist position of the approaches of the major political parties. But in sanctifying them as independent, the BBC has simply used the wrong word.

First,  it has created a distorted effect. The use of “independent” gives a greater credibility and authority to an organisation’s commentary. That might be fine for the IFS, but I dont think that all organisations called “independent” deserve the accolade.

And secondly it is an incorrect use of language because the centre position between left and right wing is not independent.

I have no doubt that bodies from across the spectrum like the IFS, Intergenerational Foundation, The Adam Smith  Institute and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research are equally independent.

So how should bodies like the BBC describe organisations like the IFS. My first thought was “centrist” but that wasn’t strictly accurate either.

Then yesterday I read David Smith’s excellent commentary http://www.economicsuk.com/blog/002089.html

In it he refers to two economic commentators as “neutral” – and I suddenly realised he had solved the problem. This is to me the perfect word to describe those organisations that don’t come down on one side or other of an argument or whose analysis is driven by ideology.

If for example the BBC were to talk of the neutral IFS, it would convey the correct message about their position in the political debate without suggesting that many of the other commentators lacked independence.

I doubt if the BBC will change – but they can no longer claim that “independent” is the only real choice.

Just who does the BBC sanctify with the description “independent?”

As the election campaign meanders on I am becoming ever more intrigued at how some organisations receive a sort of papal blessing from the BBC that declares they are “independent.”

The latest organisation to receive this sacred status was The Intergenerational Foundation which was described in this way on the 6 O’Clock News on Radio 4.

I wrote about my concern at the usse of the word independent in a blog a couple of days ago and particularly the way in which some organisations from both the left and right were being denied this status – https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/the-fraud-of-independent-research/

In particular I was nervous about the way media outlets like the BBC use the word.. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has almost achieved saintly status in the eyes of the BBC. It is always referred to as “independent” where other think tanks are referred to as left-leaning or right leaning.

This is pure laziness on the behalf of the BBC. Just because it is equally critical of Tory and Labour policies does not make it more independent than other think tanks – equally just because a think tank criticises from the right or left does not make it less independent.

Indeed, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (left-leaning) or the Adam Smith Institute (right-leaning), both use the word “independent” to describe themselves – and I have no doubt that they are both as independent as the IFS. The BBC needs to find a better word for the IFS.

It is not for me to say whether The Intergenerational Foundation lives up to its blessing from the BBC. That is up to you – I suggest going to their website (www.if.org.uk) look at the people on their advisory board and the sort of research they produce. Then make your own conclusion as to what sort of agenda they have.

I can only repeat my earlier advice. Dont take the word of the BBC – or any media organisation for that matter – when they describe an organisation as independent. Instead, check it out yourself. And whenever anyone claims the backing of independent research or presents someone as independent on the media, be deeply sceptical about what they say.

The fraud of “independent” research?

Jolyon Maugham is the latest person to be described as an “independent expert” and turn out to be nothing of the kind. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls used his endorsement to justify their policy of abolishing “non-dom” status – yet it transpired that Maugham is a Labour party supporter who advised the party on its plans. So its hardly a surprise he agrees with them.

This is far from an isolated incident – and the Labour party is far from the only culprit. All political parties and many businesses like to claim the support of “independent” research, which does not always turn out to be as independent as it appears.

Every think tank and consultant likes to put the word “independent” in the first parargraph of their corporate profiles, whether they are or not.

And broadcasters like to attach the word to any organisation that appears to be in the centre of any particular debate, and they use the word in a really careless way.

Why do all these organisations do this – and why should we be deeply distrustful every time we hear the word.

What does this word mean. Probably as good a definition as any is: “free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority.”

So it is a particularly attractive word for those groups we instinctively don’t trust – politicians, bankers, gas and electricity companies, anyone selling anything and bureaucrats to name but a few. It carries with it the implication: “While you may not trust me, you can trust these other experts because their analysis is untainted by any political or commercial agenda.”

Thus Balls and Miliband will embrace Maugham – and the chancellor Goerge Osborne has done little but attribute the word “independent” to the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which he created after the last election.

I dont for one minute doubt the independence of the OBR – but just because politicians are using a trustworthy source, it doesn’t mean we should trust the information they cherry pick from the reports.

And the same applies to commercial organisations – I go into their misuse of the word “independent” in an earlier blog https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/the-secret-allies/  so I wont go over those arguments again. It is enough to say here that there is plenty of evidence that they behave in just as duplicitous a way as the politicians.

The reverence for the word indepdent extends to the media and the research organisations themselves – just google in the words “independent research” if you doubt me.

I am particularly nervous about the way media outlets like the BBC use the word.. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has almost achieved saintly status in the eyes of the BBC. It is always referred to as “independent” where other think tanks are referred to as left-leaning or right leaning.

This is pure laziness on the behalf of the BBC. Just because it is equally critical of Tory and Labour policies does not make it more independent than other think tanks – equally just because a think tank criticises from the right or left does not make it less independent.

Indeed, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (left-leaning) or the Adam Smith Institute (right-leaning), both use the word “independent” to describe themselves – and I have no doubt that they are both as independent as the IFS. The BBC needs to find a better word for the IFS.

Finally, there is the dodgiest of the dodgy sentences; “We commissioned independent research…” As if that would give the research extra credibility.

It doesn’t. You have to ask why that research was commissioned – odd how it always seems to confirm the views of those who commission it. And I remain forever sceptical at the thought that a think tank or research organisation can remain totally free from pressure from those who commission a politically or commercially significant report.

For example, I would have been profoundly surprised if this week’s survey of family doctors, carried out by ICM and commissioned by the British Medical Association, had revealed great enthusiasm for the government’s plan for seven-day surgery opening.

Moreove, if anyone doubts, how easy it is to lead people to a particularly conclusion, watch this wonderful tape from Yes Prime Minister.

My advice is this; whenever anyone claims the backing of independent research or presents someone as independent on the media, be deeply sceptical about what they say.