Fred the Shred’s not a B.

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by Paul Kavanagh

There’s something we’re not allowed to call Fred Goodwin.  It begins with the letter B.  Using this term to refer to Mr Goodwin would apparently be a crime so heinous that we’re not even allowed to mention that mentioning it would be a crime.  So you didn’t hear it from me.

It was revealed in the House of Commons yesterday that Fred Goodwin, aka Fred the Shred, has obtained a so-called super injunction which puts a legal gag on the media.  Under the terms of these super injunctions, granted during secret court hearings which are illegal to report, the media is not even allowed to reveal that the injunction exists.

It is only possible to discuss the issue now because John Hemming, Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley, raised the matter in the House of Commons yesterday under parliamentary privilege, which circumvents the legal prohibition on reporting a super injunction.  It is now legal to report on a matter which was raised in the House of Commons.  Even so, we may still only discuss what John Hemming MP said, we may not even acknowledge that an injunction exists or discuss the reasons that an individual sought it.  Ordinary citizens do not have freedom of speech, we must rely upon someone in power to raise the matter for us.

So what was this dreadful slur, this word so foul, so besmirching of the good name and reputation of an individual that we may not even mention that it’s a crime to say it’s a crime to say it?  We must rely upon the words of John Hemming MP, speaking to the House of Commons.  Mr Hemming said before the House: “In a secret hearing this week Fred Goodwin has obtained a superinjunction preventing him being identified as a banker.”

Yes that’s right.  We’re not allowed to say that the former chief executive of the Royal *ank of Scotland,  who presided over an institution which was brought to near collapse and then had to be bailed out with millions of taxpayers’ cash, is a *anker.  If anyone asks I’ll swear blind I meant a W there.  You can call Fred Goodwin anything you want.  There are a few choice names.  But never accuse him being or having ever been an employee of a bank.  Because apparently that would be wrong.  And a terrible crime.  One you can actually go to jail for.

On the other hand running said organisation into the ground, leaving it with debts measuring in the squillions and then waltzing off into the sunset with a very large lump sum and an extremely comfortable pension which we’re paying for was not wrong, merely an unfortunate sequence of events and we the public must put up and shut up.  It’s nasty and hurtful of us to keep bringing the subject up.  

The MP went on to ask the Government front bench: “Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there’s one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?”

In recent years courts have been issuing more such superinjunctions.  Only very wealthy clients can afford the £700 per hour legal fees charged by top lawyers who find this an increasingly lucrative field of specialist employment, which in turn means that more rich clients turn to them for similar superinjunctions.  

In an interview with the Independent newspaper, Mr Hemming said: “The first question we need to ask is whether we are creating privacy laws by the back door without statutory underpinning or public support.  I think that’s arguably the case.  We also need to ask whether we have any accountability on super injunctions  –  after all, currently there is no super injunction register, we don’t know how many there are and we don’t know who is asking for them.”

The lawyers benefit, the rich silence their critics, and now it appears, they can even silence our ability to speak on basic matters of public record.  Meanwhile the last shreds of Britain’s reputation as a bastion of democracy are bruised and battered even more than Fred’s fragile ego.