It's five years today since one of the more personally upsetting incidents that happened to me as a result of Brexit. These were the days when the May government knew it didn't like foreigners in the UK but was having difficulty deciding just how nasty it was going to be to them; I posted a Guardian article to Facebook reporting that the government had backed down on one of the more rabid proposals, that employers should be forced to publish how many non-British staff they employed.
An individual called Francis Charig popped up out of nowhere on my Facebook comments, telling me that this was all the fault of Remainers and that Brexiteers wanted an "open, inclusive nation".
This struck me as inconsistent with the facts, or, well, basically, a lie. In case you have not already seen it, Lord Ashcroft's poll of the attitudes of Remain and Leave voters found very clearly that people who opposed immigration, multiculturalism, feminism, the green movement, and globalisation, had generally voted Leave, and people who favoured all of those voted Remain (except Globalisation, where those in favour were evenly split).
The discussion became ill-tempered, to put it mildly; I have screenshotted the exchanges directly involving me and him here, blurring out other peoples' names. To cut a long story short, he refused to back down on the xenophobic character of Brexit, described Amber Rudd – the Home Secretary! – and Liam Fox – the Trade Secretary! – as not representative of their government's policies, and started boasting about his business successes which are described in his carefully cultivated Wikipedia page. (What a shame it would be if someone proposed that for deletion, on the grounds that he is insufficiently notable!)
So, I blocked him from facebook, and he immediately posted again to the discussion with the sock-puppet account of his pet hedgehog, which I then also blocked after he sent me an obscene message. He then sent me an email and another message from another sock-puppet account threatening to sue me for defamation, having also sent similar messages to another participant in the Facebook discussion.
In the course of a vigorous discussion, I had challenged his facts and his good faith, both of which were I think reasonable judgements. He was clearly annoyed by my accusations of dishonesty, but his use of sock-puppet accounts rather proves that particular point. I felt that this was really unhinged behaviour, particularly the bit about complaining to my employers; so I actually reported it to his local police who paid him a little visit (and that of course infuriated him still further). Of course I never heard from his lawyers, who will certainly have advised him that any attempt to take legal action would be laughed out of court. I did receive a couple more spiteful emails, with decreasing frequency over the subsequent years, most recently threatening to hit me with a practical joke causing ritual humiliation.
This has all been rather unpleasant, and it's been a bit distressing writing about it, though it's also from some time ago. I'm writing it up in some detail here for two reasons. The first, of course, is to be a source of information for anyone who has business or other dealings with Francis Charig and is worried about his character. I don't believe that he is of good character, going by my own interaction and what I've heard from other people who have dealt with him, and I think this pattern of intolerant and threatening behaviour needs to be on the public record. It may not be illegal, but it's certainly unpleasant, and I pity anyone who has a professional relationship with him. I do ask that nobody reading this should send him hostile messages on my behalf, or on anyone else's for that matter; two wrongs do not make a right.
The second is to make the wider point that in the bigger scheme of things this is fairly small beer. A lot of people on the internet face far worse harassment than this every day, and it is particularly bad for women and minorities. If this is the worst online harassment that ever happens to me, I can count myself pretty lucky.