Shonagh Dillon, CEO of Aurora New Dawn, responds to allegations from Council Leader Donna Jones that the charity is implicated in an alleged ‘hate campaign’ against her.
In a recent News article, the Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Donna Jones, announced that there would be additional security at the Council’s budget meeting on 9th February, following a direct action protest by national activist group Sisters Uncut in December 2015.
We are saddened to hear that Councillor Jones feels she has been the victim of ‘horrific abuse’ including ‘200 abusive tweets’ and an ongoing ‘hate campaign’ of which she states she ‘has never been more afraid in my life.’
Aurora New Dawn deplores and condemns the use of intimidation, threats or abuse in any social media or campaigning activity. Indeed, in our own regular exchanges with Councillors on social media, we always ensure we are asking clear questions about the Council’s strategy for domestic violence services, or as is the case more recently, the absence of a strategy.
Aurora New Dawn have had our own experiences with trolling, abuse and threats on social media, for example as an openly feminist organisation that ran a campaign to prevent convicted rapist Mike Tyson from being welcomed at Portsmouth’s Guildhall. Trolling on social media can be incredibly stressful to receive and address, and depending on the nature of the threats made, can be a criminal offence. We note that no incidents have yet been reported to the police, or are being investigated by them and as a charity that works regularly with victims of severe violence and truly horrific abuse, we urge Councillor Jones to continue to work with the police on pursuing the perpetrators of the alleged threats.
We are deeply concerned that throughout the article Councillor Jones describes recent protests and communications she has received on social media as a ‘hate campaign’ and ‘horrific abuse’. She then continues in her comments to allege that the protest and subsequent campaign opposing the cuts has been spearheaded by Aurora New Dawn.
“But following the organised protests by Aurora New Dawn which encouraged a national organisation called “Sisters Uncut” to attend the protest outside Portsmouth’s Guildhall, a number of offences were committed – both inside and outside the council chamber itself.”
For clarity, an offence under the law is defined as an incident in which a perpetrator of criminal activity is found guilty. Councillor Jones is therefore mistaken in her assertion that any offences were committed, as no one has been charged or found guilty of any criminal act.
Most of all, however, we are concerned that by framing her comments in this light – and by associating the actions of a few with a broader democratic campaign asking councillors to account for their own political decisions – the Leader is alleging that we, as a charity that advocates for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking have somehow been part of a hate campaign against her.
We utterly refute that Aurora New Dawn has played any part in the ‘hate’ or ‘abuse’ alleged by the Leader to have taken place as part of these protests and subsequent campaign. Further, it is both misleading and mischievous of Councillor Jones to suggest otherwise.
Aurora New Dawn did not organise the protest, nor did we invite Sisters Uncut to Portsmouth. Local trade unions and other partners usually organise a rally in the Guildhall Square ahead of budget meetings where vital services are going to be cut and given the unprecedented cuts proposed by Portsmouth City Council in its most recent budget, December’s meeting was no exception. As a result of the proposed cuts to domestic violence, which left unopposed would set service provision for victims of abuse in the city back decades, Aurora New Dawn was delighted to attend, support and promote the rally on our social media.
Cllr Jones states that the protests that took place on the 8th December in the Guildhall Square were against the cuts to domestic violence services, and this cut undoubtedly has outraged thousands across the city. However, the rally was organised and attended by a wide range of people, including students from the University of Portsmouth and local trade unions as well as the national direct action group, Sisters Uncut – all of whom were in attendance. Some of those in attendance then made deputations against cuts to a wide range of services – including the 100% cut to the Hate Crime Service – inside the Council Chamber, alongside other deputees and the Chief Executive of Aurora New Dawn.
In terms of the protest that took place inside the Council chamber, we are surprised at many elements of Councillor Jones’ description of it, which are not supported by the experience of our own team who were also in attendance. Indeed, many of the statements made by the Leader are directly contradicted by a video recording of the protest itself.
- The Leader alleges that protesters “storm[ed] the public gallery”. Actually, the protesters with Sisters Uncut entered the public gallery along with every other member of the public and sat peacefully in attendance until the deputation on domestic violence was over, when they unfurled their banner and one of the protesters began to strike a drum to accompany the chant ‘Two women a week – murdered’.
- The Leader alleges there were several ‘banging drums’, however, there was only one drum brought into the chamber by protesters
- Similarly, the Leader alleges there were ‘large banners’ however, there was only one large banner produced by protesters, which they held over the balcony for councillors to see
- The Leader suggests that the protesters had to be removed by security guards, however, the protesters left of their own accord after a short time of chanting and beating (one) drum. There was no threat of, or actual, violence on the part of the protesters. When they had finished chanting, they folded up their banner and left the Chamber
In the interests of truth and public trust, we urge Councillor Jones to correct her statements made both in the article and on the website itself as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are seeking legal advice on her comments.
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.