A blog owner has apologised to a regional daily journalist after “completely ludicrous” conspiracy theories involving her were posted on his website.
Oxford Mail group news editor Rebecca Hudson found she was the subject of a “pack of delusional lies” about the Salisbury Novichok attacks against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which she had covered in her previous role as head of news at the Salisbury Journal.
One comment on the blog, called The Blogmire, speculated on why she had left Salisbury while another claimed that her pet cat had previously belonged to the Skripals – despite not having been born until eight months after the poisonings.
Just read a very interesting (and completely ludicrous) conspiracy thread online that suggests I left Salisbury because of a 'relationship' with a police officer poisoned during the Skripal attack and that we (implying we were both in on it) somehow 'bungled' the operation..
— Rebecca Hudson (@OxMailRebecca) May 16, 2019
Rebecca, pictured, also contacted WordPress, which hosts the site, but was told it doesn’t always “take action about comments that could be defamatory”.
However, the blog’s owner Rob Slane has since contacted Rebecca to apologise personally for the comments being published, although he did not post them himself, and promised to remove them from the site.
Rebecca told HTFP: “It was a real shock to come across those comments about me online. I know conspiracy theorists are out there and that they had a field day over the nerve agent attack but I didn’t expect to be drawn into it in such detail.
“One poster on the thread was regularly in touch with me, usually to send incredibly rude emails about my reporting – and to question whether I am being paid by the British or Russian governments to report certain details, which obviously I am not.
“The level of detail they’ve gone in to is frightening. Saying I moved to Oxford because the government told me I had to leave Salisbury is one example – that simply isn’t the case. I just got another job.
“To bring my cat into it was the most bizarre thing. They seem to think she belonged to Sergei Skripal and was handed over to me when he ‘went into hiding’. That would be a fine theory – if she hadn’t been born last November.
“For people who know me I think it’s pretty funny. I’m a local journalist – at the time of the attack I was a trainee – so to imagine I had any sort of involvement is certainly laughable.
“It isn’t pleasant though, to read so many strange and menacing theories about yourself on the internet, and it can be quite upsetting. At some points it just descends into abuse on my character, although that’s just part of the day job for journalists these days it seems.
“It’s really worrying that this false information is out there about me, even if it’s obvious to anyone reading it that it’s all a complete falsehood.
“I contacted WordPress (who host the site) to report it, but they said they don’t always take action about comments that could be defamatory and will only act if content breaches their user terms of service.”
In an apology to Rebecca, seen by HTFP, Mr Slane wrote: “I wanted to get in touch with you personally to apologise profusely for the fact that these comments were on my blog.
“As the blog’s sole owner and writer, unfortunately this means that I often don’t get time to check or moderate comments, especially when they are in excess of 100 per day, which they have been at times over the last year or so. This unfortunately means that some comments will inevitably go up which are not particularly savoury, and I’m afraid that seems to have happened in this case.
“Having looked at them, I agree that they are offensive, and I am very uncomfortable with them. I have therefore gone through and deleted the ones which I feel may have caused offence (most were from the same person). I
“I do hope you will accept my apology, and also my very best wishes for your new career in Oxford.”
Mr Slane told HTFP: “In the writing I’ve done on the Skripal case, I have sought to stick to publishing factual information, and to pointing out the many problems with the official narrative, rather than indulging in needless speculation.
“However, the nature of such pieces inevitably leads to much speculation in the comments section, and unfortunately some of this can push the boundary that lies between genuine freedom of speech and comments that are simply offensive or even potentially libellous.
“Having been alerted to certain such comments, I agreed with Ms Hudson that they crossed this line, and I have been happy to remove them. I am thankful to Ms Hudson that she has accepted my apology for not having spotted these before.”