Monthly Newsletter

Army Colonel who saved lives in Afghanistan cancelled for gender critical views

It’s been great to see the case of FSU member Dr Kelvin Wright, a former Colonel in the Army Reserve, gain media traction over the past few days (Express, GB News, Mail, Reclaim the Net, Telegraph).

Dr Wright was an NHS intensive care consultant when he joined the British Army back in 2009. He served two tours in Afghanistan during his subsequent 14 years’ unblemished service, risking his life to save critically injured soldiers and civilians. During the first of those tours, Dr Wright was placed in charge of a Medical Emergency Response Team, taking daily Chinook helicopter flights across enemy-held Helmand territory. When he returned for another three-month stint, it was to head up the emergency department at Camp Bastion as lead consultant. More recently, he led the army’s 306 Hospital Support Regiment, facilitating training for Ukrainian soldiers to help save lives after the Russian invasion.

In other words, Dr Wright is a distinguished commanding officer with a hugely impressive resume, and just the type of person whose services you’d think the British Army would be desperate to retain.

And yet Dr Wright has been forced to resign having been hit with a transphobia complaint by the army’s “LGBT champions” and then dragged through a Kafkaesque investigation that he describes as “hellish”. His ‘crime’? Reposting a Facebook post on his private Facebook account that stated: “men cannot be women”.

It’s a shocking story, and the Army’s top brass should be hanging their heads in shame that this was allowed to happen on their watch. The freedom to express your views in the public square is a fundamental human right that the British Army is supposed to be defending, not attacking.

The Army’s failings in that regard first became apparent back in May, after Dr Wright shared a post on his private Facebook account from Fair Play for Women, a campaign group that works with governing bodies to preserve women’s sport for those born female. The post consisted of a quote from Helen Joyce, the former Economist journalist turned feminist campaigner.

Shared without any additional comment, it read: “If women cannot stand in a public place and say, ‘men cannot be women’, then we do not have women’s rights at all.”

To Dr Wright, it was an innocuous act, intended to highlight the importance of freedom of speech around an issue which has become increasingly divisive in many Western countries.

But it prompted a junior officer to warn Dr Wright that his gender-critical views could be at odds with the Ministry of Defence’s transgender policies.

A solitary complaint then snowballed, and a group that Dr Wright describe as the Army’s “LGBT champions” subsequently drew up a seven-page dossier about his “substandard behaviour” – which he was never allowed to see. As Dr Wright told the Mail: “The accusations, and the secrecy which still shrouds them is a terrible slur on my honour.”

Unbelievably, a formal investigation was opened, and could have led to him being formally censured under the Army’s Major Administrative Action process. Rather than go through with this Kafkaesque trial, Dr Wright decided he had no choice but to retire six years earlier than planned, slashing his Army pension in the process.

“This attack on my honour made my position completely untenable,” he told the Telegraph. “I could no longer remain in an Army which treated its officers with such disrespect.”

He continued: “What message does it send to women in the army, that merely for noting the existence of women and women’s rights even a Colonel can be placed under investigation? I therefore feel there is no other choice but to make this matter public.”

I’m delighted finally to be able to report that our case team has been supporting Dr Wright since May as he seeks to clear his name. In addition to arranging for him to receive top-drawer legal advice, the FSU will be footing any legal bills.

It beggars belief that the Army would treat any of its soldiers in this way, let alone an officer who has been called “one of the best” and “inspirational” by his troops. The fact that the Army is continuing to hound him following his resignation – the investigation hasn’t been called off, in spite of his resignation – just adds insult to injury. If people risk their lives to serve our country, they should be given medals, not placed under investigation for defending women’s rights.

The Army needs to do the right thing now – apologise, thank Dr Wright for his service and close the case. However, if that doesn’t happen, it goes without saying that the FSU is ready, willing, and able to explore all available legal remedies as we support our member through this unconscionable ordeal.

On that note, I’d like to thank everyone who has donated to our fighting fund since this story broke. It’s because of your contributions that we’re able to support Dr Wright, and others like him. If you can, then please donate to our legal fighting fund and help us to continue to fight for the speech rights of our members – the link to the donation page is here.

FSU lobbying bears fruit as Jeremy Hunt tells banks they must respect customers’ free speech

The issue of politically motivated financial censorship was back in the news this week after Nigel Farage revealed the bank he’d been with since 1980 has informed him they’re closing his account. He also disclosed that his approaches to seven other banks to see if they’d open an account for him had all been rebuffed (Telegraph, Times, Mail).

The Free Speech Union has been lobbying the Government to change the financial regulations since we were ‘debanked’ by PayPal last year to make it impossible for banks and payment services providers to close customers’ accounts for purely political reasons and, today, it looks as if those efforts may bear fruit.

According to the Telegraph, banks and payment processors are to be told by the Treasury that they must protect free speech. Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is said to be “deeply concerned” that overzealous lenders are closing down accounts because they disagree with customers’ opinions and has asked City minister Andrew Griffith to investigate the issue. A delegation from the Free Speech Union met with Mr Griffith earlier this year to urge him to tighten up the rules before this problem gets completely out of hand.

Whitehall sources told the Telegraph that results of a consultation on the subject – a consultation the FSU submitted evidence to – will be published within weeks, after it was launched earlier this year in the wake of PayPal blocking the Free Speech Union’s account.

If the Government does change the payment services regulations to stop people being censored in this way, I’d be tempted to call it our biggest victory to date. We simply cannot have financial companies, many of them based overseas, interfering in our right to freedom of expression in this way. In an increasingly cashless society, closing a person’s bank account leaves them virtually unable to function and the threat of that will inevitably have a chilling effect on free speech.

People might be tempted to dismiss this as alarmist, but the FSU is aware of dozens of people and organisations this has happened to and we’ve shared a lot of that evidence with the Treasury. (We’ve put together a Twitter thread detailing a small selection of examples here.)

Just in the last month, HSBC Hong Kong has followed PayPal in closing the accounts of members of the League of Social Democrats, threatening the future of one of the few remaining pro-democracy parties that dares protest against China’s draconian security law and free speech crackdown in the Special Administrative Region territory.

Back in the UK, Barclays Bank was forced to pay over £20,000 compensation to the Christian organisation Core Issues Trust after it closed its accounts due to pressure from LGBTQ+ groups.

And last week, Henrik Overgaard Nielsen, a former MEP for the Brexit Party, was informed his account with MetroBank would be closed, and the Rev Richard Fothergill, a Church of England vicar and member of the FSU, was told by the Yorkshire Building Society that it would be closing his account after he responded to a request for feedback to complain about the bank’s promotion of Pride and what he considered a morally suspect trans agenda.

The issues at stake here go way beyond the politics of left or right, socialism or liberalism, Labour or Conservative. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe — this new, sinister form of cancel culture has no place in a Western liberal democracy.

If any of our members of supporters need to talk to someone about their own experiences of financial censorship, email our case team on [email protected].

Gillian Phillip fundraiser

FSU member Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job. Gillian initially brought an Employment Tribunal claim against publishers Working Partners and HarperCollins in 2021, arguing that she was unlawfully discriminated against when her contract to write children’s books was terminated when she added the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling to her Twitter account.

A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether Gillian’s claim had been filed in time and whether she had rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a worker or employee of Working Partners.

The judge at the Employment Tribunal described Gillian’s situation as unique. (The judgement can be found here.) Gillian won on the trickiest aspect of her case, delay in bringing a claim. The judge found that it was just and equitable to allow her case to be pleaded after the time limit because in the immediate aftermath of her sacking by Working Partners she was depressed following the death of her husband.

However, although Gillian won on the time question, she lost on the worker status question and so she is now appealing that part of the judgement to the Employment Appeal Tribunal

The point to be argued at appeal is whether Gillian was a ‘worker’ controlled by Working Partners. Gillian has no doubt she has already shown she had little discretion and worked under a strict creative regime entirely controlled by Working Partners under commission from HarperCollins.

But while the appeal is ostensibly on this narrow point of law about “control”, the issues at stake here are anything but narrow – this concerns the protection of thousands of precariously employed people who make their living through creative expression, especially women who believe in the reality of biological sex.

In launching her appeal, Gillian will once again need your help. You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.

By the way, a playwright and journalist called Phelim McAleer has written a verbatim play based on transcripts of the tribunal hearing at which Mermaids tried – unsuccessfully – to get the Charity Commission to deregulate the LGB Alliance. Judging from Phelim’s previous work, it should be very funny. He is holding a staged reading at a theatre in Camden Town and those wishing to purchase tickets should click here.

Cancel culture survey – the results are in!

Thanks to all readers who answered our anonymous survey on cancel culture. The results are in, and they are illuminating. Here are a few key statistics from the 355 responses:

  • Only 25% of those personally affected by cancel culture reported that the experience had had no significant effect on their wellbeing in either the short or long term. The undeniable mental health impact of cancellation is such an important, yet often neglected, element of the experience that the FSU is going to undertake some in-depth research into this whole area.
  • Just 20% of respondents felt their experience of cancel culture was completely unexpected. This is positive in that people are perhaps steeling themselves for the cancellation experience and are thus better prepared, but it’s also rather depressing in that we have now come to expect the shutting down of free expression.
  • Politically, 21% of respondents declared themselves to be centre or left of centre, while another 21% considered themselves politically homeless. While it’s true that most respondents (57%) described themselves as right of centre, these statistics do challenge the idea that cancel culture is simply a right-wing myth.

As ever, the freeform comments from people about their personal experience made for sobering reading, particularly when it came to the degree of self-censorship taking place. Here are just a handful of the most striking observations:

“I can’t answer the impact question as the issue is new and [ongoing]. I will say it was a shock and it’s having a negative impact on me. Scary, maddening, totally unfair, and affecting other areas of my life.”

“I joined the civil service in 2017 working on Brexit and found that the vast majority of my colleagues (including those at the more senior end) were surprisingly vocal about their political views and that this affected advice given in the department. There was an oppressive feeling that only one view (the right one) was allowed to be discussed. This extended to EDI including departmental all staff meetings where those of one view were extremely vocal and everyone else just shut up to save their jobs. I have since moved to an operationally separate agency which is better, but the IDE point remains.”

“I’m a teacher. I estimate that about 50% of staff and students fear raising certain perspectives for fear of being labelled. A sorry state of affairs!”

“I have managed to avoid being ‘cancelled’ so far because I’ve effectively self-censored – deleted all social media accounts, very reserved at work (or even out of work when socialising with current or former colleagues). I only express ideas when in the company of people I know to be reasonably trustworthy. So cancel culture has indirectly affected me (and no doubt many others in a similar position) – to avoid being cancelled, simply don’t say anything.”

FSU member Dr Roger Watson cleared in ‘disinformation’ probe by professional association

The FSU has had a glut of recent cases in which employees from a wide range of occupational backgrounds have got into trouble with their professional associations simply for expressing their entirely lawful beliefs outside the workplace. This month, however, an important blow was struck for the free speech rights of regulated professionals.

FSU member Dr Roger Watson is Academic Dean of Nursing at Southwest Medical University, China, and a longstanding critic of lockdown. For the past eight months he’s been under investigation by his professional body, the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC), on the basis that he had been “using his status as a registered nurse to promote incorrect information about COVID-19 and the nursing profession in general”.

The NMC investigation centred on a complaint from an anonymous person in relation to a co-authored article in the Daily Sceptic titled ‘Nurses Don’t Do Numbers’. The article was about a number of Covid-related issues where there is legitimate, evidence-based cause for concern, including: the efficacy and damaging effects of the lockdowns; the evidential basis for mask mandates; the reliability of Covid PCR testing; and the efficacy and safety of the Covid vaccines.

In my capacity as the FSU’s General Secretary I wrote to the NMC last November, urging that the matter be dropped. As I made clear, all the points Prof Watson made in his co-authored article were evidence-based, and a legitimate contribution to the debate about how the COVID-19 pandemic was and continues to be managed. On that basis, his contribution was clearly consistent with 9.3 of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code regarding the professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses, midwives, and nursing associates: “Deal with differences of professional opinion with colleagues by discussion and informed debate.”

Just in case that point didn’t land, however, I concluded by noting that should the NMC penalise Professor Watson for exercising his lawful right to free speech and contributing to this debate on a question of public interest, “the FSU will give him every possible assistance, up to and including legal support”.

Thankfully, however, we aren’t going to need to lawyer up because the NMC has now concluded its investigation and decided there is no case for Prof Watson to answer. Particularly encouraging about the reasoning the NMC case examiners give for their decision is the acknowledgment that “while some may not like or agree with your article, you are entitled to express your own person opinions” and that co-authorship of the article “can reasonably be regarded as an exercising of your right to freedom of expression”.

Well done to the NMC which has effectively struck a blow for free speech, offering hope for other nurses on their register currently under investigation for questioning the Covid narrative.

Victory for FSU member in dispute with the General Dental Council!

Speaking of professional bodies, one of our long-standing gold members, Dominic O, has just had a complaint against him dropped by the General Dental Council. This is one example of many that FSU are seeing, where regulators (notably of medical professions) are accepting meritless complaints following the expression of lawful and protected views. Dominic is grateful for FSU support, and we thank him for his continuing loyal membership.

Sharron Davies MBE Book Launch – See you there or join us online!

We were delighted to have been asked to host the official launch of Sharron Davies’s new book, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport, on Wednesday 5th July. In-person tickets have now sold out, but FSU members can join free of charge online by registering here and non-FSU members can pay £5 to register here.

FSU Summer Speakeasies – tickets now available!

Come and hear FSU member and former teacher, Ben Dybowski, in conversation with local group Free Speechers Wales and West in Cardiff on 13th July. Mr Dybowski, who has an unblemished 20-year career in the profession, was sacked from a school for sharing his Christian beliefs at a staff-only diversity and inclusion training seminar run by Diverse Cymru, an organisation that trains teachers on “unconscious bias” and “trans, gender identity and gender expression awareness”. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday about his case, he said he had never discussed his views with pupils and was always respectful of those with different opinions. His dismissal was, he added, “an attack on Christianity” and “an affront to freedom of speech and freedom of thought”.

Tickets are available here. There will, of course, be plenty of time for discussion and for socialising with fellow free speech supporters. Doors open at 6.45pm, speaker and discussion starts at 7.30pm.

If you can get to Edinburgh on Wednesday 19th July, please come to our Summer Speakeasy on the timely subject, Can the Arts Survive and Thrive in Scotland? Taking place just weeks before the Edinburgh Festival, where comedian Jerry Sadowitz will return with his show, in defiance of last year’s cancellation, and Joanna Cherry MP is due to speak after an attempted no-platforming. Our guest speakers, poet Jenny Lindsay, actress and producer Kirstin McLean and author Ewan Morrison, will take us through the free speech issues faced by artists, writers and performers north of the border, and discuss how we can stand up for the right of audiences to judge for themselves. Get your tickets here.

The following day, Thursday 20th July, we’ll be in Manchester with a fascinating event entitled ‘Free Speech: A Radical History’, with a particular focus on the city’s historic political struggles. We have two local historians, Michael Herbert of Red Flag Walks and Jonathan Schofield, tour guide and editor of Manchester Confidential, to share their knowledge. They’ll be joined by historian Dr Cheryl Hudson. Tickets are here.

New Culture Forum Locals Event in Norwich

Our friends at New Culture Forum extend an invitation to FSU members and supporters in the Norwich area to join them for an event on Saturday, 8th July. It will be comprised of two events. You are invited to attend one or both, free of charge:

  • 2:00 – 3:45pm: Walking tour of Norwich for those who’d like to discover the city.
  • 4:30 – 6:30pm:  NCF Locals Event (at a venue near Norwich railway station) with special guest speaker Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, Director of Don’t Divide Us.

You will have a chance to meet some of the NCF Team: Peter Whittle, Dr. Philip Kiszely and Rafe Heydel-Mankoo, as well as local NCF volunteers, who have kindly arranged this event. If you would like further details, email [email protected].

Kind regards,

Toby Young