Occupy London smeared by tax avoiders

Posted by Alexander Hay

A close examination of the media outlets railing against the Occupy London protests reveals vested interests and not a little hypocrisy, involving the odd tax haven or two...

Image c/o Delaina Haslam @ FlickrIt was only a matter of time before the smears began. As the Occupy London protesters carried on their sit-in before St Paul's cathedral, a steady stream of 'hit' pieces have begun to flood out.

Apparently, only 10% of protesters sleep in their tents every night according to 'thermal images' (or a moonlighting Predator), local businesses are losing money, journalists are being manhandled and St. Paul's itself has closed its doors, with dire threats of this year's Remembrance Sunday service there being cancelled.

Needless to say, the right wing press have been storming in to demand the protesters be moved on (which can only be done through a court order), digging up whatever dirt they can and even launching campaigns to throw the 'rabble' out.

On closer inspection, however, the reports aren't as clear cut as they may at first seem. There are questions regarding where the 'thermo imaging' came from, and whether the news stories are based on illegal leaks from police sources and press conjecture.

The protesters themselves, including a Conservative councillor, claim the occupancy is in fact between 70-75%, which is perhaps a more realistic number given the part-time nature of some protesters, the need to go to the toilet, go home to feed the cat or get cleaned up, and the fact that the matter could easily be resolved by a simple head count of who goes in and who goes out, which strangely the press hasn't yet done.

Claims of local businesses losing out because of the protests are equally debatable. Naturally, one should be sceptical over protesters' claims that bars, restaurants and shops in the area have prospered by the occupation being a sort of ad hoc tourist attraction, but so too are claims that they have lost money, at least until proper research on the economic impact on the area is undertaken.

Similarly, the most vocal critics of the protest haven't been entirely honest either. Paul 'Guido Fawkes' Staines, who described the protests as 'a sham', hosts his web site in the Caribbean tax haven of Nevis under a false name and address.

Likewise, the Daily Express, which called for the protesters to be cast out, is owned by Richard Desmond, who registers his companies in Jersey, which just so happens to be another tax haven.

The Telegraph is owned by the Barclay Brothers, who are based in - you guessed it - another Channel Islands tax haven called Sark, which they collectively punished when it rejected the candidates they backed when it held its first democratic elections.

Finally, the Daily Mail is owned by Viscount Rothermere as majority stockholder, who pays minimal tax because he is officially 'domiciled' in France, despite living in the UK. He is also a close friend and supporter of Prime Minister David Cameron, who claims to be cracking down on benefit fraud and has also criticised Pakistan for its own tax-dodging antics. Cameron also appointed Sir Philip Green to a post reviewing government expenditure in 2010, despite his reputation as another tax avoider.

St. Paul's own u-turn on the issue - having originally welcomed the protesters - is similarly less to do with the cathedral being closed as it losing money, with no visitors buying tickets, souvenirs in St. Paul's shops or its restaurant.

St. Paul's may make the valid argument that it has to fund itself somehow, but it is also exempt from the Diocesan Quota, an often crippling tax levied on lesser churches by the Church of England. It also has net assets of £19 million and a gross income of £8.25 million. Again, this conflict of interest hasn't been disclosed.

Of course, all these media outlets (and one cathedral) could simply come out and announce they have a stake in the debate. Instead, they all shift focus and blame onto the very same protesters who argue that the UK's present financial settlement is helping the rich get richer and impoverishing the rest of society. Is that really a coincidence?

Image c/o Delaina Haslam @ Flickr

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Alexander Hay

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