Inside the social media channel where anti-vaccine activists target Merseyside schools
On the messaging app Telegram, we’ve seen videos that show 14 different local schools being harassed in person by campaigners
Dear readers — we’re dropping into your inboxes this morning with a fascinating report about anti-vaccine activists targeting schools across Merseyside. It’s by Harry Shukman, who used to be a staff reporter at The Times and has just joined our team part-time to do some reporting for The Post.
Harry has been monitoring a series of messaging groups on the social media app Telegram and has seen videos of more than a dozen local schools being targeted in recent weeks. He’s also found messages where campaigners talk in threatening terms about teachers, including one user who says: “Time to follow the headmaster home.”
By Harry Shukman
On 10 October, a message dropped into an anti-vaccine social media group called Liverpool Fight for Freedom. It seemed to come from a parent at a school in Toxteth. “St Hilda’s near Sefton Park tomorrow jabbing the kids 😬🤢has this school not been served?”
Four days later, a video began to circulate in various online groups used by anti-vaccine activists on Merseyside. It showed two men and a woman in the reception area of St Hilda’s School, demanding to speak to the headteacher Jo Code. It’s soundtracked by triumphant martial music and shows a large man in a suit and tie standing close to Code. He follows her around the room, reading aloud from a sheet of paper.
“I stand under common law,” says the man. “I am here on behalf of concerned parents to hand over these lawful, legally binding documents to you… you personally will be held responsible if any child suffers death or harm from these experimental vaccines.” By this point in the video Code is backed into a corner. She repeatedly asks the activists to stop filming. They ignore her and the footage ends abruptly.
The clips were shared via the online messaging app Telegram, which has become popular among anti-vaccine campaigners because users are less likely to be banned for spreading misinformation. For the past two weeks, we have been monitoring the communications of a network of Merseyside-based activists, who have been organising via Telegram in their campaign to put pressure on local teachers.
In total, we’ve seen videos that show 14 different local schools being harassed by campaigners in the past month. The campaigners tend to do the same thing on each visit: filming inside schools without permission in order to post evidence that they have served “notices of liability” to headteachers, which are based on dubiously interpreted items of common law. They hope that by delivering these documents they will be able to take legal action against the schools for harming children.
We’ve counted six different anti-vaccine activists making the visits — none of whom identified themselves as the parent of a child at the school. They boast about frightening teachers and giving them sleepless nights, and at one point say about a headteacher: “She can’t run, she can’t hide.” According to a representative from Liverpool Council, these activists have been able to secure meetings with headteachers by pretending to be solicitors, although this detail was not visible in any of the footage we saw.
The Telegram group where we first saw the videos is called Liverpool’s People’s Resistance UK, which has just over 300 members. “We are looking for people who want to fight back for our God-given freedoms,” it says. “We need boots on the ground.” Messages from its administrator — a man named George — suggest it is unaffiliated to the other protesters who this month tried to serve similar notices to the broadcaster Jeremy Vine at his home in London and the celebrity doctor Hilary Jones.
Members can ask George to serve their child’s schools, and his activist team will go and harass them with a “notice” and some unauthorised filming. Ostensibly the visits are born out of concern about in-school vaccinations, but one post suggests parents are using the group to settle petty grievances with teachers. On 14 October, a parent said St Margaret’s Academy in Aigburth “needs doing” after their son had a “run in with the head”. “Wouldn’t mention my name like as he’s proper got it in for me atm [at the moment],” the parent wrote.
The reply from George came less than a minute later. “Ok leave it with me,” he wrote. “Should have our vid by midday. ” The next day, a video of St Margaret’s being targeted by George’s team surfaced in the group. The same school was picketed in early October by a separate group called Liverpool Fight for Freedom.
As the videos of notices being served started to trickle into Liverpool's People’s Resistance UK, members congratulated each other on successfully hounding the teachers. The video from St Hilda’s was met with George excitedly posting:
Jo Code near had a nervous breakdown. She’ll be having a sleepless night that’s for sure. Wait till the morning until the penny drops and she realises the severity of it all. I can see her going on the sick. She can’t run, she can’t hide.
What makes these Telegram channels different to the countless other conspiracy theorist groups on social media is that their members are taking real-life action, harassing teachers in person rather than just posting about them online. Code and the headteachers of the other schools declined to comment for this article.
We understand that dozens of schools across Merseyside have been “served” or picketed for vaccinating children since the government broadened eligibility to 12-15-year-olds last month. The Echo reported on Monday that Merseyside Police have told teachers to "check they are not being followed" after activists turned up.
We’ve found that many of those efforts are organised via these Telegram groups. Three men posted in Liverpool Fight for Freedom with pictures of them leafleting a school in Ormskirk, writing that they felt “totally out of our comfort zones handing out leaflets outside a school but it needed to be done”.
Their distinctive yellow signs, which read “The experimental COVID jabs” and “Heart damage in teens”, bear resemblance to those used by Rebels on Roundabouts, a group of 5,000 members who demonstrate at roadsides in the North West.
In a related incident, The Post can report that a school in the Wirral called the police recently after a parent and her brother-in-law turned up to confront him over mask-wearing. Kevin Flanagan, head of Pensby High School, was targeted after a dispute with a parent over her son’s right to not wear a face mask in class.
Because the mum had posted about her experience online, it soon made its way onto a blog called Hugo Talks, which trafficks in conspiracy theories about Prince Charles being the Antichrist. From there, it ended up in the Merseyside Telegram groups, which opened a sluice gate of abuse against Flanagan. “Time to follow the headmaster home,” added one commenter, joining in the suggestions that Flanagan’s address be shared online. “Sounds like he needs a visit from the resistance,” another said.
Members of groups like Liverpool Freedom & Health or Hold The Line — Liverpool gleefully encouraged one another to phone up Pensby High School and give “this headteacher the verbal abuse that he deserves”. Others shared screenshots of their vitriolic emails to the school. Flanagan was called a “nazi”, a “cunt”, and a “genocidal supporter” and it was insinuated that he was a paedophile. Flanagan declined to comment for this article, but a spokesperson for Wirral Council said every single secondary school on the peninsula had been picketed by anti-vaccine protesters in recent weeks.
The Telegram groups we have been watching might be local to Merseyside, but the harassment of teachers is a national problem. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said anti-vaccine protests targeting schools are "completely unacceptable" and added: "This appalling behaviour must stop. The vaccines are safe, effective and have built a huge wall of defence around us that is keeping the virus at bay.”
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP, has separately called for "buffer zones" outside schools to stop activists from picketing students. "You don't have an open, uncontested right to foist your views on other people,” she told PoliticsHome, “especially when it's very clear these kids have said no, and these adults are continuing.”
Meanwhile, in the Telegram groups, activists continue to share the names of schools where vaccinations are taking place. Requests for schools to be served are still coming in, as are the upcoming dates of school vaccination days. George, the administrator of Liverpool People’s Resistance, is now encouraging parents to serve notices to schools themselves. “You all need to send them,” he wrote. “If we don't fight back we’re all fucked.”
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