Shades of Kaschke: Christopher McGrath aka Scrooby

The last few years have seen more than their fair share of abusive libel actions but none quite so bizarre as the infamous cases in which Johanna Kaschke sued bloggers Dave Osler and John Gray, and LabourHome owner, Alex Hilton, for libel, as a litigant in person. Those cases are very well documented by David Allen Green at his personal Jack of Kent blog and provide an object lesson is how readily English libel law can be abused by a vexatious litigant to pursue claims that are entirely without merit and harass their critics.

With moves to reform English libel law well in train, thanks in no small measure to the excellent Libel Reform Campaign, organised by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense about Science in the wake of the British Chiropractic Association’s failed libel action again Simon Singh, I had thought that we might be spared the unedifying sight of another Kaschke-style venture into unmerited litigation, but it appears that I was wrong.

Vaughan Jones is an atheist with a Twitter account – @vaughanjones82 – and a couple of small personal blogs hosted on Blogger called ‘Everything is OK‘ and ‘Me (and others) vs Creationist’, and its the contents of this second blog that are of particular interest here.

Vaughan is being sued by a Milton Keynes-based local government consultant cum would-be online entrepreneur named Chris McGrath who, using the alias ‘Scrooby’ published a book in Janaury 2010 under the title; ‘The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know‘. The book is one of numerous ‘I can prove god exists’ titles spawned by the commerical success of Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’, and like other title in the ‘Why Dawkins is wrong’ genre its a work of pseudoscientific nonsense which contains little or no actual scientific content – e.g. the sole ‘customer review’ of the book at Waterstones notes that:

It’s not too heavy on the science and I counted one equation, like the square root of minus 1 is the same as the square root of 1, and that was about it on the maths, so easy to get into as a read.

The author of this ‘review’ – ‘Tony B’ – starts out be claiming to be a a ‘total skeptic’ and concludes, implausibly, by claiming that the book’s arguments are so compelling that he ‘might go to church on Sunday’, making this one of those comments which naturally raises suspicions that what you’re reading isn’t so much a customer review as a piece of author-generated spam. Be that as it may, informed opinion on the contents of the book, based on a couple of chapters that McGrath made available on his own marketing website, indicates that’s is nothing more than a Gish Gallop through the tired old ‘God of the gaps’ argument and therefore the kind of book which fully deserves to languish in its own obscurity.

And that would almost certainly have been the fate of this book had its author not used the customer review facility on Amazon’s website to spam the launch of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s much anticipated book ‘The Grand Design’.

Vaughan, by his own admission, wrote a short, uncomplimentary review of McGrath’s book on Amazon’s site and ran a few background checks on McGrath’s alias ‘Scrooby’, suspecting that he may have linked back to a UK-based creationist/fundamentalist organisation. What he found instead appeared, as he saw it’ to be little more than a vanity publishing operation, outing ‘Scrooby’ as McGrath in the process.

Vaughan own account of the events leading to the libel action he now faces is given here, albeit that some information is missing due to law suit against him, and a couple of recent posts set out the nature and identity of the claims made against him, which run to 16 pages. Avid Dorries watches might like to note that a mildly injudicious if innocuous reference to McGrath’s children by name, put up as bait to confirm that McGrath and ‘Scrooby’ were one and the same person, resulted in a complaint to the police which they appear to have ‘no crimed’ without bothering with an investigation.

It is also worth noting that, despite having marketed his book for somewhere close to nine months as a genuine contribution to the anti-Dawkins genre, McGrath quickly responded to minor shitstorm that ensued after he spammed the Amazon entry for Hawking and Mlodinow’s book, by switching tack and claiming that his book was, in fact, a deliberate parody/satire of the ongoing science vs religion debate, offering a refund to anyone who purchased the book before this apparent deception had been revealed. Absurdly, given this self-admitted deception, part of McGrath’s claim is based on the assertion that statements made before he perform this abrupt U-turn, which suggested that he might be a creationist/religious fundamentalist, should be considered to be defamatory.

Seriously – if we take McGrath’s claim that the book is a satire at face value, then he set out to deliberately create a Poe, pulled it off with a degree of success and is now suing Vaughan for defamation based on the fact that he was taken in by it.

In addition to publicising Vaughan situation, in the clear hope that he might pick up a bit pro bono support, Vaughan’s account of his delaing with McGrath prompted me to run a few background checks of my own. One thing that turned up very quickly on the radar was a one post blog WordPress entitled ‘Scroobythegiantkiller’s Blog’ which offers a taunting commentary on the case, written entirely in the third person, which is liberally interspersed with {self?] fellating comments on McGrath’s entrepreneurial prowess.Amusingly, the post concludes with a classic troll/sockpuppet tactic – the ‘Who Am I?’ game:

So, I could give my real name, but in this debate the point is well made that we really don’t know who’s posting what or what the real agenda is – even from huge corporations. Why did a huge publicity machine market as fact essentially that God is  ‘fake’ when it did not have the facts but only theories to support that conclusion? To sell more books is the obvious answer – can’t let a fact stand in the way of a sale. But is that all there is to it?

You know, it may be a parody with satirical intent to call his book The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need To Know, (it’s so obviously a parody title, especially with a comical name like Scrooby – which inevitably bears comparison with Scooby-do; I mean come on, it’s obvious) but Scrooby’s book is beginning to have the ring of truth about it this week.  So I’ll add to the point and let people speculate as to who I am. Conspiracy theorists will inevitably conclude that I am Scrooby himself! And I like that thought. Yes, I could be Scrooby! This could be his final act in the satire! What a delicious irony it all is. I could post this on a blog, anonymously, to guarantee that speculation, which, no matter which way it’s played anonymously will be the result in any case.  Perhaps the greatest mark of respect for his point that I can show is to hand this to the McG company itself to post on their website, if they care to: my own, small contribution to a worthwhile debate. No, they won’t go for that. I guess it will have to be a blog. Make of it what you will.

Its a sockpuppet. It may not be McGrath posting is person, but its still a sockpuppet of some description – trolls who try an play the ‘who am I ?’ game always are.

If you were to believe even half the puffery in this one troll post then you’d think that McGrath was well on his way to becoming the next Richard Branson or Alan Sugar. In fact, records at Companies House show that although McGrath is diligent in filing his paperwork on time – the compnay name is MCG Productions Limited – it has never once in seven years of trading, succeeded in generating sufficient revenue to require him to file a full set of accounts. Every year since 2005 he’s claimed a full small company exemption when filing his accounts. Nevertheless, this post has been of some use in helping to track down some of McGrath’s previous, and current, business ventures.

McGrath’s first appearance on the Google radar dates to December 2007 and a report in his local newspaper about a children’s book, cowritten with his then-seven year old son, entitled ‘South Pole Santa’.

A father and his seven-year-old son have re-invigorated the spirit of Christmas by writing an action-packed festive story.

Chris McGrath and son Milo, of Newport Pagnell, have together penned South Pole Santa, in which a rival Father Christmas sets out to wreak havoc by wrecking festivities across the world.

Chris, aged 36, a local government consultant, said: “It’s about an anti-Santa of the South Pole who is given an opportunity by the Santa of the Northern Hemisphere but falls foul of the Lord of Happiness and Joy.

“He puts the Southern Santa to sleep for 3,000 years but a witch wakes him up 1,000 years too early.

“They then set about to destroy Christmas altogether by stealing the chimneys of the world, so presents cannot be delivered.

“Only the courage of a young boy can stop them, but will he make it in time?”

The report goes on to add that:

The collaboration began in February when Chris came up with the original idea and Milo, a pupil at Cedars School, helped develop the plot.

I ran a search on the book’s title and found it for sale via Lulu with the following blurb:

Father Christmas has a rival! Out of action for the last two thousand years, the oldest enemy of Christmas is back to claim the festive season as his own in this spectacular struggle between the forces of good and evil. In a worldwide battle to save Christmas from total catastrophe, only the courage of a young boy, Milo, can defeat the enemies of happiness and joy; but will he make it in time?

However, McGrath’s book wasn’t the first thing I turned up with the name ‘South Pole Santa’.

That was an online Flash Adventure/RPG game released with a 2004 copyright notice which is described on one online games site [3rd ranked on Google for this search]  to which it was uploaded in December 2006, in the following terms:

In this Christmas adventure game you are a female elf called Devi. You accidetly find out that someone steals toys from kids all over the world. You try to notify Santa about this situation, but it seems like you just can’t do it, which means that you have to solve the problem yourself.

Moving forward a year or so, there’s a reference on the troll post to an oline game called ‘Golden Key Quest’, which makes one or two expansive claims:

He had a million hits from over 70 countries in an online game he tested, Golden Key Quest, that he says is in revision to re-launch following feedback from players. Okay, so he plays games. But it appears the main intention is to send people all over the net in search of clues, as he had already done – only the next time, on the main launch, it will be using only one search engine.

The trail of breadcrumbs for this game leads to a website which has been ‘coming soon’ since 2008, a fairly crappy promo video on Youtube, dating to January 2009 and a Wiki which was last updated in August 2008, which gives this description of the game:

The Golden Key Quest, so far, appears to be a puzzle trail of sorts. The initial prize was set at $10,000 but suddenly increased to $100,000 with the release of the second puzzle. The creator has made clear statements regarding the prize fund. That is, the awarding of any cash is purely discretionary and the game is just for fun. There is no guarantee of a cash payout. As a result, we will, for the time being, classify this as a “just for fun” hunt that happens to have a potential bonus of a cash reward.

It does appear that it is intended to be a long term hunt (years).

So, its an online ‘puzzle trail’ game with a discretionary prize of either $10,000 or £100,000 but no guarantee of a cash payout.

Does that sound a bit dodgy?

What if I point out that the Wiki includes the first two ‘clues’ in the game.

The first clue one directs players to search for a hidden clue – hidden as in displayed in black text on a black background – which directs then to a free flash games website which has now disappeared from teh interwebs entirely.

The second, a ‘riddle’ which appears to describe a game of some description, directs players to email a URL back to McGrath.

For a puzzle game, this sure looks like a recipe for an open-ended circle-jerk around any the websites of anyone will to cough over a bit of cash to ‘Golden Key Quest’ in order to drive traffic to their website.

We’ve also got a couple of other McGrath projects. Causes.cc is a one page website targeting Christians which contains only a statement/petition to the UN cribbed from the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and a vague message suggesting that the site will promote Christian causes if anyone can be bother to contact McGrath. This is being pitched by the troll post as a Facebook wannabe:

He wants to do the same thing as Facebook. What’s interesting there is that Facebook can hardly claim any kind of infringement because it’s charitable, and the .cc extension is geared specifically to Christian Charity!

And there also an ‘automated recruitment’  website called MCGWorks, which basically doesn’t – there’s a few pages of hype and some downloadable documents – mostly generic business templates – but no actual recruitment activity or system in situ, so I guess we’d better chalk that one up as ‘coming soon’.

So far as I can tell, the only live project McGrath has on the go, other than his ‘publishing company’ with its one published title to date – the alleged Poe over which Vaughan is being sued – is a white label sports clothing store for which McGrath has obtained a 2012-alike registered trademark – 20XII: The Honor of Sport – and a logo which purchasers can have embroidered on any kit they purchase. Bizarrely, McGrath appears to be in litigation with Nike after challenging a trademark application for a golf ball (?) which is being sold under the brand ’20XI’. According the most recent filing in the case, proceedings are currently suspended pending disposition of Nike’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that McGrath hasn’t got a case. According to that motion, McGrath’s claim for prior use in the US is based solely on the fact that he has a Youtube account with a single video in it, a video which lasts a total of nine seconds.

I’ve formed my own opinions of McGrath and the merits of his claim, so I’ll leave you with his profile on Linked In and let you decide for yourself just exactly how much of it you think is kosher and how much is self-fellating bullshit.

Disclaimer.

1. Ministry of Truth is hosted in the United States, so don’t bother trying to send take down notices to my webhost as s230 of the Communications Decency Act applies to the contents of this site.

2. Any libel claims/correspondence relating to this post will be referred to the response given to the plaintiff in Arkell vs Pressdram and any communications to that end will be published online for everyone to see.

3. Do look up the ‘Barbara Streisand effect’ before trying anything stupid.