A French-owned IT company awarded a £100m government contract to carry out benefits assessments has been slammed by charities after forcing a thriving support forum for disabled people and their carers to shut down over mysterious libel concerns.
The forum, which boasts more than 400 registered users and is run by the successful campaign group CarerWatch, was taken offline on Sunday after its hosting company was contacted by lawyers acting for multinational technology firm Atos. In a letter to the contractor, which has an annual turnover of £4.4 billion, the site’s owners described the devastating effects of the decision:
“We have many members who are very fragile and the sudden disappearance of a support group has caused a lot of distress and fear. Some are ringing us in tears.”
Speaking to Scrapbook, group administrator Rosemary O’Neill said that CarerWatch would have been happy to co-operate with the company if given the chance, saying: “Had they used common courtesy and contacted us direct, we would have removed any possible material they took exception to.”
A spokesman for Crossroads Care and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers agreed:
“It’s a real shame that carers will no longer have a place to turn to support each other. The dispute could have been resolved by discussing it, rather than by just shutting the site down.”
The disproportionate move follows actions against other websites After Atos and Atos Register of Shame. The former was forced to close in May after receiving a cease-and-desist letter objecting to the use of phrases such as “Atos Kills”. But the CarerWatch forum covers a range of issues of benign interest to disability campaigners, and it’s owners claim to have no idea what has provoked the company.
Charities are on the case — and it won’t be long before MPs follow suit.