A county council is struggling to prevent the rapid spread on the Internet of a leaked report which strongly criticises its handling of allegations of satanic abuse of children in the 1980s.
Nottinghamshire County Council has already served injunctions against four people, including a co-author of the 30,000-word report and three journalists, preventing them from reproducing or disseminating the report, claiming they are breaching copyright.
But yesterday at least six computers in four countries on the global computer network were carrying the full text of the report, which is highly critical of social workers in the county. Such "mirroring" is common among users of the Net to prevent the banning of material; a page can be copied and loaded onto a computer in moments, establishing a new presence.
Alistair Kelman, a British lawyer specialising in electronic copyright law, said last night: "Once something's been published on the Net, that's it. It's out there. After all, the network was designed to withstand a nuclear attack; it can probably survive Nottinghamshire County Council."
The council is trying, though. In a move which has surprised experts, it has even claimed that "hyperlinks", electronic pointers to other sites on the Web, can breach copyright. Hyperlinks are a standard tool connecting the millions of pages of data on the Web, often pointing between competing companies. Mr Kelman said: "If they win that point then it means the collapse of the Net -- the whole thing depends on links."
The three journalists, Nick Anning, David Hebditch, and Margaret Jervis, put the content of the Joint Enquiry Team (JET) report into the 1988 Broxtowe Case on to a British site on the World Web at the end of last month. Under the injunction, the text was removed on 3 June. The injunction will be challenged in the High Court on 23 June.
The JET report investigated the handling of satanic ritual abuse claims against children, and concluded that social workers had been too prepared to believe children over police.
One conclusion comments: "The use of satanic indicators, which appeared so convincing, was disastrous". The report was originally intended for dissemination among social workers and police who might learn from its lessons. The council subsequently decided not to publish it, though the social workers involved were free to put their own views through the media and in public meetings.
In an earlier commentary on the report, the three journalists noted the number of alleged "satanic abuse" cases which cropped up in the UK after the report had been written. A number of those led to children being removed from their parents and being taken into care. "If the JET report had been made more widely available to social workers and police in 1990, would these cases have been handled differently?" they asked.
Besides contacting the British site, the Nottinghamshire county solicitor has e-mailed Jeremy Freeman, owner of a Canadian Web site carrying the text of the report, demanding he remove it. Though Mr Freeman complied, the solicitor contacted him again to demand he remove a "hyperlink" to another site with the report, also on the basis of copyright. The solicitor's letter said the hyperlink to a site in the US "is still publication" and would constitute breach of copyright.
Nottinghamshire County Council declined to comment yesterday on its reasons for suppressing the report's publication or its decision to describe hyperlinks as copyrightable. One source there said the council was anxious that the children involved in the Broxtowe case, now in their teens, should not suffer through having their past raked over in public.