Graham Brown-Martin - The-Latest EXCLUSIVE
I was first contacted by the man who was going to end up launching a vile cyber campaign against my family and me when I was UK editor for American-based Trace magazine.
His flattering email to me on July 1 2003 read:
Hi there..My name is Peter Dean Rickards …I'm a photographer based in Kingston, Jamaica.. Just saw your new issue and felt inspired to drop you guys a line.
My work has appeared in THE FADER, SOURCE, XLR8R, MURDER DOG, VIBE and a bunch of others. Have a look at my portfolio here:
I would love to do some work for your mag one of these days..It's the hottest ish out there right now...
So, after checking his portfolio, reading his persuasive emails and talking on the phone I was keen to help get his work on the pages of Trace and Ammo City, an online urban arts, music, style and politics magazine I founded.
While visiting family in Antigua a month later I took a trip to Jamaica, my first to the island, to meet with him. As part of the trip Rickards, pictured left, suggested we meet with the top reggae artist Sizzla Kalonji to discuss the possibilities of an article at some future date.
Little did I know that by the end of our relationship Rickards would be threatening to rape my three- year-old daughter and her mother and kill me.
At the time I also hadn't heard the story about Rickards, on an assignment for the Source magazine, allegedly boasting about threatening to "kick the baby out of the belly" of the magazine's pregnant news editor, Ann-Marie Nicholson. And nor did I know about his sick obsession with taking gruesome paparazzi type photographs of road accident victims and then posting them on the internet.
The meeting with Sizzla at his famed Judgement Yard music studio in Kingston's August Town was brief but inspiring. Sizzla invited me to return and see him again. A short article by me about Sizzla appeared on Ammo a month later, featuring Rickard's pictures and links to his site. Some of Rickards' non-commissioned imagery, pictures that he offered free to promote himself, made the pages of Trace in another article I had written about Jamaica. This time he featured the Trace story on his site promoting himself and the magazine.
Later in 2003 the chance came for me to live and work in Jamaica which, given my first experience of the beautiful country and hugely talented people like Sizzla, I jumped at. My music industry friend Jon Baker owned a recording studio in Port Antonio and he asked me to join him so we could work together on some projects. Having remained in constant contact with Rickards since my first trip, we both looked forward to the opportunity to work together even though I would be located on the other side of the island - him much further south in Kingston.
Our business relationship in Jamaica was good for several months. Rickards landed a number of photographic assignments such as those for London's Wall of Sound record label and a German recording artist.
Meanwhile, I set up the company Jamaican Digital to help people on the island build websites for their businesses. Rickards wanted my family and me to move closer to him in Kingston, where he had begun to run special art house film nights. I lent him a film projector so he could do this.
His favourite film for the shows, Children of God, was very violent. It was about Brazilian children growing up in the Rio ghetto. Rickards was supposed to show some of my short the films during the event but didn't. It was very much his gig alone. That pissed me off. In turn, he was angry I would not move to Kingston. And, as many wiser people on the island had predicted, he and I eventually fell out. I had been warned he was a bit crazy but ignored this. But how the tide turned changed dramatically. After the many things that I had helped Rickards with, like finding him work and fixing his virus infested computers for free, it was the fact that I wouldn't lend him a video projector after the umpteenth time of doing so that made him turn on me.
Rickards created a website with a ticking clock giving my family and me, whose pictures he put on it, three weeks to leave Jamaica. He published an article entitled 'white lies' on his Afflicted Yard Jamaican website which, if not for the blatant racism and attacks on both my wife and three-year-old daughter, might have been funny. That is, if you're into the bigoted humour of say, Bernard Manning. He then followed up with his 'whitey digital' article and then the menacing 'silent killer' piece which he alerted me to with a text message to my phone which said: "You've got one week ****hole! watch how it go!"
In an email to me he said: "Do you know how much it would cost to pay a crack head (drug addict) to rape your wife and your daughter?"
So why did it taken nine months following the publication of the Ammo story for Rickards to decide that I was a white liberal hippy arsehole?
The answer lies in the fact that the gravy train I had provided him had come to a halt and Rickards has been venting his spleen against me online ever since. After bombarding my mobile phone with abusive text messages, to such an extent that I had to have him blocked, my new found stalker decided to phone my Ghanaian wife to call her an 'African nigger bitch' and make threats about 'whitey having to watch his back'.
In another hateful message he referred to me, my wife and daughter as "white meat, black meat and mongrel meat".
Irene, my wife, bravely confronted Rickards, the bully, and challenged him by saying: "Stop barking like a bitch and start biting like a dog. You know where we are." But he was always too cowardly to confront us face to face.
There is a twist to the story, based on me making a human rights stand in the Jamaican press over the brutal murder in June 2004, of a leading gay rights activist on the island. Brian Williamson was hacked to death by an assailant wielding a machete. A crowd even celebrated over Williamson's mutilated body. Perhaps most disturbing, many anti-gay assaults have been acts of mob violence in Jamaica.
Now Rickards denounced me as gay and used youth and music websites to incite the notoriously extreme homophobes on the island to deal with me. He launched a killbattyman site, named after Jamaican abusive slang for a gay man and published my home address on it. But police still felt powerless to stop him despite us constantly calling on them to help.
We had to hire our own private security to guard us round the clock, at great expense, because we took Rickards' death threats very seriously. My wife painfully reminds me that our daughter went from happily skipping to school to being escorted there by an armed guard.
Such was the awful effect on our daughter that once she said to us that it would be a good idea to "get a gun and shoot Peter". She had met Rickards on many occasions at our home when he was almost like one of our family.
In the end, with great sadness, we decided to leave Jamaica in July 2004 to get away from our tormentor. We moved to Devon for three weeks and then back to London. Purely by chance, Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist and leader of the Outrage!, launched his anti-murder music campaign against homophobic Jamaican reggae. We contacted him and he was very supportive. This was particularly useful to us in countering those people who bizarrely thought that we were trying to censor Rickards' artistic freedom to publish whatever he liked online.
For instance, in September 2008, an art gallery at Brixton, in south London, wanted to use some of Rickards' photographs of Jamaican women posing with big guns - a fetish of his. It took a lot of persuading from ourselves, Tatchell, the police and our MP to get the gallery to pull back.
Frankly, we thought Rickards would tire of harassing us and go away. But the campaign of hate has been going on for four years now and neither the Jamaican nor British police or our MP Joan Ruddock have been able to stop it.
There were clues that this vendetta would happen as it did with the many people from whom Rickards had taken money or help. His doctored photos and constant vicious jokes about former business colleagues he had fallen out with should have rung my alarm bells. His targets included a Puma product manager, Wall of Sound label boss, UK Graf artists, German reggae artist and the Jamaican music artists from whom he makes a living. In fact anyone who he considered posed a threat because they were more talented or had got further in life than him were fair game.
Perhaps it was just his insatiable tastes for drugs that had gotten the better of him. On more than one occasion he was busted by Jamaican police for possession of hard and soft drugs. Once he even pleaded with me from a police cell in Negril for me to drive all the way from Ocho Rios to bail him out after he'd been arrested because he thought a "white face" would help him out!
Like many drug users, he's a great person to know when he wants something from you!
Rickards wasn't happy to simply lampoon me and my business interests on his website, he has taken a pop at my wife and child to express his revulsion of mixed race marriages.
Following Rickards' witnessed threats to rape my wife and daughter and cut off my head, the matter was reported to the Jamaican police who arrested him. Here is what he has to say about it: http://web.archive.org/web/20040627025334/www.afflictedyard.com/whitey_digital.htm. They took his computer too but handed it back without examining it because they said they did not have the experts to do so. The police made it a condition that Rickard must not make contact with us physically, by letter or phone.
But after his release the threats continued, this time online with Rickards putting his fabricated version of events on his Afflicted Yard web site. Due to legal reasons I have been unable to publish much of his abusive material to uncover his vendetta to the world. I hope it can be made available at a future time. But, for now, it is held by Jamaican, British and American lawyers.
My wife underwent costly therapy to deal with the post traumatic stress during her pregnancy with our second child and police have fortified our home with additional security to the point that sometimes we feel like we're living in a prison. We've also had to buy a guard dog.
Fortunately, even though Jamaican-born Rickards is officially a Canadian, he is going to have a little trouble next time he wants to visit New York or London, because of the view taken by the authorities of his unrelenting hate campaign against my family and me.
The fact that Rickards hasn't been prosecuted is key to the story/issue here. It means that anybody outside of immediate jurisdiction of the UK can simply wage a campaign of hate and fear with impunity whilst, in this case, continue to enjoy the benefits of credibility by being promoted by public galleries, popular media and the blogosphere.
Irene and me just want justice; an end to this abuse. There needs to be a debate on the very serious issues
around cyber stalking, police attitudes, government ineptitude, internet identity and safety. We hope that, as a consequence of our situation being brought into the public arena, there will in future be safe guards put in place to ensure that this doesn't happen to other citizens.
To the magazine writers, photo editors, product managers, record label bosses and artists who receive a similar "bless" email from Rickards to the one I did I say - buyer beware. Resist his deadly charm at all costs.
Additional reporting by MARC WADSWORTH
* From: Peter Tatchell To: Lucy Davies, 198 Gallery
Date: August 30 2008 19:04:58 BST
Subject: Graham Brown-Martin and Peter Dean Rickards
I am very sorry that you have only been appraised of these issues so late in the day. The Metropolitan Police were supposed to contact you two months ago. Their rude, sloppy attitude is not ony a discourtesy to the 198 Gallery, but an insult to the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community.
I hear and share your concerns about censorship and realise that you have yet to make a final decison.
I also defend free speech, like you, but not to the point of indulging people who advocate the MURDER of other human beings and who personally terrorise people, as Peter Rickards has done.
I am sure the 198 gallery would refuse to show the works of a racist who has urged the murder of black people or a neo-Nazi who had terrorised Jews and advocated their extermination.
Please advise me if you would indulge racists and anti-Semities.If you would, then indulging Peter Rickards would be shameful but atleast be consistent.
If you would not, then 198 gallery is being totally hypocritical and homophobic.
I find equivocation in the defence of LGBT human rights - and our right to be spared threats and attempts to kill us - totally abhorent.
I hope you agree and will withdraw the Rickards photos. By all means include an explanation in the empty space.
But please to not reward and indulge people who want to kill LGBT people and who urge others to do so.
I would be grateful to receive your response to this email asap.
Yours with appreciation, Peter Tatchell
Thanks you for getting in touch and expressing your concerns regarding the situation we find ourselves in with regard to the proposed inclusion of artworks by Peter Dean Rickards in our forthcoming exhibition at 198, Crime and Punishment.
This information has come as a total shock to us here at 198 and we wish that the matter had been brought to our attention earlier rather than just before the opening. We had no knowledge of the homophobic past of the artist or the incidents that have been described to me in your emails and over the phone. He has not indicated any intention to come to the UK for the exhibition and the images were sent to us via email.
We came across the artworks (see attached) as a result of the recent exhibition, Kingston on the Edge, at 128 Gallerie in Kingston with whom we have links. We identified these images for inclusion in Crime and Punishment for their powerful photo journalistic quality and the debate that they raise around the creation of folk heroes, perceptions of the criminal, vigilantism and to ask the question Whose Justice?
198 Contemporary Arts and Learning would never exhibit any works which use guns within a fashion aesthetic as we do extensive work with youth which is aimed directly at challenging the prevalence of this culture. We also work closely with the Metropolitan Police and Lambeth Youth Offending Team towards this goal. This commitment can be seen in our exhibition 'Different Endz' opening in three venues in Lambeth on Monday for Peace Month.
The launch is at Brixton Library at 11.45am followed by a reception at The Ritzy Cinema. The works on display are an anti gun crime campaign created by Brixton youth aimed at their peers and the wider community.
The history of 198 is one of inclusion as opposed to exclusion and since 1988 we have provided a platform for a large cross section of the community (a word we don't use lightly) through our exhibitions and participatory programmes. We exhibit issue based work and aim to provide a forum where complex and difficult issues can be debated. Over the past 20 years we have constantly sought to do this and as a result have occasionally incurred a backlash such as the time a bullet was fired at the gallery because we exhibited work by the gay African American artist Ben Jones in 1992.
We have a diverse workforce both racially and in terms of sexual orientation. It is also perhaps worth noting that the curator and the majority of artists included in Crime and Punishment are gay something which might not go down too well with the artist, Peter Dean Rickards.
We want to work towards a positive outcome and this situation raises very complex issues of censorship as it is always difficult to argue in defence of a position you abhor. Given that the curatorial concept of the exhibition is Crime and Punishment maybe the situation could be put to some positive use.
We are considering removing the works from the exhibition but we also feel that the debate around artistic freedom and the individual is one that needs to be constantly challenged and explored. Perhaps we could consider using the opportunity that this situation has presented as a chance to further the debate around the invisibility of racism and homophobia and how it manifests itself, including on the internet.
By simply removing the works the gap could provide extra fuel for the hatred and would also make it invisible. Perhaps the hatred should be made visible and we should give power to the debate instead. An outright ban would leave no opportunity to discuss the crucial issues of hate crime and intolerance that this situation raises.
This could be done by organising talks or other events and the exhibition of accompanying text or statements alongside the images which could be printed small or displayed in some other way . We are happy to discuss this further and work with you to find the best solution. This would need to be on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning given the urgency of the situation and could take place at 198 where you could meet the curator and see some of the other work in the exhibition. Please let me know as soon as you can if this is possible and we can take it from there.
198 Contemporary Arts and Learning
198 Railton Road
t:+44(0) 207 978 8309