Case against Catholic businessman for retweeting LifeSite’s articles finally dismissed

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STERLING, Scotland, January 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Complaints made against a Catholic businessman who lost his position and membership with his professional organization because he tweeted links to LifeSiteNews have been dropped.

Michael Willis, formerly the director for board development for the U.K.’s Institute of Directors (IoD), told LifeSiteNews that the IoD had dismissed “the case” against him.

The matter has dragged out since IoD staff members made a conduct complaint against Willis in May 2018. A December 11, 2020 letter from the organization to the businessman, seen by LifeSiteNews, reveals that the IoD’s Appeals Review Panel decided in February 2019 that there had been “some procedural irregularities” during the first investigation of the complaint. For example, although Willis’s suspension from membership should not have exceeded 21 days without a hearing by the Review Panel, it lasted months without any hearing.

While the matter should have been sent to the IoD Membership Committee, it was dissolved at the end of 2018 and, thanks in part to the pandemic, there is no Membership Committee. In order to “avoid further delay,” the case was sent to the IoD’s current Director General, Jonathan Geldart, and the Director of Governance and Policy, Roger Barker, for a decision.

According to the IoD’s December 11 letter, Willis’ deletion of the tweets that had offended three members of staff, suspension of his Twitter account, and changes to his LinkedIn profile were all considered “positive steps.” Another factor the directors took into consideration before dismissing the case against Willis “with immediate effect” was that all three of the complainants, as well as everyone involved in the “Stage 1 investigation,” have left the IoD.

Willis apparently offended the complainants, one of whom was a Muslim, by retweeting two LifeSiteNews articles relating the opinions of conservative commentator Mark Steyn, “Muslim takeover of Europe is ‘biggest story of our time’ and nobody knows it” (August 11, 2017) and “Europe’s childless leaders symbolize a dying continent soon to be overrun by Muslims” (August 16, 2017).

The second story mentions Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, and the SNP-supporting newspaper The National published an article about the tweets. “Institute of Directors caught up in Islamophobia row” was published on May 3, 2018; shortly thereafter, Willis lost his position and was suspended from membership.

LifeSiteNews reported on the matter in April 2019

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The evidence supporting the complaints of those who felt offended by Willis’s retweeting was patchy, Willis told LifeSiteNews.

“They hadn’t collected it with any rigour,” he said. “It was just little notations and rants, so it wouldn’t have stood up in any industrial tribunal or any court of law. It was just, ‘We have to get rid of this guy; look at the damage he’s done to our reputation.’”

The businessman has not yet decided if he wants to reapply for membership in an organization he believes is “deeply bigoted against a Catholic world view.” For him the issue is that a LifeSiteNews reader could be punished for retweeting “normal, run-of-the-mill stuff.”

“The consequences are dismissal, loss of earnings, suspension, and you becoming a social pariah,” he said.

Willis said that in the last six months he has lost business opportunities.

“I was asked to bid for some big public contracts, and then one of the individuals said, ‘Look, I’ve just checked your social profile: there’s no way we can use you,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Another person approached him about writing a chapter in a “major book on governance,” but reconsidered after he informed her of his suspension by the IoD and she looked him up online.

“Normal pro-life, pro-family Catholics exchange these ideas, but if you put you head above the parapet … You can never keep your nose clean and be a Catholic in the world today,” he said.

Euan Holmes of the IoD told LifeSiteNews that the organization “would not comment on individual member disciplinary processes.”