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We may not like Simon Danczuk but he is entitled to fair treatment and natural justice

Sun DanczukI am not a fan of Simon Danczuk although in all my encounters with him he has been unfailingly polite and courteous which does count for something. He has a number of political views I don’t share, he shows far too little respect to a newly elected leader of the Labour Party, and some of his judgement seems bizarre. But that is not why he was pilloried in yesterday’s Sun, nor the reason he was suspended from membership of the Labour Party by its general secretary.

Whatever he has done, he is entitled to fair treatment and natural justice. In my view that should have meant neither basing any judgement on what is reported in the Sun, nor immediate suspension pending an investigation.

As you would expect, the Sun ran a lurid account of some late night texting in September, complete with screenshots with some words redacted, which you can rest assured was designed to make them appear more salacious and not for the protection of Sophena Houlihan, now 18, whose day of fame may well guarantee that she is the greatest victim of the exercise. The Sun was least fair to her but you cannot rely on what it said about him either. Never base any judgement about anything on a report in the Sun – that seems the right approach to me.

Immediate suspension pending an investigation has become the standard treatment for anyone accused of something about which people have strong views and which gets media attention. Last time it was Andrew Fisher, later exonerated but only after being subjected to weeks of press attention. A year ago an East Midlands councillor was suspended for tweeting a parody image from Pride’s Purge, only to have it quietly lifted two months later.

There are sometimes legitimate reasons to suspend people immediately pending an investigation thereby restricting their rights as a member, but there should always be a justification which outweighs the presumption of natural justice before any such withdrawal of rights. This requires that the person knows the offence of which they are accused and what evidence has been provided, and has the opportunity to challenge or contradict that evidence and have judgement made impartially on the basis of the evidence.

One such justification might be if he was accused of a serious crime. In that case, the party would be suspending someone pending an investigation by the Police for something which, if proved, would justify exclusion. And, though it would enable the party to minimise the impact on the party’s objectives, it would not reduce his ability to defend himself against any accusation in relation to a Police investigation or subsequent proceedings. Interestingly, the party rules suggest suspension (as well as expulsion) as one possible penalty in the event of conviction for a “serious criminal offence”. But Simon Danczuk has in any case done nothing illegal – a Greater Manchester Police spokesperson has specifically ruled that out:

On 29 December 2015, Greater Manchester Police received a report from a member of the public that a man from the Rochdale area had been communicating inappropriately with a teenage girl. This matter was looked into and it has been determined that no offences have been committed.”

The Sun itself reported that “Officers contacted Sophena to ensure she was not being ‘harassed’ by Danczuk“.

The suspension of Simon Danczuk is not like the suspension of someone at their place of work. He is still an MP and there are no provisions to withdraw any of his rights at his place of work. If Simon Danczuk has done something which, whilst not illegal, does breach the rules of the party, he is entitled to a presumption of innocence.

Simon Danczuk admits he has acted inappropriately.

In the meantime, the court of public opinion (aka Twitter) is not an ideal place for a trial of Simon Danczuk against the charges of sexism, exploitation, abuse of power or anything else, though perhaps better than the pages of the Sun. Ironically, the Labour Party investigation might not look at these issues either. What the investigation by the Labour Party must deal with is whether a breach of rules has taken place – has Simon Danczuk, for example, engaged in conduct which is “prejudicial” or in any act which is “grossly detrimental” to the Party?

One consequence of suspension from membership could therefore be that, if Danczuk is not found to have broken party rules and the suspension is lifted, he will be seen to have been “cleared” of all charges. Had he not been suspended, he might at least have been judged a stupid old fool, which is after all how he judges himself.

29 Comments

  1. Ric EUTENEUER says:

    Interesting that Corbyn and Livingstone were both questioned yesterday and gave more or less this response, even when “confronted” with the accusation this was only being done because of his opposition to the leadership. Here’s a chance for us to prove we are not the previous regime.

  2. James Martin says:

    Jon, you could not be more wrong on this. First, suspension as an MP was potentially justified under the rule book under “Labour MPs and MEPs are expected to meet the highest standards of probity…” which Danzcuk probably hasn’t! You see the issue here is not that he may have been set up, not even that he as a 49 year old man ‘sexted’ a 17 year old student (only a few years older than his own daughter) and told her he was ‘horny’ and wanted to ‘spank’ her. No, the key issue was the context of that exchange. That context has two key parts. The first is that he knew her age, and while legally she was/is a ‘consenting adult’ any of us who have had teenage kids know the reality of what that means in terms of emotional maturity and the continuing need for some protection (often from themselves as much as others, or in this case a ‘dirty old man’). But the far more important fact here as regards why suspension was justified was that it was immediately clear from the first reports and screen grabs of what he had sent her was that she had contacted him regarding potential work, and he then offered to see her to discuss this possible employment. In other words what we are dealing with here is a potential ‘sex for employment’ scandal, and regardless of whether Jon Lansman sees nothing amiss in that I suspect that most Party members will be outraged, and for me suspension is not enough for what we are potentially dealing with here – I would argue that expulsion is the only option and I am happy to call for it. Certainly if I was aware of a senior officer in my union that had done anything similar I would currently be asking the General Secretary to suspend them due to the likely possibility that they would be dismissed from employment if true. An MP is no different, and what appears to have happened here is a clear abuse of trust, status and power regardless of the man’s already iffy politics.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      He has not been suspended from his emplyment as an MP only from the Labour Party. And the evidence presented does not include anything which demonstrates that there was any offer of employment for sex. Clearly that is something which any investigation should look at but you might ask why the Sun did not produce it if it was there, given that, based on the times on the screenshots, they spent over an hour going through the phone messages. You may well feel that if you were “aware of a senior officer in my union that had done anything similar I would currently be asking the General Secretary to suspend them”. But you don’t actualy have the evidenc3e to make that claim here do you? A “clear abuse of trust, status and power” could only be demonstrated by a proper investigation with the cooperation of Sophena Houlihan, which hasn’t yet happened.

      1. James Martin says:

        Jon, let me put it like this. I represent union members for a living, and have for many years. If I had one of our union members or a manager where the allegations consisted of what we already have seen I would expect nothing other than a suspension due to it being a potential gross misconduct dismissal if an investigation/hearing found that the allegations were on balance true. And as the allegations are so serious then how could any organisation not suspend (which is legally a neutral act) pending the necessary investigation? What sort of cowboy outfits do you work for where that basic level of due process doesn’t take place or where such serious allegations are ignored? And if this isn’t serious in relation to a potential sex for employment issue I don’t know what is (from the initial Sun report):

        * ‘Sophena […] had initially contacted Danczuk about a job in his constituency office’
        * “I was keen for a career in politics and he is a very high-profile MP and I was in awe of him.”
        * ‘After exchanging messages for nearly a month, Simon asked how old she was. When Sophena said, “17” Danczuk said, “Good for you”.’
        * ‘Ten days later he invited her to his constituency office to have a “straight conversation” about “sorting her out”.’

        There then followed the ‘horny’ and ‘spank you’ ‘sexting’ that has got all the publicity. But as the allegations stand, a young student asks about a job in an MP’s office. He invites her for some sort of discussion/interview and then indulges in lewd sex talk. You can call that what you want Jon or pretend that there is nowt wrong with it, but if true that is a sex for employment issue and the only suitable Party response would have to be expulsion.

        1. Andrew says:

          Jon you seem to be in the know but how can you know what the party has been told. A cllr was a witness to his texts how do you know she has not made a complaint or even what SD has admitted to them, he effectively admitted anyway . You are just assuming they relied only on the sun even though it was reported elsewhere mirror and independent before suspension. Your comparison with AF is ridicules any suspension is based on the seriousness of the allegation, if you think a few tweets come close to SD abusing his power with a teenager then I at a total lose, I no idea why you even want to try. This is the worst article I have seen in LF shameful

          1. Jon Lansman says:

            Andrew: I think you are right that a complaint would change the situation though I see no evidence that one has been submitted apart from one by a member of the public to Greater Manchester police which resulted in them deciding that Danczuk had done nothing illegal. If a complaint had been made about, for example, an abuse of power by a potential employer and unwelcome sexual advances prior to “interview”, then that would constitute a serious charge which could have been shared with Danczuk for his response and been a legitimate reason for suspension. Of course the charge would be very much more serious than that against Andrew Fisher but if there hasn’t been a complaint then there isn’t a charge as yet, is there? There can’t be until investigations are made including a proper examination of the text exchange and discussions with the two parties involved.

            My gripe here is about process not the substance of the allegations which could be made about which I do not have sufficient information to make well-informed judgement, the only sort of judgement really worth making. Yes, I do have prejudices which are not favourable to Simon Danczuk but what I thought worth doing, unpopular though it may be, was to challenge the tendency I have observed including, and perhaps especially, on the left to suspend our views on the principles of justice and liberty for certain categories of offender.

            I think these principles apply to serial killers and paedophiles and child killers and rapists and terrorists and even mass murderers. If we lose these for those guilty of those crimes, we are in danger of losing them for everyone.

            Even in the Labour Party, the principles of justice matter. The abuse of those principles has been used over the last twenty years to manipulate decision-making and selections. Automatic suspension is an important aspect of that, used up and down the country routinely to exclude councillors from standing again often for “crimes” amounting to nothing more than dissent.

        2. Jon Lansman says:

          The scenario you present, if it was an accurate assessment based on an examination of the text exchange and interviews with the two parties, would be a very serious matter. I don’t think you can support it now, however, on the basis of a report in a newspaper that routinely trades on maximising innuendo from minimal evidence.

          If it were the case, however, the PLP rules are now pretty good on sexual harassment (though enforcement is pathetic and cover ups of MP’s misbehaviour remain the routine response in many situations).

          1. Andrew says:

            Jon, I am surprised you don’t find it reasonable to suspend someone for explicitly texting a 17 year old who was applying for a job. It would be perfectly reasonable in any work place to do so and in no way against natural justice it does how ever show that such and allegation is taken seriously. I dislike SD too but that has nothing to do with it and would support the same action if a similer allegation was made against a left MP.

            You are also confusing the criminal law with internal party procedures. Workplace procedures for example are based on balance of probability not beyond reasonable doubt as I suspect is the parties. So there is no question of suspending views of natural justice. While the police may not proceed because of the burden of proof it does preclude the Party doing so and the party may also have a duty under safeguarding over it responsibility to an under 19 year old seeking employment.

            I accept suspension has been misused but not IMO on this occasion.

          2. Jon Lansman says:

            If a Labour MP is found guilty on the basis of proper examination of the evidence of making unwelcome sexual advances to or propositioning someone for sexual activity during the course of a job application process, I certainly think they should be expelled from the Labour Party and ejected from the House of Commons. I have said nothing which suggests otherwise. My point is about the process.

            The principles of natural justice undoubtedly should apply to internal Labour Party processes – indeed the courts have shown a willingness to enforce them, and we on the Left have consistently argued for them not least most recently in relation to the process for considering applications for membership of or supporter status in the Labour Party during the leadership election. I am simply appalled that people who call themselves socialists can think otherwise. I accept that there are circumstances where suspension is reasonable and that it’s perfectly reasonable for people to have a different view from mine on whether it’s reasonable here based on the evidence. I haven’t read anything on here which convinces me that the accounts in the Sun or other papers (whose reports are almost entirely based on the Sun‘s anyway) constitute reliable evidence which in my view can only come from a proper investigation.

            I don’t understand your point about the burden of proof. I accept there are circumstances where actions might need to be taken in workplaces bsed on a lower than criminal standard of proof but why here? The only practical effect, so far as I can see, of Danczuk’s suspension is that he will be prevented from attending PLP meetings and probably meetings in his CLP – whereas I can see potential benefits if he had to answer questions in those places on his actions.

            .

  3. Its bizarre that the only responses so far are no action or expulsion from the Party. The way these issues were handled when I was a lay trade union officer was to suspend the person concerned and have an inquiry at which the person had representation. In the most recent case I had to deal with, the member had managed to send images which could have led to a violent conflict.

    No action is not acceptable, but expulsion is not the answer either. Interesting that for the leftists on this site, these are the only two options.

    As for the Sun, this story is all over the media and given 24 hour media, for Labour to do nothing was suicidal. Suspension is not irreversible. in my constituency, five people were suspended last year, and they are all back in the Party as no evidence was offered. One I work with on a weekly basis. Had evidence been offered and the case proven that would have been different,

    The Labour Party like a union has to be seen to be operating with natural justice. I don’t see what has happened is breaking the rules of natural justice

    Trevor Fisher

    1. James Martin says:

      Trevor, I took it as read that any expulsion would follow due process and a hearing, but assuming this is indeed a ‘sex for employment’ issue there can be no other outcome regardless of what part of the labour movement someone is in, surely?

  4. Karl Stewart says:

    This woman initiated a flirtatious text conversation with Danczuk, saved his rather daft responses and then sold her story to the Sun. She’s certainly not a victim, come off it.

    Having read the Sun’s story, the messages themselves are more ‘carry on sexting’ than anything serious, and this story is no more significant than the Prince Charles/Camilla flirting that made the headlines a few years ago.

    He’s been made to look a silly old fool and he fully deserves to be the but of a few jokes for a while, but that’s all.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I don’t think we can assume that the Sun paid for the story.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        hmmm…

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Apparently, this woman turned 18 ‘over the Christmas period’, which may indicate that the Sun decided to delay publication of this story until a legally binding contract could be formally signed.

          I can’t imagine another reason for delaying this big exclusive for three months, or any other motive on the part of this woman.

          1. David Ellis says:

            Karl Stewart defends the indefensible yet again. From Gadaffi to the mass murdering Assad to Putinite gangsterism to an MP offering work for sex to a young teenager there is nothing he does not consider legitimate for lefties and anti imperialists so-called.

          2. Jon Lansman says:

            I absolutely disagree with the presumption that payment was made. And to take the side of Danczuk without adequate evidence is undoubtedly grossly discriminatory

  5. jeffrey davies says:

    if its true then hes for the chop but there again whot on earth has got into him chassing a young girl but the sun isnt a nice paper its owner and bosses get away with justice but hope that mps behave themselves better than this jeff3

    1. Robert says:

      He’s not being sacked , he will be back within labour within a few weeks if it takes that long. She is seventeen he’s older but for god sake infatuation between a young women and an older man.

      How many MP’s have had sex with women while they are married with younger women, ask Prescott he may well answer that one.

      A lot of labour past MP’s have done worse and got away with it.

  6. Louise says:

    Would you feel the same Jon if it was your 17 year old daughter who went for a job, received explicit texts and had a meeting set up with a 49 year old MP?

    i never had you down as a misogynistic old man but clearly I got you wrong. Attitudes and excuses like yours are part of the problem, not the solution and the reason why us women still put up with this crap day in day out and nothing ever changes.

    New kind of politics? Your article is the same old same old, detract from the real story, namely Danczuk,and make it about the party, blame anyone but a dirty old man who lost the plot and his political way a long time ago.

    Shame on you Jon Lansman.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      You ask a fair question, Louise, and the answer is that my attitude would indeed be different if this was about my daughter. First I’d be overwhelmingly concerned with my daughter’s interests and not lofty notions of justice or the future political direction of the Labour Party. I’d want to protect her – including from the prurient interest of the Sun which would have no interest in her welfare whatsoever – and I’d encourage her to make a complaint about her treatment if it was justified on the basis of the rather greater evidence that would be available to me than is now.

      I was the sole parent of three teenage children including one daughter, now all in their twenties. As a parent, you can also be forgiven I think for allowing your prejudices to influence your actions when it comes to protecting your children. It’s sometimes a difficult balance to weigh that against helping your children to make their own choices and even allowing them to make their own mistakes. You’ll have to ask them how often I got that wrong.

      You also make something of the age gap and, yes, I would have undoubtedly been prejudiced against my 17 year old daughter sexting a 49 year old. I would also have disapproved of a relationship with someone of any age with Simon Danczuk’s politics.

      All these things, all our experiences, inform our judgements and our politics. But when it comes to deciding policy, and systems of justice or decision-making, our personal interests and even those of our children, as far as I am concerned, are secondary to the collective interests of those with least power and influence, and what we consider to be right.

      1. James Martin says:

        Sorry Jon, but you really have been found out on this one haven’t you? First you ignore completely the original evidence that led to the suspension that included the allegations that the nature of her initial and continuing contact with him was over a possible job/work offer, instead focussing on entirely secondary points (talk of no law broken/consenting adults etc.), and then you try and say that we can’t trust the evidence due to it being in The Sun, or even that it shouldn’t be investigated without a complaint from the alleged victim (which is not the case, serious allegations can always be investigated on the evidence available or where they have been reported ‘second hand’ by other members of the Party or public). It is for the investigation to see whether the Sun reports are true (comments from Danczuk himself indicates that they broadly are), but I did think that you had a good record on equality issues, but to miss the most basic issue of this allegation that concerns patriarchy and power and the potential offer of sex in return for a job by a Labour MP suggests that in fact you haven’t really got much of a clue after all. All your talk of procedure is fine, but not when it ignores the issue of institutionalised sexism within the Party that by your often crass comments you have made yourself sound a part of. I would hope you didn’t set you to be the left defender of the ‘old boys club’ but that is precisely what you have done and you urgently need to reassess the situation before you do more damage to the reputation of left in general and yourself in particular in regards to our long-standing fight against misogyny and abuses of power. This is not a ‘game’ of tactical advantage over a clown like Danczuk, but an issue of very basic fundamental values.

        1. Jon Lansman says:

          James: I agree that the main issue in the Danczuk affair is patriarchy and sexism – I never said otherwise – but I chose to write about another aspect, mainly because I didn’t think there was enough evidence at that point to write about sexism and the abuse of power (there is more now though some of it adds complexity to the situation which would strengthen the case for gethering more evidence before reaching conclusions). I never argued that you had to have a complaint from the victim to consider the matter – Andrew raised the possibility that a complaint might have already been received from a councillor and I said that he was “right that a complaint would change the situation”. I was also delighted to publish Seem’s very good piece which dealt extremely well with the issues and principles underlying the case, without, I think, drawing too many conclusions based on the “evidence” in the public domain which I regard as inadequate. I do, however, feel admonished about having said “he might at least have been judged a stupid old fool, which is after all how he judges himself” at the end of my piece. That would certainly be a grossly inadequate conclusion if the investigation concludes that most commenters here believe it will or at least should.

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      Totally fair point Louise, I’d say surely every parent would have serious concerns if their 17-year-old daughter or son developed a crush on someone over 30 years older.

      I’d urge them to go for someone closer to their own age, and I’m sure other parents would feel the same.

      But ultimately, if the son or daughter is an adult, then at the end of the day, they’ll decide what they want to do however much the parent might disapprove – in fact, parental disapproval of someone unsuitable can actually risk having the opposite effect.

      In this particular case, as I don’t know either person, the only issue for me as a member of the public is whether it’s legal or not, or whether there’s been coercion or not – and the police have already looked at it and said there’s no case.

      So although like most people on the left, I really don’t like Danczuk or his right-wing politics, this still appears to me, from what I’ve read about the matter, that it’s just some silly flirting between two consenting adults. Yes with a big age gap, but still consenting adults in the eyes of the law.

  7. Robert says:

    So he texted a young women who then texted him back, is that as bad as laying somebody over your table in your office and giving her one with the door open.

    And if you think back at what some of our labour MP’s have done over the years and got away with it, I think we need to get this in context.

    The fact is he’s been a silly older man falling for the Charms of a younger women, he should have known better, he should not have done it, but he did.

    You can demote him if he had a job on the front bench but labour rule book are well out of date to our laws on employment bringing an employer into disrepute might be serious, but not breaking the laws of this country means he cannot be sacked unless it is through the local constituency and members. And if he then stands as an independent he could end up winning and labour losing another seat.

    What has he actually done which is so wrong acted like an idiot, he texted messages to a seventeen year old girl who then replied to him.

    He will be back within two weeks if that long, and then he will really have a go at Corbyn.

    Labour needs to get off this internal mess and start attacking the Tories, sadly the right are more interested in making another bid to remove him.

    1. James Martin says:

      It is not about breaking the law in this case, but of breaching the standing Labour Party rules that say that a Labour MP must ‘meet the highest standards of probity’. Just so we are clear, the standard definition of probity is ‘the quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency’.

      So with the meaning of probity in mind, here we have an older male MP in a position of power. A young female student enquires about a job in his constituency office and before we know it the MP is indulging in sex talk with her while at the same time inviting her for an interview. The potential breach of rules here is obvious and it is far removed from the type of other consenting sexual relations and affairs MPs may have that you and others seem to think it fits into.

      It strikes me that Left Futures is dominated by male writers and contributors. Even so it is worrying that some appear to view this issue simply as one of ‘sex’ or an over-reaction regarding potential rule-breaking. It is neither, but what concerns me most is that we know the Party has even now huge perceived barriers to young people and women getting active in it. We are seen, with some truth, as ‘an old boys club’ organisationally, particularly when it comes to senior representatives within our structures including MPs. And yet it seems there are some on the left who have completely missed the really serious issue of these allegations that concern at their centre patriarchy and power. How the Party deals with what is very possibly a ‘sex for employment’ situation is therefore far more important than an individual idiot like Danczuk or the balance of power between the left and others on the NEC. No, this should be seen very much as how we expect young supporters and members, particularly female ones, to be treated – with probity – and it matters not weather Danczuk was set up or that this was a potential media honeytrap, because at the time Danczuk enthusiastically linked an enquiry over a job in his constituency office from a 17 year old with his inappropriate sex talk he believed she was genuine (as she may well be anyway), and therefore how we as a Party treat young women, whether we tolerate disgusting sleaze and talk of sex around job offers, is the real issue here and the reason why if these allegations are found to be true that he cannot remain a member.

  8. gerry says:

    Danczuk – sexist, pathetic, self serving: the sooner he is booted out of the party the better.

    What is happening to our party? Day by day we seem to be turning into the worst type of old boys club, from the Left like Milne, Fisher, Livingstone et al to the right like Danczuk, John Mann, Mandelson.

    Jon L – to argue for “natural justice”for Danczuk, when we have all seen the disgusting texts written by a 49 year old MP to a 17 year old constituent., is beyond words.

    And then we read that Momentum is riven by allegations of sexism, racism, bullying and intimidation, already! Are the abysmal woman-hating politics of the SWP, WRP and other left sects being replicated in our party? The vicious sexism meted out to some Labour women MPs is obvious to all – both Right and Left are bringing our party into disrepute – the NEC must get a grip, and soon.

  9. Laurie Rhodes says:

    Sophena Houlihan (or Mistress Rosa as she was known on her Dominatrix websites at the time) is not a run-of-the-mill 18 year old. Whatever was being texted between Simon Danczuk and “Mistress Rosa” it would be ridiculous to assume too much about the power relationship between the two. Sophena is quite happy proclaiming on her Twitter statements like “Love a good Spanking” and “USED to be a Dominatrix yes, I liked the money.. It bought me pretty things”.

    The young, enterprising, “ex”-dominatrix hasn’t closed her website and was solely responsible for generating the massive publicity storm that has surrounded this episode.

    I would love nothing more than to see the odious Simon Danczuk deselected but not through an orchestrated trial by the Sun… especially when he has no opportunity to face his accusers & when no laws have been broken.

    Sophena, is an adult under law. If sexual misconduct is really an abuse of trust by someone in a position of power, Sophena’s release of communication to the Sun raises questions as to whom the real victim in this saga is.

  10. Richard Tiffin says:

    Young girl wants to get into politics and seeks help from MP to find work related to politics. That alone is a power relationship and from that moment on I would argue Danczuk had an obligation to behave impeccably, whatever the young woman tried to do to further her cause. If she instigated the texts then he should have ignored them, if he instigated them then for my money the behaviour should have him slung from the party.

    In employment law if she had ‘applied’ for work then the potential of the prospective employer to exploit the woman is clear and the young woman would be protected by law. None of us would have any sympathy at all with the employer and make an assumption that they were exploiting the situation of the woman’s need. So for me that’s it, Danszuk should face this investigation at the very least and if it was me investigation it I think I would be short on sympathy.

    If they had met in a pub and exchanged numbers and subsequently exchanged texts then we might not like the age difference or other aspects of the relationship but then I would have less concern, simple laws surrounding sex should apply. As a father I’d be unhappy; as an observer I’d be concerned about the exploitation of a naive young woman; as a constituent I’d be sure not to vote for him, but the laws on the age of consent are what I think would apply here under those circumstances.

    Anyway, following the revelations by Danczuk’s ex wife in the Mail today this is academic, I think he will be seen as a sex pest and deselection looms.

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