A devoted father and passionate campaigner from York has died after being ‘remorselessly bullied’ on Twitter.
Dr Peter Newbon, 38, died last Saturday. Shocked friends and family have paid warm tributes to a talented academic and devoted family man.
His wife, Dr Rachel Hewitt, posted on Twitter: “Pete Newbon was my best friend, my partner-in-crime, my beautiful kind husband, a brilliant reader & scholar, the best daddy in the world to our three beautiful daughters, and I just don’t know how we’re going to bear his loss.
“I’m broken into a million unbearably painful pieces.”
Dr Newbon was a director of Labour Against Antisemitism. But he was accused himself of anti-semitism by the renowned children’s author Michael Rosen in a post to his 266K Twitter followers.
That led to hate mail and bullying online.
It happened last year, after Dr Newbon had re-posted on Twitter a doctored photograph of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reading a book to children. The original photo showed the book was Mr Rosen’s We’re Going On A Bear Hunt.
In the altered photo, Mr Corbyn is holding Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the deplorable hoax document that claimed Jews were plotting world domination. Dr Newbon’s accompanying message was intended to be a satirical condemnation of Mr Corbyn, who was accused of failing to tackle anti-semitism in the party.
But Mr Rosen responded to the Tweet with his own, saying: “If someone called Peter Newbon is on your pay roll, this is to inform you that he’s superimposed the phrase ‘The Protocols of Zion’ over a page from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by me and Helen Oxenbury.
“This is a loathsome and anti-Semitic thing to do.”
Mr Rosen’s tweet prompted thousands of complaints to Northumbria University, where Dr Newbon was a senior lecturer in romantic and Victorian literature.
As a result the university issued a final written warning to Dr Newbon for bringing the university into disrepute.
In response, Dr Newbon started a libel action against Mr Rosen. Legal documents lodge in the High Court said: “The making of an allegation of racism to the defendant’s [Rosen’s] followers and beyond incited what is known on Twitter as a ‘pile on’ against the claimant” and caused him to be ostracised.
Following his death, friends payed warm tribute to Dr Newbon. His friend, the writer Helen Lewis said: “Pete Newbon, who died on Saturday, was a beloved father, principled campaigner and kind, funny friend.”
Another friend, the journalist Padraig Reidy set up a GoFundMe fundraiser in memory of Pete Newbon, which so far has raised £9,300.
Padraig described him as a “gentle, well-respected man”.
He said: “Pete was a loving husband to Rachel, a devoted dad to their three girls, and a passionate campaigner against antisemitism. He was also an erudite and enthusiastic English literature lecturer at Northumbria University.”
Fiona Sharpe, of Labour Against Antisemitism, published a fulsome tribute. “Pete Newbon has been described as a ‘lamedvovnik’ – a hidden saint or righteous person,” she wrote.
“For us he was certainly that – a man of true integrity, loved by so many. He engaged his gentle humour and powerful intellect in the battle against anti-Jewish racism – antisemitism – for many years, within academia, the Labour Party and on social media.”
She added: “The toxic environment encouraged by those who should know better, particularly on social media, has had ramifications. Words have consequences, frivolous allegations have a real-life impact.”
Simon Myerson QC, who was representing Dr Newbon in another legal case, said on Twitter: “Those who remorselessly bullied him on here neither represent, nor I suspect understand, the love and friendship he inspired.
“His memory will be a blessing and an inspiration for people who do right and love peace.”
And presenter of Channel 4’s Countdown, Rachel Riley, tweeted: “I didn’t know Pete personally, but I cert knew of him and his tireless campaigning – he was a mensch. Feeling for his friends and family, there were so many, and they’re heartbroken.”