This is a question that only complainants seem to ask. Those in authority all colluding with the proposition that the Ombudsman is impartial. Rigorous academic research could provide the answer as data would have to be gathered from both sides. I wanted to present such an opportunity to the recent Administrative Justice Council pop up event (12th February 2019) where academics met to agree new research objectives. Unfortunately, after securing a ticket I was informed by Naomi Creutzfeldt, one of the organisers, that it would be inappropriate for a ‘hostile campaigner’ to attend as it might frighten off new researchers. When telling the truth about your own lived experience becomes ‘hostile’ you know things aren’t right in the academic world.
The ‘pop up’ was essentially a ‘pimping service’ where representatives from government bodies such as the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) could connect with researchers who were prepared to take payment for services rendered. Admittedly, that does sound rather hostile but they themselves accept there is a risk that their autonomy is jeopardised by the lure of government grants. Quote from their roundup session:
There is a risk that research will focus on what organisations or government want done, what data are available, or what funders are interested in, rather than on a consensus view of what is needed in the way of administrative justice research. Both Ministry of Justice and HMCTS are interested in working collaboratively with researchers and to have input on what data should be collected in evaluation work.
More than just a risk when other voices are actively kept out of the room. You can bet that both the MoJ and HMCTS will be interested in working collaboratively with researchers on data collection as by controlling the data you can control the outcome. On this point, it is interesting to note that academic Dr Chis Gill, lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow recently informed PACAC (see Q9 )that he was particularly impressed with the consumer feedback gathered by PHSO and this data alone gave him confidence to confirm improvements in service delivery.
We were particularly impressed with the consumer data. That compares very favourably with consumer data collected by other public service ombudsmen. As to the scope of it and how it is collected, it is independently collected, and it is done in tandem with an internal QA process; all of that, to our mind, was very good-quality evidence that helped put in context some of the more acute issues that have maybe occurred in the past, with particular complainants being dissatisfied. That was one of the things that we built our level of confidence on in terms of this report.
This is despite the fact that PHSO act as a primary gatekeeper by controlling access to the customer survey in the first place. When did it become acceptable for academics to rely upon one source of evidence for their conclusions? (Kerching)
Way back in 2015, before they considered me to be ‘hostile’ I was asked by UKAJI to write a complainant’s eye view of the Ombudsman experience. Here are the key points I made:
No victim empowerment here; instead you become a victim all over again, a victim of the complaint process. Many regret that they ever took a case to the ombudsman, as it served only to compound their emotional stress; others wish that the body didn’t exist at all rather than raise false expectations.
Some of the key obstacles faced by complainants are:
lack of communication – you have to drive the case forward
secrecy – no knowledge of statements made by public body, though they are given access to your evidence
manipulation of the facts
staff away on leave regularly or case passed between staff so you start again with new case worker
blanket statements from staff which do not address key points raised
acceptance of statements made by public body at face value
refusal to release details of clinical advisor used – report written by clinical advisor – questions asked of clinical advisor or evidence supplied to clinical advisor
no action taken if a service delivery complaint made
any complaint made about the decision will be met with suggestion to go to judicial review
Since then we have been rather sidelined by the academic establishment and those in authority, notably the Ombudsman himself, Mr Rob Behrens, who describes us as a ‘small group of dissatisfied complainants’ who are unable to engage in ‘constructive dialogue’. Our first-hand experience just doesn’t sit well with the ‘open, transparent, impartial, remedy’ rhetoric regularly trotted out by the PHSO comms team. But now we find we are not alone. Concerns about the Ombudsman are as old as the Ombudsman office itself and way back in 1983 an academic/journalist named Paul Burgess actually talked to complainants in order to answer the question ‘Whose side is the Ombudsman on?’ and surprise, surprise the feedback from those complainants is an exact echo of our own concerns some 35 years later.
Published in New Society V55 on 13.1.1983 Mr Burgess opens with the following paragraph:
Whose side is the Parliamentary Ombudsman on? Is he the people’s champion against red tape and officialdom? Or is he an arbitrator seeking the middle way, the acceptable compromise between the aggrieved citizens and state bureaucracy? There is rising disquiet about the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, to give the Ombudsman his official title, and about his effectiveness in checking administrative abuse. Close scrutiny of some of his recent investigations suggests the disquiet is well-founded.
Openly criticising the Ombudsman was the first of many mistakes for Paul Burgess who was roundly slated for his article and no doubt told to tow the party line. He compounded his crime by including data to support his concerns and witness statements from complainants, Mrs Ward and Mrs Wilson breaking a number of unwritten rules.
rule no 1. – use only selective data to show how the Ombudsman service is improving
rule no 2. – never listen to complainants as they are unreliable narrators.
He foolishly pointed out that the Ombudsman has total discretion to cherry pick the cases to investigate in the first place and in 1983 just a third of the 1,031 complaints received an investigation. Paul Burgess was appalled to learn that in 1981 it was even worse with fewer than one if four of the 917 complaints being taken up for investigation. He was clearly concerned about the many dissatisfied citizens who were simply turned away from the only arbiter who could assist them so heaven knows how he would feel to learn that in 2017/18 the Ombudsman investigated just 8% of the 32,389 complaints which came his way and upheld just 3% of all those complaints. This is a shocking statistic of failure to deliver justice and remedy to the public but one which gets little attention.
Paul Burgess revealed that customer satisfaction was low.
The eventual outcome, after investigation of the cases he accepts, is apparently satisfaction for less than one in eight of all complainants. What has gone wrong?
With only a 3% uphold rate satisfaction in the Ombudsman has gone from bad to worse. Perhaps if the Burgess article had opened up an honest debate at the time, things would have improved but unfortunately, his article was stifled by the academic establishment.
There has always been some confusion about the role of the Ombudsman and Rob Behrens uses this to good effect with claims that ‘the public do not understand’ and ‘they expect us to deal with their issues’ and when disappointed with the results the public are to blame for not being able to ‘manage their expectations’. Back in 1983 Paul Burgess understood the role to be;
Constitutionally, his job is to protect the citizen from maladministration and to pursue officialdom for unjust treatment.
If protecting the citizen is the primary role, then the Ombudsman is failing 97% of the citizens. By default, the actual role must be to protect the government from findings of maladministration as the Ombudsman has consistently achieved low uphold rates for the last 50 years. Paul Burgess goes into some detail of Mrs Ward’s case who actually received an upheld verdict on her complaint about the DHSS but was distressed by the failings of the investigation process. This is an interesting example for analysis as the well-rehearsed line on disgruntled complainants is that they are dissatisfied because they didn’t get the decision they were looking for. Well, Mrs Ward did get the decision she was looking for but the process was long-winded, opaque, riddled with error and failed to take note of anything she had to say. That sounds familiar. Here are a few snippets from Paul Burgess analysis which chillingly chime so accurately with our own experiences:
… in an investigation which took a year, he [the Ombudsman] made no contact at all with the complainant. Consequently, relying upon the DHSS version of events, he got his facts wrong. As it happens, Mrs Ward is a diary-keeper and could have given him a detailed record at least as reliable as that of the DHSS local office.
When pressed by George Morton her MP to explain this interpretation of an impartial investigation, Clothier [Ombudsman] replied that the DHSS files had provided ‘ample’ information. He was not, of course, to know that the local office involved had acquired some notoriety among welfare rights workers, and was indeed found by an independent appeal tribunal, within a year of his report, to have fabricated evidence against a claimant.
You don’t have to be an academic to spot that if the Ombudsman relies on evidence from only one-side this would prevent fabricated evidence coming to light. An easy thing to put right but this still happens at PHSO who allow government departments to tell their own story without probing or correlation to the facts. Some would call this bias, in fact, most reasonable people would call it bias for bias it is.
Paul Burgess also notes an aspect of the Ombudsman’s reports he terms ‘accommodating observations’ aimed to give balance where none is deserved. Bending over backwards could be another apt description.
Scattered through the report are accommodating observations about the DHSS. This is a common feature of his reports in general and contributes significantly to the overall ‘tone’. Legal obligations fulfilled by the DHSS are presented as concessions – the back-dating of the invalidity pension for Philip, when in fact good cause had been legally established; and the writing-off of an over-payment which was caused by yet another mistake at the local office and was therefore not recoverable.
Many who receive long-awaited PHSO reports are surprised to find that despite acknowledging damning evidence of failure to follow written procedures resulting in harm to the citizen the Ombudsman is prepared to reserve negative judgement on the basis that the organisation has informed them that it has since improved or on the basis that even if procedures had been followed the same harm would most likely have occurred. The Ombudsman in full limbo dancing mode whilst holding aloft a crystal ball.
Paul Burgess also used the case of Mrs Wilson to demonstrate how the Ombudsman manipulated the facts to show the government body in the best light. Mrs Wilson received uphold in two of her three complaints but was dissatisfied with the service stating that ‘the system to which he belongs does not understand what ordinary people want from the Ombudsman.’ How very true.
The report says, “The local social security office were not to know that the rules governing Family Income Supplement were about to be changed.” But two months previously, the DHSS had announced the forthcoming change. It seems reasonable to expect the Ombudsman to establish that the local office should have known; Mrs Wilson did!
Paul Burgess throws caution to the wind when he goes on to criticise parliament’s select committee which is the only body charged with holding the Ombudsman to account.
The Ombudsman is responsible to MPs and to parliament through a select committee. Unfortunately, apart from the occasional splutterings, the committee appears to be singularly docile. Its reports have a complacent, self-congratulatory air. Most disturbing of all is its failure to prevent the Ombudsman from being taken to the bosom of the Establishment.
If you are snuggled inside the bosom of the Establishment as the Ombudsman most surely is, protected on all sides from proper scrutiny, then it is impossible to call yourself ‘impartial’. The figures alone tell the story as year after year the Ombudsman dismisses without uphold well over 90% of the complaints it receives. But try telling that to the academics or the media and you will be met with a roll of the eyes as they encounter yet another hostile citizen hell-bent on revenge. Let us leave the last word to Paul Burgess who reveals the truth having spoken to complainants themselves and studied first-hand the Ombudsman reports, something which is unheard of today. He also sets a challenge for those now working in the field of administrative justice in his final conclusion.
At grassroots level, I believe the ombudsman scheme has been a failure. It does not offer the ordinary citizen a satisfactory remedy against administrative abuses; indeed, it has become a part of the oppressive network of official institutions which, though purporting to offer public service, have effectively acquired purposes and justifications of their own. This failure was anticipated by some people from the beginning. The late J.D.B. Mitchell, former Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Edinburgh, argued; “Public authorities have moral responsibilities and these moral responsibilities can never be translated into legal responsibilities without a specific system of public law.”
So who is going to fund the academics to put out papers on the moral v legal responsibilities of the Ombudsman? Any offers, anyone at all ….
Yes John, I do know that.
Is anyone on the side of ordinary people who suffer injustice in a county whose legal system, we are told, is the best in the world?
Without money there is no justice! No legal aid.
Authorities seems to be making a fortune out of the misery of the people, paid for by the people and nothing it seems can we do about it.
Ombudsman for the people? I don’t think so.
Brenda . The idea that the British legal system is the “best in the world” is promoted by the legal profession and Parliament.
A Parliament where many Member of Parliament are also members of the legal profession who create the laws which they then attack or defend in court on behalf of clients for their own material gain.
Nobody oversees Parliament and it is only when there is a major scandal , usually raised by the media that anything happens to change their ways. Expenses claims to name but one.
I would like to give an update to my last post on here and in respect of UK data legislation, provide a correction.
Dr Gavin McBurnie works for Queen Margaret University. NOT Glasgow University. My apologies.
Please find below, my posting to the Comments Page under Dr Gavin McBurnie’s recent article on UK Ombudsman for UKAJI website.
My evidence in respect of my experience of Parliamentary Committees and Groups;
In the respect of UK data laws, I formally ask UKAJI that my response is published here.
Unfortunately, Dr Gavin McBurnie’s article seems to be misleading the reader.
Here are two examples; A & B
Dr McBurnie writes that The Group noted from the “evidence submitted”.
What really happens when a Citizen or Charity attempt to submit genuine “evidence” to a Parliamentary Scrutiny Committee?
The evidence submitted to Parliament is screened before it is submitted to any Committee.
I know this because I have submitted evidence to PACAC and the Law Commission’s live review of the legislation behind the Tort of Misconduct In Public Office since 2015.
Every submission of mine pursued valid points; but every submission was rejected.
After tenaciously pursuing my Human Right to be heard, the PACAC team in the end relented in 2016 but my “evidence” was not published until after the Scrutiny Committee had met and screened their meeting on Parliament TV.
In November 2017, the PACAC team rejected another cycle of “submissions” until I contacted Sir Bernard Jenkins’ office and other MP’s.
My “evidence” was accepted and I travelled to London and sat in the public gallery on 12th December 2017. Unfortunately, I learnt that even when one’s evidence is finally accepted by Parliament, it is still dismissed and ignored.
The misleading sentence “The Government should ask the Law Commission”
Dr Gavin McBurnie has failed to best inform the reader that since the 1990’s the Law Commission has been submitting advice to Parliament but the Members of Parliament chose to ignore the Law Commission’s recommendations.
If Parliament chooses to keep ignoring the advice it is given on how to best protect the Human Rights of the Consumer and Public Service user – then there is nothing that can be done.
Lets stop pretending that our Regulators and regulating; this is the big issue behind Brexit
“Who is responsible for regulating our Parliament?
Apparently it is the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
“Who did Martin Lewis ( Consumer Champion) describe as a “chocolate teapot”?
The Parliamentary Ombudsman
The UKAJI website and Queen Margaret Business School staff have a duty to present articles that are not misleading in respect of UK data laws.
Whether UKAJI publish this article or not; it will be published on the PHSOthefacts website and copied to Angela Smith at Queen Margaret Business School.
Fiona Watts : your comments about the Nuffield Trust are entirely relevant.
The constant debate and arguments is based on scientists who deliberately mislead politicians into believing opposing views in order to secure ongoing grant funding for their research.
One scientist at the University of Wales told me he could not pay his staff or his mortgage without grant funding from Government. He actually had two staff fully employed obtaining EU and UK Government grants to keep his department in funds.
What we also have to remember is that The NHS is funded in the same way and they spend large amounts of money defending their own position, supported by PHSO staff .
In my most recent complaint I keep advising the Trust involved that I have no intention of going to the PHSO with my complaint They cannot understand why as they claim that is my only option.
In this particular Trust their Data Protection Office is so incompetent they cannot find all my medical records because they are stored in 5 different computer systems.
It all start out as human error and usually ends up as a conspiracy “to cover up a cock up.” funded by us the taxpayers.
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Yes John O’Brien & the “rewards” goes both ways.
Dr Gavin McBurnie
(the former Complex Complaints Director at the PHSO & a contributor of articles to UKAJI website) is now based at Glasgow University.
(Oh yes and the former PHSO Director just happens to be in the same building and works closely with … Dr Chris Gill)
Former Director of Marketing & Propaganda at the PHSO
is back at the University of Manchester
… I could go on!
Fiona. Sadly this happens at every level. A former Chief Executive of Surrey County Council resigned before he was fired for incompetence.
I notice he is now a Director of the NHS Trust which I complained about to the PHSO.
The system is part masonic part mafia where they all look after their own.
You only have to look at the Brexit saga to see it is just an internal struggle for control of Parliament. with “Sir “Bernard Jenkin in the middle of it
Whose side is the Ombudsman on?This is a question
that only complainants seem to ask.
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Firstly Della, Thank You for the voluntary time, effort and research you have given –
in your quest to understand why The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman is seemingly never held to account.
You have been tenacious and unrelenting against the misleading propaganda that entraps witless victims like me to comply with the Complaints Process all the way to an Ombudsman
Your article on the ethics of the UKAJI and PHSO inspired me to contact The Nuffield Foundation ….
Firstly, should the UKAJI team best review their original application to The Nuffield Foundation in 2014?
I think Nuffield may have to?
In 2014, the highly respected Nuffield charity helped the University of Essex to launch the first UK Administrative Justice Research Institute at their site with an award of £325,000.
The funding was for three years and ended on December 2017.
The University of Essex took responsibility for keeping UKAJI going from January 2018.
The remit of the funding was to do as follows;
The Institute will address the lack of empirical research evidence on different on different administrative justice mechanisms …
Developing a co-ordinated research agenda
Identifying and tackling capacity restraints
But here is the stand out sentence for those UK citizens who have discovered to the cost of their Health, Civil Rights, Home, Career, and Family that our Ombudsman systems are a 97% SHAM
I quote –
Public Bodies make millions of decisions a year that directly affects the rights and interests of individuals
Yes, and in the end, those decisions protect one group and one group only – those Government bodies who ignore Human Rights within their Complaints Protocols, all the way to Parliament.
The Nuffield website states that Dr Chris Gill was part of the core team an the outset of UKAJI.
But the PHSO report that Dr Chris Gill recently made to Parliament was not only SEEMINGLY flawed but suggests a bias that would definately secure further Government contracts and therefore, more funding for UKAJI?
This month, voluntary members of the PHSO Pressure Group, PHSOtheFacts learnt that The Ministry of Justice and The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman have applied for an emergency bail out from our country’s contingency fund.
One of the sticking plaster appeals to the Royal Ascent will be for over 189 million. So, that’s an overspend of 189 million whilst UKAJI team claim that everything is hunky dory at the PHSO.
Questions that UKAJI could research
(if it actually posted one of our comments on it’s website since 2017?!)
WHY does our Parliamentary Ombudsman require a bail out for such a low rate of complaint cases “resolved”?
If the Complaints System all the way to the Ombudsman was fit for purpose, then Victims like me would not need to go to Court to seek justice?
The Ombudsman seem to be “chocolate teapots” for a reason
Why are our Magistrates and County Courts in utter chaos with delays, accusations of lost data and people forced into being a Person In Litigation?
Insurance ….. possibly, and most probably?
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Good research Fiona. The Ombudsman is hardly value for money when it needs a bailout to pay Mr Behren’s £192,000 salary. The academics have been captured by the state who have them by the short and curlies as they are continually in need of funding. No wonder they don’t want us pesky citizens to keep showing up asking them difficult questions. They know they have sold out but somehow have to convince themselves that they are still doing worthwhile work. Not so easy to do when you are face to face with the victims of the system.
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Think the “pesky citizens ‘ have finally woken up. Like Brexit,they know they have been sold out but MPs etc somehow have to convince themselves that they are still doing worthwhile work.”
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YOU ARE A KNOWLEDGABLE WOMAN FIONA xx Take care
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Spot on Della
Thank You for liking the posts and for your generous support x
Its not much knowledge (lol) but its information I’ve gained through the group that Della voluntarily set up and its KNOWLEDGE that I rather not have LEARNT!
You know it too! x Stay strong x
Historical only because the PHSO (publicly funded ‘service’)delays, defends and denys so vigoursley one must ask:Whose side is the Ombudsman on? because it ‘aint ‘ ours Thank you for writing up our confirmed thoughts and I so recognise the list of Key obstacles and after almost a decade of 3 x PHSO involvementI can categorically state I have expeienced all. I am one of manywho regret that they ever took a case to the ombudsman, as it served only to compound their emotional stress ( my son died under DUTY OF CARE yet the PHSO DID NOTHING to find out anything…..despite evidence being provided;) others wish that the body didn’t exist at all rather than raise false expectations. THE PHSO IS A TOTAL WASTE OF £M’s OF PUBLIC MONEY
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This latest article demonstrates clearly , policies adopted by civil servants and so called “experts” . It is also shown by the cover up over many years of the deaths of Liverpool football supporters and people in Derry who were murdered on Bloody Sunday.
The PHSO and LGO Investigators work in the interest of the NHS and social services and the “experts ” believe what the Investigating body reports.
In the meantime every effort is made to embarrass, confuse, and distress the complainant to try to make them give up. Which happens in far too many cases, where in fact people in distress do not complain at all.
This is where people like Della end up being shut out by the system . Keep up the good work. My complaint was turned down by the PHSO in May 2016. I am still digging out evidence of serious neglect and a cover up.
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SHOULD WE BE ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO LOOK AFTER THEIR HEALTH AND NOT COMPLAIN or should PHSO and PACAC (The Parliamentary Select Committee we pay for PHSO scrutiny) OR should they all just do what they say they will do and support us!
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As the latest addition to the PHSO Sir Liam Donaldson https://www.ombudsman.org.uk/news-and-blog/news/sir-liam-donaldson-appointed-independent-adviser-ombudsmans-clinical-advicew During his time as NHS Chiefhe is recorded as saying ” to err is human but to cover up is Unacceptable and failure to L earn Lessons is Unforgivable” WAS HE LYING? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liam_Donaldson#Controversy
are a few more things to note.Seems he is bck on Twitter after his Gaff!https://twitter.com/donaldsonliam/status/134584887125622784?lang=en
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The #VictimsOfGosport are incensed about Sir Rob Behrens recruiting the retired Liam Donaldson – with his dodgy track record in patient safety incidents.
So what has the RB “learned”since becoming Ombudsman?
How to recycle those who did harm to others …..
THIS WAS AN EMAIL I SENT TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMAN A FEW DAYS AGO – BASICALLY THE LGO DO NOT KNOW HOW THE REGULARTORY REFORM ORDER WORKS WITH REGARDS TO THE Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996…. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO EXPLAIN WHAT STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS ARE TO THE OMBUDSMAN>?
If you feel it is worth the time and effort to question your decision on the delay by XXXX XXXX from November 2017 to April 2018 given her direction to not send evidences to her on 7th December 2017 and you can understand this was a representative of the Council that suggested / enforced this delay then we may be inclined to ask for the case to be reviewed.
The Principle in law regards regulatory reform as you say – is discretionary but you have not investigated the allowed discretion given no policy of reform is available! If the Local Government Ombudsman does not understand the intricacy of the Regulatory Reform Order, it should not be for the complainant to identify to the Ombudsman service the failure of the council not to have a policy, nor should it be our responsibility to identify when and how discretion and legislation are entwined! The Ombudsman should already know this! However, given you will not investigate the failure of the Council regards the RRO this leaves us to determine the flaws in the Ombudsman Service is substantial.
If we ask for a review is it not yourself MR INVESTIGATOR who deals with assessing the validity of the issues highlighted? If this is the case then you will not see passed your initial decision. If on the other hand a different investigator took a look at the issues then how could we determine if that investigator knew anymore than you MR INVESTIGATOR regards the correct legislation?
We just don’t want to go through any more loops when the clarity of information presented to you is so clear.
Do we need to complete any documents to ask for a review? We have stated our opinions regards both the RROP – the RRO and provided physical evidences which prove our contestations.
Just to reiterate: Discretion on support for adaptations by local councils was abolished by statute. The only way a council can provide discretion is if they have a policy on regulatory reform. THEY CANNOT OFFER DISCRETION unless they have a policy!
BUT THEY DO OFFER NON MEANS TESTED DISCRETION IN THE FORM OF MINOR ADAPTATION GRANTS!
WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THE OMBUDSMAN CANNOT UNDERSTAND THIS PRINCIPLE LAID OUT IN STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS?
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Beacse they lie!!!
To err is human, to cover-up is unforgivable, to fail to learn is inexcusable
10:55 AM – 10 Nov 2011
What he actually Tweeted .(Time and date,)
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