Full case report

Cheshire West and Chester Council v Pickthall

Reference [2015] EWHC 2141 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division, Manchester District Registry

Judge Mr Justice Edis

Date of Judgment 23 Jul 2015


Summary

Interim Injunction – Protection from Harassment Act 1997- Article 10 – whether to grant an interim injunction to prevent the defendant harassing the claimants and others by publication of allegations and abusive remarks – whether the claimants are likely to succeed at trial in defeating the defendant’s defence of preventing or detecting crime


Facts

In 2010 the defendant was living in private rented accommodation and became involved in a dispute with his landlord. He sought the assistance of the Council, sending over 1200 emails to its Solutions Team and threatening to sue it for £1 million in a human rights claim. Some of these emails were personal and contained accusations of corruption. He also published a blog and sent emails to the Council in the names of others purporting to support him.

A second dispute arose when he moved home and became concerned about the location of a road near him and the conveyancing history of the land. He made a Freedom of Information Act request and discovered there was an error with the conveyancing. He did not accept that it was an error and thereafter began to accuse Council officers or fraud and corruption. He sent a very large number of emails accusing individual employees, officers and Councillors of various criminal offences and necessitating the Council setting up a single point of contact system which the defendant alleged was a form of criminal interception of his communications. Between 2012 and 2014 the defendant sent over 2,400 emails to the Council. He complanied to various bodies including the police and the Local Government Ombudsman who rejected his complaints.

Thereafter he produced leaflets for distribution and set up a website which contained strident and repeated allegations of fraud, forgery, lying, corruption and unlawful interception directed at named individuals. In 2013 the police declined to prosecute him stating that a civil injunction would have a greater binding effect. The Council wrote to the defendant in January 2015 informing him that they intended to bring these proceedings. He refused to give undertakings and stated he had the evidence to prove his allegations in court. In 2015 the Information Commissioner’s Office determined that the Council had properly applied section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act in declaring his requests vexatious.

The claimants sought an injunction under sections 3 and 3A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.


Issue

1. Whether the defendant was pursuing a course of conduct which amounted to harassment and which he knew or ought to have known amounted to harassment.

2. Whether the defendant was likely to fail at trial in demonstrating that his course of conduct was being pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or was in the particular circumstances reasonable.

3. Whether an injunction should be granted.


Held

Granting an interim injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997:

1. The defendant did not dispute the claimants case and did not deny that his conduct amounts to a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and which he knows amounts to harassment. His harassment was by speech and was intended to cause distress. Even if it was not common ground, the evidence demonstrated that the claimants were likely to establish these facts at trial.

2. The test under s1(3)(a) of the Act relating to preventing or detecting crime did not require the defendant to be reasonable and was therefore a lower test than that under s1(3)(c). If the defendant was not likely to succeed under s1(3)(a) then he would not succeed under s1(3)(c). None of the ‘evidence’ put before the court proved any crime by anyone or even raised any serious possibility that anyone had committed a crime. The defendant has become obsessed and perhaps even exhilarated by his ability to cause distress by repeating long dead allegations over and over again. He has long since ceased to apply any rational judgment of any kind in deciding what to do. It is probable he simply wants to cause harm and it is likely he is succeeding. His vendetta is irrational and his persistence obsessive: Hayes v Willoughby [2013] 1 WLR 935 considered.

3. An interim injunction was appropriate: Cream Holdings v Banerjee [2005] 1 AC 253 applied. Elected politicians and public officials must be subject to proper public scrutiny but this is not unlimited. They are not helped in discharging their public functions by having to deal with persistent vitrolic abuse. The restriction on the defendant’s freedom of expression is proportionate.


Comment

The latest example of a campaign of vilification targetted at Councillors and Council employees that has come before the courts (see Thompson v James at [406]). It shows how the Protection from Harassment Act can be used to stop such campaigns. The judgment contains an interesting discussion on the application of the section 1(3)(a) defence of preventing or detecting crime.


Download this Judgment


Instructing Solicitors

Cheshire West and Chester Council Legal Services for the Claimants; the Defendant in person