The Defendant (D) published a tweet on Twitter criticising Sainsbury’s supermarket over an announcement that it was providing “our black colleagues with a safe space to gather in response to the Black Lives Matter movement”. D described this as “racial segregation and discrimination”.
– C3 tweeted: “Any company giving future employment to Laurence Fox, or providing him with a platform, does so with the complete knowledge that he is unequivocally, publicly and undeniably a racist. And they should probably re-read their own statements of ‘solidarity’ with the black community.”
– C1 tweeted: “What a mess. What a racist twat.”
– C2 tweeted: “Imagine being this proud of being a racist! So cringe. Total snowflake behaviour”.
In reply to these allegations of racism, D tweeted:
– of C3: “Hey @nicolathorp_ Any company giving future employment to Nicola Thorpe or providing her with a platform does so with complete knowledge that she is unequivocally, publicly and undeniably a paedophile”
– of C1: “Pretty rich coming from a paedophile”
– of C2: “Says the paedophile”.
C1, C2, and C3 sued D in respect of his replies using the word ‘paedophile’. D served a Defence disputing defamatory meaning and serious harm, and relying on the defences of qualified privilege (reply to attack) and equitable set-off. D also served a Counterclaim against all Cs in respect of the tweets by Cs which used the word ‘racist’.
Cs did not serve a Reply & Defence to Counterclaim in time or at all. Cs applied for a trial of preliminary issues (“TPI”) in respect of the issues of meaning, whether the words were defamatory, and whether they were fact or opinion, in respect of all three claims and all three counterclaims.
In the light of Cs’ failure to indicate the nature of their defences to counterclaim, D did not consent to the TPI and applied for Default Judgment.
D also intimated in correspondence that, pending receipt of the Defence to Counterclaim, he was minded to apply at the CCMC for trial to be by judge sitting with a jury, pursuant to CPR r.26.11(2), subject to the contents of the Reply and Defences to Counterclaim.