Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sharp J
Date of judgment: 7 Oct 2009
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Harassment - Trial of action - Neighbour dispute - Publication of letters over a long period - Whether course of conduct was harassment of claimant - Damages
Adam Speker KC (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Summers for the Claimant; the Defendant in person
C, a chartered accountant, complained of seven libels and a course of conduct in harassment by D, a neighbour. The allegations were of serious criminal conduct, including fraud, perjury and criminal damage, alleged against C in his role as a director of the management company of the block of flats where the parties live. Despite he and others having told D that the allegations were untrue, she persisted with them for many years. In June 2009 Master Foster struck out her affirmative defences and the trial took place before Sharp J sitting alone to address whether the words were libellous and whether the conduct was harassing.
(1) Whether the libels were defamatory of C and published to third parties;
(2) Whether the D had engaged in a course of conduct constituting harassment;
(3) If so, what amount of damages should be awarded to C.
(1) The letters made very seriously defamatory allegations against C alleging criminality in various ways and were published to a number of third parties;
(2) There was overwhelming evidence that D had engaged in a course of conduct which amounted to harassment of C and it was legitimate for a person in the position of C to obtain the protection of the law from such obsessive, offensive and unacceptable behaviour targeted at him. D’s conduct was obsessive and irrational. Even if D did not know her conduct was harassing of C a reasonable person in her position would have done so;
(3) The allegations were extremely serious and it was clear that C had been extremely upset over a considerable period. Having regard to the nature and volume of the allegations made the Court found that that was not surprising. He was entitled to damages in the sum of £30,000 as a global figure.
The Judge stated that the award of damages would have been higher had it not been for the fact that there was a significant element of vindication for C from her reasoned judgment since it went through the course of conduct relied upon and explained that the allegations levelled at C were untrue.