Sheffield Wednesday FC & ors v Hargreaves
Reference:  EWHC 2375 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Richard Parkes QC (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge)
Date of judgment: 18 Oct 2007
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Norwich Pharmacal relief - Anonymous website postings
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Instructing Solicitors: Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis for the Claimants; George Davis for the Defendant
The Claimants, Sheffield Wednesday FC, its chairman, chief executive and directors, sought Norwich Pharmacal orders compelling the Defendant to disclose information about anonymous contributors to the unofficial supporters’ website, operated by the Defendant. The Claimants required information relating to the identity of 11 members responsible for 14 web postings, which they claimed were defamatory of them. The Defendant was neutral on the application, neither opposing it nor consenting to it.
The court’s exercise of its discretion to grant Norwich Pharmacal relief taking into consideration the extent to which the Claimants could demonstrate the seriousness of the wrong that they alleged had been committed.
The judge granted the relief sought in respect of 5 postings which alleged greed, untrustworthiness and dishonesty, on the basis that the members’ rights to anonymity and freedom of expression were outweighed by the Claimants’ right to reputation. Although the judge found that the remaining 9 postings were “arguably defamatory” and therefore met the threshold test, on close scrutiny he found that they were unlikely to have been taken seriously or result in harm to reputation. Consequently, the judge chose at the discretionary stage not to grant relief in relation to those 9 postings.
This judgment provides useful guidance for those seeking the identity of anonymous online publishers.