Takedown of websites ordered under PHA 1997
A retired official at the International Maritime Organisation (“IMO”), a London-based arm of the UN, has won an anti-harassment injunction against a former colleague. In Rada-Ortiz v Espinosa-Vadillo, the Claimant was a supervisor at the IMO’s Spanish Word Processing Unit where the Defendant worked on a short-term contract.
In January 2011, the Defendant’s contract was not renewed, and, 18 months after leaving the organisation, he brought a complaint against the Claimant in respect of alleged mistreatment by her in the workplace. His complaint was investigated and limited adverse findings were made against the Claimant as part of a confidential Report. She was sent a letter of censure and denied further work at the IMO after her retirement.
In early 2014, the Defendant began a campaign against the Claimant based on a series of four websites, which he also publicised in person outside the IMO offices. The websites gave a grossly exaggerated and sensationalised account of the Defendant’s complaint, referring in one instance to the word “abuse” or its variants more than 100 times with reference to the Claimant’s conduct, and to the fact that the “abusers” should face UK criminal court proceedings. They also contained a very large number of references to the Claimant’s name, pictures of her taken in breach of her privacy rights, and information from and copies of pages of the Confidential Report.
The Claimant applied for an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (“PHA 1997”) on notice to the Defendant, and there was a hearing before Cranston J on Wednesday 15 April 2015. The Defendant did not attend and was not represented, though he did remove one of the offending websites after notification and service. Cranston J held that publication of the websites on the internet had caused the claimant alarm and distress on more than two occasions, and could not be said to be reasonable and therefore amounted to harassment for the purposes of the PHA 1997.
Although there was no indication from the Defendant that he would seek to defend the statements as true, the court also held that the Defendant’s campaign satisfied the preconditions for interim relief identified by Elisabeth Laing J in Merlin Entertainments v Cave  EWHC 3036 (QB);  EMLR 3, where the harassment alleged does involve statements which a defendant will seek to justify at trial. This was because, given their content, the continued publication of the websites had the extra elements of oppression, persistence and unreasonableness referred to in Merlin.
An order to remove the remaining offending websites, and to prevent the identification of the Claimant in the context of any republication of the Defendant’s allegations, was granted until a return date four weeks from the date of the order.