Blogger loses libel claim against Council

Chief Executive awarded £25,000 damages for counter-claim

A Blogger, who runs a website called Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and More, has lost her libel claim against a Council and its Chief Executive. Jacqui Thompson had achieved some nationwide publicity when she was arrested in the course of her protest against Carmarthenshire County Council’s refusal to permit the filming of its meetings. She had sued in respect of a letter written by the Council’s Chief Executive, Mark James, published on 28 July 2011.

Her claims in libel and under the Human Rights Act were dismissed following a 6 day trial in the High Court in London. Handing down judgment, Mr Justice Tugendhat upheld the Council and Mr James’ defence of justification. He found that Mrs Thompson had engaged in an “unlawful and vindictive campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation” targeting Mr James and other Council officers. Mrs Thompson had published a number of deliberate falsehoods on her blog intending to damage Mr James, and had attempted to pervert the course of justice by making false statements to the police, the Judge ruled. He made clear that Mrs Thompson’s protest against the Council’s ban on filming was not part of her campaign, save for the one occasion when she made the knowingly false allegations against the Council officer.

Mr Justice Tugendhat also went on to find that if the Council and Mr James had not proved the truth of the words complained of they would have had a good defence of qualified privilege. He rejected Mrs Thompson’s argument that the allegations fell outside any privilege on the grounds they were irrelevant to the matters being responded to. He considered that Mr James had acted responsibly in publishing the letter to the world at large.

Mr James also brought a Part 20 Claim for libel in respect of five posts on Mrs Thompson’s blog. The Judge dismissed arguments that the counter-claim claim was an abuse of process and found for Mr James on three of the five posts which bore defamatory meanings to the effect that Mr James was corrupt, misused public funds or was dishonest. The defence of honest comment succeeded in respect of the other two posts. The Judge awarded Mr James £25,000 damages, £5,000 of which represented aggravated damages.

A case report can be found here.

5RB’s Christina Michalos (instructed by Simons, Muirhead & Burton) acted for Mrs Thompson and Adam Speker (instructed by Slater & Gordon) acted for Carmarthenshire County Council and Mark James.