Rachel Riley v Michael Sivier: defence struck out in libel claim

Rachel Riley secures strike out of Defendant blogger’s defence in ‘online harassment’ libel claim

Mrs Justice Collins Rice today handed down judgment in an interim application made by Rachel Riley in her libel action against a blogger, Michael Sivier.  The application sought the striking out of defences of truth, honest opinion and publication on a matter of public interest.  The application succeeded.

Mr Sivier had published an online article in January 2019 accusing Ms Riley of taking part in and encouraging the online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl.  The article’s allegations had been held previously by Mr Justice Nicklin to be a combination of statement of fact and expression of opinion.

The defence alleged that the supposed wrongdoing took place on Twitter.

The 16-year-old girl had initiated a Twitter discussion with Ms Riley on the topic of antisemitism and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.  Ms Riley and the girl exchanged tweets on the subject.  Some weeks later Ms Riley tweeted about the exchange in two further threads because a false account of it had spread on Twitter suggesting that Ms Riley had bullied the girl.

Collins Rice J’s judgment held the Twitter exchanges between Ms Riley and the girl to have been “measured and civil” and a “straightforward, rational and respectful exchange of views”.  The Court further held that reliance by the Defendant on the later explanatory threads tweeted by Ms Riley as showing bullying of the girl “verges on the perverse”.  Pleadings in the defence that relied on alleged omissions by Ms Riley of not having controlled her Twitter followers were also rejected by the Court.

The defence of truth was struck out.  The dependent defence of honest opinion fell with it, as did the defence of publication on a matter of public interest.

The judgment can be downloaded from the ‘Files’ link below.

5RB’s John Stables acted for Ms Riley, instructed by Patron Law.