Victory for woman labelled ‘violent’

Jury upholds libel claim against Slough Borough Council

A woman labelled “potentially violent” after complaining to a council about a vandalised flowerbed has been awarded £12,000 in libel damages by a jury in the High Court today.

Jane Clift brought defamation proceedings against Slough Borough Council and Patrick Kelleher, its head of public protection, following their decision to place her on the Council’s Potentially Violent Persons Register after she complained about their Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinator.

In 2005 Ms Clift witnessed a child vandalising a flowerbed in a park in Slough. She asked the adults with the child to stop him, but one of the adults took exception to her comments and joined in with child in destroying plants. She reported the matter to the Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinator who took no action. In her complaint letter she wrote “I felt so affronted and so filled with anger that I am certain I would have physically attacked her if she had been anywhere near me. I truly am not of that nature and so, surely, this should act as a wake up call to the borough as to the capacity she has for offending people.”

The Council determined she was a potentially violent person and placed her on the register for a period of 18 months with a risk rating of medium. The Register was circulated not just within the Council but to partner organisations including the NHS Primary Care Trust.

In defending the proceedings, the Council claimed that the statement was true and also relied on qualified privilege. Mr Justice Tugendhat determined that qualified privilege only applied to the Council’s customer-facing staff and not to the partner organisations.

After an 8-day trial at the High Court in London, the jury found in favour of the Claimant and awarded her £12,000 in damages but rejected her claim that the Defendants acted maliciously.

5RB’s Christina Michalos (instructed by Simons Muirhead and Burton) was junior counsel for the Claimant.