Apology given by blogger to local councillor in privacy claim

Misuse of private information claim settled with damages and Statement in Open Court

A councillor has received a public apology from a local politics blogger in settlement of her claim against him over disclosures of her medical information on his website.

Maxine Fothergill, who is currently a councillor on the Independent Group at Sevenoaks District Council, had brought proceedings for misuse of private information, harassment and infringement of rights under the GDPR against Malcolm Knight, the author and publisher of the Bexley Council is Bonkers blog.

The unusual claim arose following Mrs Fothergill’s complaint of harassment to the Police about Mr Knight’s blog in December 2017, in support of which she provided a Witness Statement. Mr Knight became the subject of a criminal prosecution for harassment in respect of the content of the Blog, but the CPS took the decision to offer no evidence before any public hearing took place.

Mr Knight published the Witness Statement in full on the Blog and disclosed it to the publisher of the “853 London” website. It contained private and confidential medical information concerning Mrs Fothergill of the most sensitive kind. He also sent a letter concerning his prosecution to the Chief Constable of Kent Police which contained further medical information about her, and then published the Letter in full on the Blog. The publications caused Mrs Fothergill very serious distress, hurt and upset, which exacerbated the damage which she had already been caused by Mr Knight’s repeated publications about her on the Blog.

Mr Knight did not respond to Mrs Fothergill’s letter of claim, but instead took to the Blog to do so in a post headlined “Pushing their luck”, in which he claimed not to have read the letter in full, disparaged the complaint as lacking seriousness, and, absurdly, suggested that Mrs Fothergill should “count herself lucky” in relation to the publications about her on the Blog.

Only after Mrs Fothergill issued proceedings did Mr Knight finally acknowledged the serious infringement of her rights for which he was responsible. He agreed to pay her substantial damages, as well as her legal costs, and to provide an undertaking not to repeat his unlawful conduct towards her. In a Statement in Open Court read before Mr Justice Julian Knowles on 12 June 2020, he apologised unreservedly for the distress caused by his conduct.

Gervase de Wilde of 5RB instructed by Alice Lithgow of Wellers Law Group LLP acted for Mrs Fothergill.