Social Media

Significant Damages Following Twitter Libel

952313_79933908The Guardian has reported that Peter Cruddas, the former Conservative Party co-treasurer, has been awarded £45,000 in libel damages plus costs from a former aide to Tony Blair.

The action was brought by Cruddas following allegations made in the Sunday Times in March 2012 that he unlawfully solicited donations whilst he was the Conservative Party co-treasurer, a position he resigned in respsonse to the allegations.  Mark Adams, who runs the website StandUp4Lobbying, pursued Cruddas in what he described as a “persistent and public campaign” against him, posting 12 tweets and 9 blog posts.

The police and Electoral Commission found no evidence that Cruddas broke the law.

Hearing the claim, Mr Justice Eady described the claims as false and said they “would indeed go to the core of Mr Cruddas’s professional reputation and personal integrity”.  In making a damages award of £45,000 he noted, “A significant number of readers who were interested in following the subject, at least those who are fair minded, will have come to recognise some months ago that Mr Adams’s charges were actually just silly and not, after all, to be taken seriously.”  In spite of this concession, Eady made a further award for costs in the sum of £40,000, which will later be reassessed and potentially rise to £120,000.

Cruddas settled a similar case against the Independent in November 2012.  The continuing action against the Sunday Times comes to trial in June.

It is interesting that Justice Eady considered how the online allegations might be viewed by others and the actual consequences that followed, making a distinction between the serious and the “silly”.  Had the action been in the criminal rather than the civil courts, the nature and intent of the allegations would most likely have been accorded more weight, as suggested in the interim DPP Guidelines.

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One thought on “Significant Damages Following Twitter Libel

  1. I think part of the problem here was that the defendant persisted with the allegations after they were discredited. However, potential libel claimants should not take encouragement from this and think the courts will give them an easy ride for complaints about abuse and trivia – as numerous cases taken forward in recent years have shown. Eady also made allowance for posts not to be taken seriously and this is an important point for libel claimants to consider. Defamation is all about context.

    What worries me a little is the fact that bloggers who research and post correct information may be pursued by libel claimants unhappy about their wrong doings being published. Some have even resorted to harassment laws to curb free speech, as libel is notoriously difficult to pursue.

    After the McAlpine and Sally Bercow circus, I have come across quite a few silly threats on the internet. The McAlpine case should be doomed to failure if previous legal precedants are raised by Bercow’s lawyers. Not least by the risk of over-compensation and pursuing Bercow for a completely unrealistic sum as if her tweet was the sole cause of the damage to his reputation. All tweets and posts have to considered as a whole and in context and any damages apportioned accordingly. An abuse of process has to be the sensible and logical outcome.

    That case should hopefully be booted out quickly and sanity should finally return. One thing which has surprised me about this whole thing is how little journalists in the mainstream media and lawyers actually know about libel. Most of the articles I have read since about twitter and libel have been absolute drivel.

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