Cheshire West and Chester Council & Ors v Pickthall [2015]

In Cheshire West and Chester Council & Ors v Pickthall [2015] EWHC 2141 (QB) (23 July 2015) the Claimants made an application to the High Court for an interim injunction against the Defendant under sections 3 and 3A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (“the 1997 Act”). The Claimants relied upon the abusive comments and allegations made by the Defendant concerning employees, Councillors and officers of the Claimant Council to bring the Harassment claim. Mr Justice Edis noted that the Defendant’s Article 10 rights of freedom of speech were also relevant to this action, which rights applied not only to the Defendant but the general public. In particular, as the Claimants were public servants and accountable for their actions, of public concern.

The Defendant represented himself in the matter. He filed an acknowledgement of service on the 6th June 2015. HHJ Davies treated the letter he had written as a statement of the evidence and his Defence. He noted there was no statement of truth which he requested within seven days but proceeded in the meantime as if it had been made. The Claimants on the 26th June 2015, served a notice of application for an interim injunction, draft directions and formal Reply.

Mr Justice Edis considered the evidence of the Claimants and the interim injunction was to protect its employees, officers and Councillors. They viewed the Defendant as “a vexatious complainant” who had been involved in a protracted campaign against them and those associated with them. The Defendant denied his campaign was vexatious arguing his allegations were of public interest and supported by evidence.

Mr Justice Edis summarised the Defendant’s behaviour since December 2010 when the dispute with the Claimant began. He noted during the early stages the Defendant not only emailed the Council’s Solutions Team over 1200 emails but threatened to sue them in a Human Rights claim.

The Defendant then investigated a plot of land by where he lived due to his concerns as to the location of a road. On the 30th July 2012 he requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act in respect of a covenant affecting the property. In a meeting with council employees in August 2012 he was allowed to inspect some of the title deeds and documents, accusing the Council of hiding documents from him and the council employees of criminal offences.

Mr Justice Edis observed the Defendant welcomed the proceedings so that he could produce his evidence to the Court and accuse the Council of bullying him to hide the matters he had uncovered.

The Claimants formulated a “Single Point of Contact” system to deal with him due to the enormous amount of emails he sent them. Under this system they were diverted to the third Claimant starting September 2012. On the 11th December 2012, the third Claimant listed the allegations up to that date made by the Defendant, including fraud and corruption which he answered in full and concluded the matter was now closed.

In 2013 the Defendant complained his requests under the Freedom of Information had not been dealt with properly. In the meantime, he had referred the matter to the Ombudsman who decided not to pursue it. Further in October 2012 the Defendant had contacted the Police and posted in full on his website what he had given them but Cheshire Police did not take any action.

In March 2013 the Council emailed the Defendant with a list of 14 email addresses which they contended he had used to communicate with them so that it would appear other people as well as the Defendant were making the same complaints as him. Mr Justice Edis noted the Defendant did not deny this.

Mr Justice Edis observed that as well as the volume of emails sent by the Defendant over the years he made allegations of criminal and dishonest conduct by Council employees, officers and Councillors and in October 2012 started publishing leaflets. He did not know how they were delivered but as the Defendant also operated a website the contents were published on that site. He also had a “Wall of Shame” naming Council employees and offering to remove the names if they “agree to support our rights”.

Following an audit, the Claimants found the Defendant had, between July 2012 and May 2014, sent over 2,400 emails and 1,000 pieces of correspondence. The Defendant in July 2014 made five further requests under the Freedom of Information Act, which the Council refused, labelling them vexatious. The Defendant complained to the Information Commissioners Office who confirmed the Council were correct.

Mr Justice Edis noted that the Police in 2013 decided not to prosecute the Defendant for harassment which they explained in an email to the Council in November 2013. The Defendant interpreted in correspondence of January 2015 this to mean the CPS did not find what he had written to be false. The Council had asked him for undertakings to stop his campaign of abuse and threats to their officers, employees and Councillors. He replied by letter of the 26th January 2015 that he had no intention of doing so. As he did not stop his campaign the Council served proceedings which he wrote about on his website.

Mr Justice Edis considered all the aspects of the Defendant’s case and summarised that he had reported the Council to the Local Government Ombudsman and the Information Commissioner but neither had found any serious misconduct and “The “raft of evidence” he had been shown did not prove any crime had been committed by anyone or raise anything that would suggest one would be committed.

Mr Justice Edis concluded from the evidence produced by the Defendant there was no real prospect of him being able to establish that the campaign of harassment he had undertaken was justified under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

“On the evidence as it stands now, it appears probable to me that he simply wants to cause harm. I consider that it is likely that he is succeeding”.

Mr Justice Edis then considered the Defendant’s Article 10 rights and noted that he had published his allegations freely to a wide audience without his rights being restricted.

He granted the Order in principle as the Defendant would carry on with his campaign of harassment unless curtailed in some way. The Order was produced in the form suggested by the Claimants save he did not bar the Defendant from publishing his website which he must edit to reflect the terms of the injunction or be taken down.

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