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Easeman v Ford [2016] EWHC 1576 (QB)

October 11, 2016

In Easeman v Ford [2016] EWHC 1576 (QB) the Claimant is a filmmaker and an activist who has worked within the media for 20 years. His videos have been seen via YouTube in 100 countries and viewed more than 2 million times.The Defendant publishes widely on the internet, is a blogger and activist and has a twitter account with 1,743 followers. He writes a blog called “Infantile Disorder” which features prominently via a link on his twitter account and has 21 followers on the Google Plus Network.

On 30th November 2013, the Defendant published on his blog and the linked twitter account, statements alleging the Claimant was a fascist which were then removed. On 21st October 2014, he added the allegation that the Claimant was an ‘anti-Semite and Nazi sympathiser’.  There were further publications, from evidence given, on 22nd October 2014, 9th December 2014 and 10th January 2015 with the heading of the blog, that the Claimant was a fascist.The Claimant asked the Defendant to remove the statement in October 2014 and did not receive a reply.

The Claimant issued the claim on 15th July 2015 and served the Particulars of Claim on 28th October 2015.  The Defendant did not acknowledge service and judgment was entered in default on 4th January 2016 for damages to be assessed.

Mr Justice Fraser gave further directions including service of a second witness statement by the Claimant which specified the relief he was seeking at the assessment of damages, with any other evidence by 8th June 2016 and, an Order and documents to be served on the Defendant at the last address he was known to reside in Liverpool. The assessment of damages was to be heard at this hearing before Mr Justice Soole.

Mr Justice Soole observed that the Claimant made the witness statement which was dated the 8th June 2016 and he considered, from the evidence provided, that the Order of Mr Justice Fraser and the other documents had been served at the Defendant’s address.

In the Claimant’s second witness statement he set out what relief he was seeking in accordance with s.9 of the Defamation Act 1996 and, where appropriate:

(a) a declaration that the statement was false and defamatory of the plaintiff;

(b) an order that the defendant publish or cause to be published a suitable correction and apology;

(c) damages not exceeding £10,000 or such other amount as may be prescribed by order of the Lord Chancellor;

(d) an order restraining the defendant from publishing or further publishing the matter complained of.” (s.9(1)).

In the Particulars of Claim, which was accepted by Mr Justice Soole, the natural and ordinary meaning of the words was that the Claimant “is someone who holds very extreme and reprehensible racist right-wing views”. Mr Justice Soole observed that the publication had caused serious harm to the Claimant’s reputation and extreme hurt, distress and embarrassment with “The republication extended to the Guardian online which included the statement that he “…may have connections to far-right and possibly even neo-Nazi groups.”

The Claimant also suffered financial consequences. In December 2013 his media work had brought him to the attention of a very well-known person who offered him work.  As a result of the online campaign by the Defendant, those negotiations were terminated. The Claimant estimated to have lost profits of £30,000 and £10,000 in respect of the proposed work.

Mr Justice Soole proceeded upon the basis that the Particulars of Claim had been unchallenged and were confirmed by the two witness statements of 25th May 2016 and 8th June 2016.

He considered the four points, in accordance with s.9 of the Defamation Act 1996, under which relief was being sought by the Claimant.

The first point related to a declaration being made that the statement was false and defamatory. He considered that the Claimant was entitled to this and referred to what is current practice and noted that “this will be supported by the posting of this judgment on the bailii website”.

In respect of the second point, to publish a suitable apology, Mr Justice Soole observed that in this matter the Claimant could incur further costs which may not be recoverable from the Defendant and, even though he considered in principle there was every reason to grant such an Order, the Claimant decided that realistically he should not go ahead with this application.

He referred to the third point which related to damages where, under s.9 (1) (c) they are limited to the total sum of £10,000 and, in this matter, the Claimant claimed aggravated damages and special damages up to that amount.

Mr Justice Soole examined the purpose of general and aggravated damages in respect of Libel which he said were three-fold, being, to compensate for distress and hurt feelings emanating from the publication, for injury to reputation and, for vindication so that  “any interested bystander can see from the sum awarded that there was indeed no truth in the allegations”.

He considered that, in respect of aggravated and general damages, the seriousness of the allegations was aggravated by matters such as:

  • The allegations were unproven with the inference being that the Defendant acted maliciously.
  • The Defendant must have been aware that the allegations would be republished much more widely than his blog and twitter account.
  • The Defendant had not responded to the Claimant’s claim nor made any apology to the Claimant.

Mr Justice Soole was satisfied that the Claimant had suffered substantial loss due to the expectations emanating from the commercial ventures and plans he was engaged in prior to the publication which were then ended by the other parties.

He considered that the seriousness of the libel and its widespread publication obliged him to make an award of general and aggravated damages for the maximum of £10,000.  Further, the Claimant was entitled to an Order restraining further publication of the Defendant’s allegations which he will have drawn up.

Mr Justice Soole observed that as the Claimant was a litigant in person, his costs would be recoverable under CPR 46.5(3)(b), which he assessed as the costs that had been incurred by the Claimant, in the sum of £2,160 (inclusive of VAT).