Levi & Anor v Bates & Ors [2015]

In Levi & Anor v Bates & Ors [2015] EWCA Civ 206 (12 March 2015) the Claimants and Defendants had both been involved in the running of Leeds United Football Club, the First Claimant having been part of a consortium which consisted of local business people who had stepped in to save the Club when it fell into financial difficulties and the Defendants, part of a consortium which took over the running of the club from them.

The First Defendant had a 76% shareholding in the Second and Third Defendants and through this was in the position of being able to write a column in the match programme and be involved in the announcements from the radio station giving him access to around 100,000 supporters.

During the changes that occurred, to take over control of the club, certain matters arose between the companies ran by the First Claimant and the First Defendant resulting in the First Defendant feeling very aggrieved and angry towards the First Claimant and the Second Claimant’s former husband, who also owned a company, culminating in the court proceedings.

The Claimants pleaded harassment against the Defendants which was not disputed since most of what had been alleged was recorded in document form but the Defendants denied that the words used by them amounted to harassment.

The Second Claimant had been unsuccessful in a harassment action against the Defendants at Leeds County Court before HHJ Gosnell as it was held that all the publications had been targeted at the First Claimant and only on one occasion had the Second Claimant been targeted. The Judge ruled this was not sufficient conduct to amount to harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (The Act). In particular he considered that as the allegations numbered (d) and (e) from the list of allegations numbered (a) to (j) before the court did not target the Second Claimant, this did not amount to conduct causing harassment to her.

Lord Justice Briggs in the Court of Appeal listed the allegations numbered (a) to (j) which contained references to various articles written by the First Defendant. The First Claimant had in an earlier action in 2009 successfully sued the First Defendant for libel in respect of those articles in (c) (d) and (e) and had been awarded £50,000 and in these proceedings he relied upon (b) (f) & (h) whereas that ruling had not concerned the Second Claimant and she therefore relied upon on all of the numbered allegations from (a) to (j).

The allegations numbered (d) and (e) had been published to a large circulation of Leeds United Supporters by the First Defendant where he basically asked the supporters to side with him against the First Claimant in a business disagreement between them. He had accused the First Claimant of disreputable conduct and given out his home address in (d) and made reference to the First Claimant’s telephone number being in the book in (e). The First Defendant was well aware that the First Claimant shared his home with his wife, the Second Claimant.

The Court of Appeal Judges considered the concept of “targeting” to be a necessary part of harassment, even though it is not explicitly shown in the Act, which the Courts have interpreted in the following cases:

  • “ Thomas v News Group Newspapers Limited [2001] EWCA Civ 1233, [2002] EMLR 78 in which, at paragraph 30, Lord Phillips MR said that “harassment” is generally understood as describing conduct “targeted at an individual”. More recently, in Dowson (and others) v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police [2010] EWHC 2612 (QB), in a passage expressly adopted by the trial judge in the present case, Simon J said that it was essential as a matter of law, for a claim in harassment to proceed, that it be proved (inter alia) that the relevant conduct “is targeted at the claimant”.”

Lord Justice Briggs took the view that any harm to the Claimant must be foreseeable as under s.1 (1)(b) of the Act, the perpetrator must know or be aware that his conduct would amount to harassment and in order to bring a harassment claim for anyone else who is foreseeably harmed by the targeted conduct, they must be a victim of that conduct. In this case the Second Claimant was not a victim because of sympathy with her husband but arising out of the First Defendant’s conduct of inciting supporters in a campaign directed at both the First and Second Claimants and their home, causing her alarm and distress.

Lord Justice Briggs considered that the Judge in the earlier hearing should not have excluded the Second Claimant from the harassment claim based on allegations (d) & (e). This changes the law in respect of “targeting” as it now includes those victims who have been subjected to alarm and distress in circumstances where that would have been objectively foreseeable by the person whose conduct is the subject of the claim.

The Second Claimant’s claim was successful and the Judges awarded her £6,000 damages but dismissed her application for an injunction.

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