Saturday, 31 March 2012

Libel Case: Result

On the 30th March 2012 Judge Moloney handed down Judgment in the libel case I was involved in.

The Judge found in favour of the Defendants who were successful in their application to strike out the claim.

Since December 2011 I have been the subject of what one might call a hate campaign. Various twitter accounts and web pages have been set up to smear my character by the Claimant in this case. Many of these smears have been sent to various organisations, MP's, notable celebrities, supporters and organisers of Libel Reform, my own friends and family and other twitter users.

I can now report that in December 2011 all parties in the case were sent the draft Judgment which, under the Contempt of Court Act 1984, bound us not to reveal either the result of the case or the content of the Judgment itself.

Mr McGrath knew in December 2011 that he had lost and knew that he was facing a large costs order.

I cannot, and will not, make any assumptions about Mr McGrath's state of mind nor infer that he took the decision to smear me as a result of knowing the decision. I will let the facts of the matter stand for scrutiny and people may make their own mind up.

The case was struck out. 60 pages of allegations and argument was narrowed down, by a Master of the Court, to 16 pages. This was then narrowed down to 4 or 5 sentences which the Judge found 'could' be libellous but for which I had available defences to.

The Judge decided it was not worth a trial to hear the case and asked that, in light of this, whether I would be willing to agree not to repeat those sentences (or the meaning implied) in the future to bring an end to the case.

I have, at this stage, agreed to do so to bring an end to the proceedings. It was not worth increasing costs, time and stress if it could be brought to a quicker conclusion. I have a wife and two young children who need a husband and Father around the place.

When the Judgment is published, people will see that 90/95% of the case was struck out because of the Judge's own interpretation of the facts and there is no question that this is a victory on a number of levels which I will explain in due course. But, for example, the Judge ruled is not defamatory to call someone a Creationist. For those who debate religion and atheism this is quite an important finding by the High Court.

The claimant now has to pay £75,000 in costs (within 3 months), was denied permission to appeal and failed in an attempt to have me committed to prison for "contempt of court". Of course my sympathy is with the claimant's family who I'm sure do not deserve to be placed in the situation they are now in.

It is also certain that this is not quite over for the claimant as he has stated his intention to file a written application for permission to appeal. I will deal with that as and when I need to because an application for permission to appeal then needs to turn into a successful one. At that stage an appeal needs to be filed and then perhaps the story may take another twist before the end of the year.

But, in short...

Thank you to...

Robert Dougans, Serena Cooke, Jonathan Price, Trevor Gill, Neil Porter, Hardeep Singh, David Burton, Janet Murtha, David Allen GreenSimon SinghRon LewisUnity MOTMaria WoltersGareth WinchesterJohn GrayKris KingPaul TilleyPopehatDarren FlynnAbigail AmeyMike Harris at Index on Censorship and the hundreds of people from both the atheist and religious communities who have sent me messages of support throughout this process.

My family also deserve some thanks for putting up with me rabbiting on about the case and hopefully they will see not only how serious it all was but how someone was able to stand up to a libel bully. Without their support I would have found this much harder. The only trouble is, I will now be around much more to annoy them about other things.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Alternative Libel Project

I attended the Alternative Libel Project launch on Thursday 15th March in London. It was a fantastic night for all concerned and really brought home the level of support that the campaign has.

The petition for libel reform has over 60,000 signatures which is a testament to the work put in by the Index on Censorship, Sense About Science, English Pen and all of the people who work for those organisations.

The campaign might not have had as much publicity if it were not for Simon Singh's public libel battle with the British Chiropractic Association and it is because of his stand, in the face of some extremely burdensome costs, that others have felt emboldened to also fight their corner.

Everyone should sign the pledge wall if only to offer their support to the campaign further. You can do this here:

The Inner Temple, when the event was held, is a magnificent building full of history and character. I was caught on camera looking around at the various oil paintings by John Gray, a fellow libel survivor:

You can see me next to the tall chap (Robert Dougans) towards the bottom left of the photo.

The Alternative Libel Report that was launched offers some sound reasons why mediation before trial and cost caps are important in the push for reform.

My personal opinion is that I think many claims can be dealt with fairly quickly, and certainly within a month of issue, by a tribunal process which determines the level of readership of whatever defamatory words are complained of. If the readership is low then the level of damage will be also be relatively low and therefore claims can be assessed for the correct track (similar to how the small claims court allocates claims).

David Allen Green asked the audience to consider what the law of defamation was for? His answer was "vindication" and I agreed with him when he said that take-down notices do not provide vindication. Suing people for al they are worth is also not vindication. This is something which is important to consider in the grand scheme of libel reform for those who are wondering why science is being stifled by the chilling effect of a libel threats.

I was overwhelmed with how many people wanted to speak to me on the night. They had all heard of the libel case I am defending and I had some interesting conversations with people like Hardeep Singh, John Gray, Robert Dougans. Simon Singh, Sile Lane, David Allen Green, Henry Spooner, Jonathan Price, Mike Harris, Nick Cohen, James O'Malley, Liz Lutgendorff (who runs The Pod Delusion)... and many more.

I was talked into a photo with David Allen Green, John Gray and Robert Dougans...

I'm into powerlifting and have spent the past 8 weeks on something called GOMAD where the aim is to drink a Gallon Of Milk A Day - coupled with an intensive squat/deadlift/press routine it packs on muscle but also bloats the hell out of you and makes you look quite fat (as my best mate Neil Porter knows all too well). The picture reminds me that it's time to get off the protein shakes and get on the rowing machine.

But I have to say lifting a few accumulated tons of iron in the gym certainly helps get rid of any frustration and stress that builds up during the case. I start the Smolov squat routine next week and coupled with cutting my diet down to a single bean in reduced fat tomato sauce I should either be lean or dead depending on how intense the workouts become.

This is me deadlifting... before I started on the GOMAD plan :)

Enough of that for now, but I think the personal experience of being involved in a libel case tends to be lost in the procedure and detail  focused push towards reforming the laws. Whether reform will change the personal experiences for those involved is difficult to say right now because we do not know what the new rules will look like just yet.

And speaking of personal experiences of libel, the final hearing for my strike out application will be heard on the 30th March 2012 at 2pm in London (RCJ). If you can make it, it would be great to see you there.

You can also hear me on The Pod Delusion being interviewed by Hardeep Singh about libel reform and the personal experience of defending a libel case (although extremely careful not to say too much about the case itself).

Thanks for your support; "Crypto Commie Fascists" like me (a recent insult) still need your support.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Donations - Please read before clicking the donate button

I want to say a heartfelt thank you for all of the messages of support, retweets and of course the donations I have received.

I set out trying to reach a target and I exceeded it by £9. The donations are strictly for legal costs only. I cannot make that any clearer.

However, some people have still said that they want to donate (see comments section/reddit) and rightly pointed out that I will still have other costs incurred nearer the time such as child care, travel, printing etc. I must admit I had my eye on those but I hoped to be able to put some more overtime in at work to try and cover it if I can.

However, in light of people requesting that I keep the donate link I will do so but only on the basis that people understand I have reached the total I wanted to for the legal costs so if people want to help me towards the sundry costs that would be a tremendous help because it's not cheap getting to London and back nor taking time off work.

If people search on the Consumer Action Group (user: vjohn82) they will see that I have worked, for nearly 4 years, helping people for free and even helping them in court all without asking for a penny in addition to other voluntary work in my local area. If I was a greedy person there would be no reason for me to have done those things. In any event, any donations which exceed my costs will go to a worthwhile cause.

After my previous request for donations I was left with £25 (ish) - this was donated to a local charitable cause helping a toddler who had been subject to domestic abuse (this was an appeal in the Nuneaton area).

So thank you for your donations and/or spreading the word.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Fresh appeal for donations

I am restricted by how much I can say right now but hopefully more will be revealed once the final hearing takes place.

However, I need to raise approx. £600 in legal fees. I have discussed the issue with my wife and while we are not at the bottom of the scrapheap I still only work part time (as I care for our two children who are 6 & 7) and my wife does not work regular shifts at work (they are booked as and when).

I have managed to find a way to cover £200 of the costs by selling my guitar (at a loss and under value) but I need to try and raise around £350 to £400 as I have some overtime pay (approx. £50) due at the end of March.

The background to the case can be found here but, in summary...

I am an Atheist who wrote words (reviews/summaries of a situation/general conversation) on two websites (Amazon and the Richard Dawkins Foundation) about an author of a book called "The Attempted Murder of God". The author found those words objectionable, on a number of levels, and decided to issue a claim in the High Court.

The claim was heard on the 10th and 11th of November 2011 and I managed to gain the support of the Libel Reform campaign amongst other organisations who sympathised with my situation.

Many people stepped forward with their best wishes but also managed to raise some money for me to meet my costs during a time when my wife was out of work. I was extremely grateful for people rallying around at that time and it is only because I do not wish to embarrass anyone that I mention no names (well not yet and only then with permission because some donors prefer anonymity).

Therefore if anyone can help me trying to raise the £350/400 that I need you would have my deepest gratitude and thanks and I will do my best to make it up to those people in some way. I have many talents and I'm sure that some people might find a use for them. If it means washing cars every weekend for the next month to get to that total, I'm willing to do it!

So if you can help please click on the donate link on the right. I'm not sure that I am a worthy enough cause and I would never claim to be. However, there is a more serious issue underpinning the libel case which I think threatens freedom of speech (hence this request).

I hope to be in a position to say more on the case in the near future. Until then, please spread the word and thanks for reading.