07 Feb 7 February 2022
In this issue of zoom-in brief, Kevin Spacey seeks to have the $31 million arbitration ruling against him thrown out, Andrew Brady is jailed for harassing GB News presenter Dan Wootton, and West Midlands Police seek to uncover journalist’s sources under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Kevin Spacey is seeking to have an order that he pay nearly $31 million to the studio behind Netflix’s political series House of Cards thrown out, contending that the arbitrator ‘exceeded his authority’ in making the award.
The actor, 62, was fired from House of Cards after becoming the subject of sexual harassment allegations in 2017. A legal battle then ensued, with Spacey and the studio, Media Rights Capital (MRC), bringing claims against each other.
MRC alleged that Spacey’s conduct breached its sexual harassment policy, and that his ejection from the show, which saw Spacey’s character, conniving politician Frank Underwood, written out, had caused the studio losses of tens of millions of dollars because the show’s sixth season had to be rewritten and shortened from 13 episodes to eight to meet deadlines.
An arbitration ruling in October 2020 went against the actor, who has denied any wrongdoing. Though the ruling itself remains confidential, the order that Spacey pay more than $30 million to MRC became public last November, after MRC filed a court petition to confirm it.
On 21 January, Spacey’s lawyers sought to have the arbitration award vacated, claiming in documents filed with the court that it is ‘permeated with factual and legal errors’, and that ‘while Spacey participated in a pervasive on-set culture that was filled with sexual innuendos, jokes, and innocent horseplay, he never sexually harassed anyone’.
The filing challenges the financial award on the basis that the arbitrator ‘exceeded his authority’, by making an award not rationally related to and ‘completely disconnected from’ the contractual breaches by Spacey found by the arbitrator.
Spacey’s argument is that the lost profits which the arbitrator found MRC had suffered were inevitable once Netflix decided that MRC would have to produce House of Cards’ sixth season without the actor, and that Netflix was unaware of the conduct described by the arbitrator in his decision.
Spacey has maintained a relatively low profile since the allegations against him surfaced, although in May 2021 it was announced that he would have a small role in an independent Italian crime drama directed by Franco Nero.
The former fiancé of the late TV presenter Caroline Flack has been jailed for four months for harassing GB News presenter and MailOnline columnist Dan Wootton by accusing him of being a murderer and a sex offender.
Andrew Brady, 31, a former contestant on shows The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother, was briefly engaged to Flack in 2018. Flack, The X-Factor and Love Island presenter, committed suicide in 2020.
Brady had originally faced the more serious charge of putting Wootton in fear of violence. He had pleaded not guilty, and the case was set for a trial before Christmas. It had to be halted due to legal problems, and Brady subsequently agreed to change his plea, admitting on Tuesday to an alternative, less serious charge of harassment.
The prosecution’s case was not opened, and details of the offences were not set out in court. However, the charge was read out by the court clerk, which revealed that Brady used WhatsApp, social media and video platforms to send threats and abusive messages to Wootton as part of a campaign of harassment between February and April last year.
Sheffield Crown Court heard how the campaign started around a year after Flack’s death on 15 February 2020, and included Brady comparing Wootton to convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein, saying he ‘felt like getting rid of him once and for all today’, and that ‘matters should be settled by violence’, inviting his social media followers to assist him in his crusade and repeatedly stating an intention to end Wootton’s career.
Judge Jeremy Richardson QC told Brady: ‘I am pleased that this case has, at last, been resolved… You must move on with your life, it is hoped to sunnier uplands’. The judge jailed Brady for four months, but noted that he would be released in the ‘very near future’ given the time he has already spent on remand. Brady was also handed a 10-year restraining order banning him from contacting or approaching Wootton.
The criminal offence of harassment is set out at s.2, Protection from Harassment Act 1997: it carries a maximum prison term of six months.
The Act also provides for a civil remedy, whereby a claimant can seek an injunction and damages over a harassing course of conduct. Under s.7 of the Act, such conduct can include ‘speech’, meaning that harassment claims can be sometimes be brought successfully alongside actions for defamation or misuse of private information. In theory, this means that a harassment claim could be brought against a media publisher. However, successful harassment actions against the media are rare: the courts have emphasised that in general, press criticism, even where it is robust, does not fall within the ordinary meaning of harassment.
A journalist whose investigative work led to the convictions of the ‘Birmingham Six’ being quashed is facing an attempt by police to force him to reveal source materials for his research into the pub bombings in the city in 1974.
Chris Mullin, a former member of parliament, first published Error of Judgment: The Truth About the Birmingham Bombings 12 years after the bombings of two pubs in Birmingham, which killed 21 people and injured 220. His work helped lead to the six Irishmen sentenced to life imprisonment over the atrocity having their convictions declared ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’ by the Court of Appeal in March 1991.
Now, the West Midlands police force is seeking an order under the Terrorism Act 2000 requiring Mullin, 74, to hand over material concerning his investigations into the bombings in the 1980s. According to reports, police believe Mullin has notes of interviews which might confirm the identity of a surviving member of the IRA gang behind the bombings.
The police, who are currently conducting an inquiry into which individuals were responsible, have confirmed the proceedings. Mullin is contesting the application: a hearing is reportedly scheduled in the Old Bailey in London for 23 and 24 February.
Journalists have a professional obligation to protect confidential sources. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, a court can make an order for a journalist to surrender research material to police. In challenging an application for such an order, journalists can seek to rely on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas.
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