Editorial credit: Stills Press / Alamy Stock Photo


TV presenter and Countdown mathematician Rachel Riley has succeeded in her libel claim against journalist and campaigner Michael Sivier, over an article he published on his website headlined: “Serial abuser Rachel Riley to receive ‘extra protection’ – on grounds that she is receiving abuse”. Ms Riley applied to have the defence struck out, saying Mr Sivier had pleaded no reasonable grounds for defending the claim and had no realistic prospect of success. The judge agreed and struck out the defences of truth, honest opinion and publication on a matter of public interest.

Mr Sivier said his allegations were based on a Twitter exchange Ms Riley had had with a 16 year old girl over the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

At a previous hearing a judge found the article meant that Ms Riley had engaged upon, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl, conduct which has also incited her followers to make death threats towards her; and that Ms Riley was a serial abuser who had acted hypocritically, irresponsibly and obscenely.

The judge found the exchange between Ms Riley and the girl to be civil and a ‘straightforward, rational and respectful exchange of views’. Ms Riley also published two further Twitter threads on the topic, which she had tweeted in response to a false account of the exchange which said she had bullied the girl. The judge found Mr Sivier’s reliance on these later tweets ‘verges on the perverse’. The proposition that Ms Riley was responsible for tweets by some of her Twitter followers towards the girl because she failed to discourage or condemn them was unsustainable.

Mr Sivier’s defence of truth was struck out. As the defence of honest opinion relies on the facts upon which the opinion was based being true, this defence also failed. As did the defence of publication on a matter of public interest, there could be no reasonable belief in the public interest in publishing untrue and unsustainable allegations without clear explanation and justification. Whilst Ms Riley will still need to show that the defamatory allegations caused serious harm to her reputation, all of the substantive defences to her claim have been struck out without the need for a trial.