23 Dec RACHEL RILEY WINS £10,000 DAMAGES IN TWITTER LIBEL ROW
Countdown star, Rachel Riley, has been awarded £10,000 in damages in the High Court in a libel action against Laura Murray, former Stakeholder Manager for then Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP.
The claim concerned a series of Tweets in 2019, which began in January of that year with the Guardian journalist Owen Jones Tweeting a reference to an egg which had been thrown at the former leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, which said: “I think sound life advice is, if you don’t want eggs thrown at you, don’t be a Nazi.” In an unrelated incident on 3 March 2019, Jeremy Corbyn MP was egged whilst visiting a mosque in Finsbury Park. That same day, Riley re-posted Jones’ January Tweet, saying “Good advice” followed by two emojis: a red rose and an egg.
Murray’s initial response was directed at Riley’s Tweet stating that it encouraged “violent attacks” and she subsequently Tweeted: “Today Jeremy Corbyn went to his local mosque for Visit My Mosque Day, and was attacked by a Brexiteer. Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi. This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her. Ever.”
Riley brought defamation proceedings in May 2019. In April 2020 the Court found that parts of Murray’s Tweet were defamatory. On 20 December 2021, several issues were considered, including whether or not Murray’s Tweet caused serious harm to Riley’s reputation and whether Murray could successfully argue the defences of ‘truth’, ‘honest opinion’, or ‘public interest’.
Riley, who had become a vocal critic of antisemitism, argued that her Tweet was sarcastic and that she did not call Corbyn a Nazi. Denying that she had defamed Riley, Murray contended that her Tweet was true and an honestly held opinion and that her Tweet had concerned a matter of public interest. The Court held, however, that Murray’s Tweet had caused serious harm to Riley’s reputation.
It was found that Riley’s “Good Advice” Tweet could have been interpreted in at least two ways, and that the words Riley used required interpretation by the reader. On the contrary, Murray’s Tweet was found to have been posted as a statement of fact in which she had misinterpreted Riley. On this basis, Murray failed to establish the defence of truth. While the Judge accepted that Murray had not been motivated by any “improper purpose”, Murray was also unsuccessful in defending the claim based on honest opinion. Her public interest defence was not considered to be reasonable.
In awarding damages, Mr Justice Nicklin acknowledged that Riley’s original Tweet could be “characterised as provocative, even mischievous” and that she must have “readily appreciated” that the meaning was ambiguous, adding further that Riley “can hardly be surprised – and she can hardly complain” – that the Tweet provoked the reaction that it did. In summary he said: “The Good Advice Tweet was ambiguous. The Defendant’s Tweet misrepresented it. This judgment, and the reporting of it, rather than reports of a simple figure of compensation, will make clear the vindication to which the Claimant is entitled”.
Following the judgment, Riley has Tweeted several times, saying that the case “has been a very draining process” and that she is “relieved to finally have vindication”. Warning others of the potential perils of social media, she added, “I hope this serves as a reminder that you can’t defame people without consequence, even on Twitter”.
A further hearing has been set for the week commencing 10 January 2022 for any remaining matters in this case.