Friday, 14 September 2012

And the beat goes on

After losing the libel case and facing a costs order of £70k, Chris McGrath decided to make an application for leave to appeal (such as his right).

This was denied (last week) on paper but he reserved the right to request an oral hearing to present his case. Today, I was informed that Mr McGrath was granted an audience and this will take place on the 8th November 2012 at the RCJ in London.

See here for details:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Interviews and The Future

I recently took part in an interview with blogger Kris King over at Rant in A Minor.

His blog is one of the more intellectually and emotionally challenging ones out there and I do recommend that everyone checks out his story.

His support over the life of the libel case has been brilliant and I cannot thank him enough. I was therefore extremely happy when this interview came about.

He pulls no punches with his questions and the answers are searingly honest. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience as much as I enjoyed telling it to Kris.

You can find the interview transcript here:

I also took part in an Skype interview with the Skepticule "three Pauls" who all run the Milton Keynes Skeptics in the Pub. You can find this interview here:

Not long after the final hearing I spoke with James O'Malley who runs the Pod Delusion. His commitment to rationality is admirable and he is a really nice guy too.

You can check out the interview here:

Appeal and The Future

I'm currently waiting to see what happens with McGrath's appeal which, from my understanding, should have been filed by now. I have not received notice of it although I could well have missed it... I mean, I have better things to read these days than the half baked ramblings of a libel bully.

I'm still careful about what I write about the case but if this is not the true impact of what is called "the chilling effect" I don't know what is? How can it be right that I have to monitor every single thing I write 3 or 4 times before posting? I have a short enough attention span as it is! I'll get bored if I have to start redrafting things time and time again. Whatever happened to the art of conversation anyway? If I say something to offend someone I want to find out why they are offended first. People should grow up a little and take things on the chin.

As for the future, well I'm back into some hard strength training in preparation for either the Midlands Strongest Man 2013 or 2014. I reckon I'll have a good shot at entering the competition judging by the weights I'm currently lifting but it's a long hard road and not everyone makes it.

In between that and normal family duties I'm trying to get things back on track career wise. My wife is stable in her job and it's a good time to put my degree to good use. I will continue to write for The New Journalist and on my other two blogs: The Faith Fruitcake and The Sticking Point and then see what comes up. I have an interview with a British Olympic weightlifting hopeful ready to publish soon and news of a libel tourism case which is sure to be quite explosive.

Thanks for all of the support from everyone during the case (and after). It's been good to get to know so many new people and share some amazing experiences.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Harassment Laws & Free Speech II

I do not want to rehash a scene which has already been forensically examined over at Spiderplant Land.


@Sir_Olly_C, a blogger, who holds his local council to firm account was arrested, charged under the Communications Act 2003 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and, before even being found guilty, was slapped with a restraining order.

Welcome to free speech in 21st century Britain.

I have previously made my thoughts very clear about how the harassment laws in this country are designed to stifle free speech. It seems now that these laws are being used to their fullest effect. I suspect that Parliament did not intend for these laws to be used in the way that they are. Genuine criticism must never be stifled or interfered with.

If the Communications Act 2003 is going to be used to stifle freedom of speech based upon the level of offence that a person feels then perhaps more politicians should be locked up? I am frequently offended by the lies and the way that they treat their constituents with utter disregard.

I am not seriously promoting a policy of widespread committals here, but if a persons level of offence is all that is needed to bring a crap case to court then we are heading for a very depressing period in British history. 

The situation is quite clear and the battle lines are being drawn; if you criticise a person or an organisation, however legitimately, you are going to be on the end of these anarchic laws. Mark my words, more people will become aware of the legislation which enables them to close down dissent and with harsh repercussions for the "offender".

Support @Sir_Olly_C any way you can. Retweet using the #FreeTheBexleyOne hashtag and lets hope more people get behind him.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Victory Pose

Jonathan Price, Me, Robert Dougans, Serena Cooke

Media: The Independent

This is an article by Jerome Taylor of the Independent. I have disputed the accuracy of the report on a couple of points but it is, by and large, a fair summary of the case.


"An author who tried to sue a father of three from the West Midlands over comments made in a series of unfavourable reviews on Amazon is facing a six figure legal bill after a judge struck out his case.

Chris McGrath, an online entrepreneur from Milton Keynes, tried to sue Vaughan Jones, 28, from Nuneaton, over a series of reviews and postings he made on the Amazon website about his self-published and little-known book “The Attempted Murder of God”.

Amazon, the prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and his eponymous foundation were also named as defendants because they either carried the review or discussion threads linked to it that Mr McGrath claimed were libellous.

The four defendants applied to have the case thrown out with proceedings coming to the High Court late last year. The judgement has now been made available to the public. In it Judge Maloney dismissed the case against Amazon, Richard Dawkins and his foundation whilst throwing out the vast majority of the case against Mr Jones. Mr McGrath will now face legal bills of around £100,000.

The judge ruled that although a small portion of Mr Jones’ words might be deemed libellous by a jury if it went to a full trial, there was little point pursuing that avenue because the potential damages would be slight compared to court costs and time.

The judge also questioned whether Mr McGrath, a married father of two, might have trouble convincing a jury that he had been wronged because of his own online behaviour. During proceedings it emerged that the author had used a number of online pseudonyms to review his self-published book and come to his defence once people began to criticise his work.

Mr McGrath’s book – which he described as a satirical parody of the often fractious debate between science and reason – was initially published anonymously under the pen name “Scrooby”. It came to the attention of Mr Jones in September 2010 when multiple links to Mr McGrath’s work began appearing under reviews for “The Grand Design”, a popular science book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow which argued that God is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe.

Mr Jones wrote a series of uncomplimentary reviews of “The Attempted Murder of God” and, after doing online research, outed Mr McGrath as the author. He also named Mr McGrath’s two children, something Judge Maloney described as “nasty”. Increasingly hostile replies went back and forth between Mr Jones, Mr McGrath and Mr McGrath’s online pseudonyms – the content of which became subject to libel proceedings.

Libel reform campaigners, who have expressed concern that Britain’s defamation laws disproportionately favour claimants, said last night that the case should not have got to the preliminary hearing stage.

Michael Harris, from Index on Censorship, said: “We want the government to ensure that libel actions cannot proceed unless the harm caused is both “serious” and “substantial”. We’re concerned that it cost Amazon £77,000 to have this case struck out by a judge, an amount of money that most ordinary libel defendants simply cannot afford. Change to our archaic libel laws cannot come soon enough.”

In a statement provided to The Independent, Mr McGrath said he intended to appeal against the strike out ruling and proceed to a full libel trial. “There are many legal bases for believing this judgement is deeply flawed and we have until 30 April 2012 to challenge the decision to ban us from appealing,” he said.

He rounded on libel reform campaigners, stating that British law had made it all but impossible for litigants in person such as himself to successfully bring a libel case. He also defended his use of online pseudonyms stating that he was “trying to pull off a complicated satire” at the time.

“There are artistic reasons that are not unethical, to use fake review accounts and, in sudden defence of a serious attack, it seems eminently reasonable to reach for whatever resources there are available to protect family, name and reputation,” he said.

In an attempt to bring proceedings to a close, Mr Jones has agreed not to repeat any of the sentences that the judge ruled might be deemed libellous by a jury.

“I did win my strike out application, no question,” he said. “But when you consider the case as a whole, no-one has won here really. And that's why, I suspect, libel reform is needed more than ever.”


Points of dispute:

1) The costs that the Claimant faces is £75,000 as agreed by a costs order at the end of the hearing

2) The Judge, at no material time, ever used the word "nasty". There were four persons taking notes of the two day hearing including myself. In response to a comment by my barrister that "there was nothing illegal about Mr Jones expressing sympathy for the Claimant's children based on his behaviour" the Judge said "Yes but it wasn't nice".

3) The Judge stated, first and foremost, that the range of defences likely to be used meant that the question of whether words were libellous was not fit for trial and that the cost in discovering what are, on the face, statutory defences, was not worth the time and money. The actual question of damage only arises once the defences are considered. In this case, I would argue that the defences demonstrated that whatever would be left would not be fit for trial.

The Judge was clear that there were was no instance, in his deliberations, where he could suggest that either parties case could conceivably succeed at trial. However, libel law is weighted in favour of the Claimant. When a strike out is applied for, this weighing increases because it is assumed that they are in the right from the start. It is, therefore, an uphill task for a Defendant to defend a libel claim let alone file a strike out.

The fact that the strike out was successful, considering that perspective alone, should speak volumes about the merits of the Claimant's case.

4) The Claimant was not "banned" from making an appeal. The Judge made it more than clear that permission was denied verbally and that the Claimant had to revert to the proper process of filing an application. To file an appeal with the the High Court costs £235 for the Permission to Appeal application and then £465 for the hearing thereafter. The Court, already subsidising the process according to a recent report, does not need to forgo £235. Therefore there is no "ban" on filing an application at all. The Claimant has not been added to a Vexatious Litigant list.

5) I'm actually 29 now. A year closer to my third decade.

As for the Claimant's justifications for his behaviour as quoted in the article? I simply don't care right now to be honest. The Judgment considers the excuses/reasons given for the Claimant's conduct and there is no reason, right now, to go beyond that.

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.