In an era of easy, internet-based mass communication, reputations can, without a shred of justification, be destroyed at the click of a button. As a High Court case showed, however, victims of such behaviour can, with expert legal assistance, achieve both vindication and just compensation.
The case concerned the founder of a spiritual group who was the target of videos posted online and emails sent to recipients who possibly numbered in the thousands. They contained allegations of immoral and criminal conduct against him that were of the utmost gravity.
The publications caused great distress to both the founder and his family. Despite his extensive efforts to have the videos removed from the internet, they continued to surface from time to time, resulting in an exodus of members from his organisation. Some of the videos had received tens of thousands of views and he found himself constantly having to explain that the allegations were false.
He issued proceedings against two men who were said to be responsible for the publications, alleging defamation, harassment, breach of data protection and misuse of private information. Their defences to the claim were later struck out by a judge due to their failure to comply with court orders and judgment was entered against them.
One of them agreed to settle the claim against him by paying a global sum of more than £130,000 in damages and costs. He publicly apologised to the founder and accepted that the allegations were untrue, were seriously harmful and included some intrusive speculation into the founder’s private life. The proceedings continued against the other man, however.
In ordering the other man to pay £35,000 in damages, plus legal costs, the Court found that it was a case of serious online harassment. The award reflected the absence of an apology and was designed to vindicate the founder’s reputation. An injunction was issued which, amongst other things, forbade him from making any further publications concerning the founder.