15 February, 2019
A man has received £40,000 in damages after bringing a libel claim against the former Chairman of the UKIP Bristol branch following the publication of a Tweet during the 2015 general election campaign.
In May 2015, a Tweet was posted by UKIP's Bristol branch consisting of a photograph of Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, together with two men. One of those men was Zahir Monir, the claimant in this action. The Tweet accused Mr Monir of being a taxi driver who had been involved in a criminal act and called on readers not to vote for Labour. The Tweet was written, and posted on @BristolUKIP by John Langley, the Vice Chairman of the Bristol UKIP branch. Mr Monir was not a taxi driver and had never been accused of the criminal act referred to in the Tweet.
Mr Monir issued legal proceedings issued against Mr Wood, the then Chairman of the Bristol UKIP branch, contending that he was libelled in the Tweet. He argued that although Mr Wood did not personally write the Tweet, he was legally responsible for it.
The High Court found that Mr Langley had acted as an agent of Mr Wood when he posted material on the Bristol UKIP Twitter account. When he posted the Tweet, Mr Langley was acting in his role as Campaign Manager. A role that had been delegated to him by Mr Wood. The Tweet was a "seriously defamatory allegation" and the Judge had no hesitation in drawing the inference that the publication caused serious harm to the claimant's reputation. Not only was the Tweet published on the Twitter account, it was also re-published in a WhatsApp group based in Rotherham.
According to the claimant, the Tweet had a significant negative impact on his family, his charitable work and his employment. The Judge agreed, "There was evidence of serious and significant reputational harm". The gravity of the defamatory allegation placed it towards the top end of seriousness. An award of £40,000 was made which took into account the limited scale of publication.
As far as we are aware, this is the first time someone has been found liable for a Tweet written on his or her behalf. It is clear from the Judgment that Mr Wood felt a sense of injustice for being held responsible for someone else's actions. However, the Court's view was very clear, Mr Langley had been authorised by Mr Wood to act on his behalf, and he was therefore acting as his agent.
Organisations who allow others to Tweet on their behalf should ensure that clear guideline are set out for users and accounts should be monitored to ensure that any inappropriate content can be removed if necessary.