Tweets of Serious Harm

Dispute Resolution Article

14 March, 2017

It is rare that the outcome of Defamation cases that proceed to Trial are reported. Not only does the reporting of the case reveal the parties and the defamatory statements again, the parties involved tend to want to maintain their anonymity.

This was not the case in the recently reported Defamation case Monroe v Hopkins.

The case involved the tweets sent by Katie Hopkins, a journalist who writes for the Daily Mail. The tweets were sent about the food blogger, Jack Monroe. The tweets were sent on 18 May 2015 and involved comments which alleged that Ms Munroe had vandalised a war memorial and desecrated the memory of those who fought or approved or condoned of this behaviour. The tweets followed the "anti-austerity" demonstrations which took place in London shortly after the 7 May 2015 General Elections.

There were two tweets particularly examined by the Court; the first of which may have been seen by in excess of 20,000 followers and open to re-tweets. The second tweet may have been limited to 140 followers of both Ms Munroe and Ms Hopkins, as it was in response to Ms Munroe's denial.

The Court accepted in this case that the tweets did amount to "serious harm" the litmus test set out in the Defamation Act. The tweet caused Ms Munroe real and substantial distress, but also harm to reputation which was serious. The harm did not need to be very serious or grave, but was serious enough.

But the important reminders that this case identified were:

  1. The tweets took place on the 18 May 2015 and the case came to Trial to be decided for damages last week on 10 March 2017 - such claims are not expeditious
  2. In the Letter of Claim sent by Ms Munroe's solicitors, Ms Hopkins was required to delete the libellous comments, which she complied with. Unfortunately, neither the solicitors nor Ms Munro kept records of the tweets or the extent of their availability. In fact Ms Munroe deleted all of the tweets from her own Twitter records - the Court therefore faced difficulties on disclosing evidence as to the damage cause
  3. An early offer of settlement had been proposed by Ms Hopkins in the sum of £5,000 in addition to deleting the comments. This had been rejected. Whilst the Court assessed Ms Munroe's damages at £24,000 by this stage, both parties had incurred substantial legal costs in bringing the case to Trial. Even the Judge, Mr Justice Warby said that this case could have settled at an earlier stage.

This case once again highlights that when facing allegations involving Defamation, advice from specialist solicitors should be taken at the earliest opportunity. This can be useful in preserving evidence, limiting the damage and harm, but importantly that practical and cost effective legal advice is given on action to be taken.

If you are looking for any more information with regards to our services view our Dispute Resolution section. You can also contact Manisha Modasia in our Dispute Resolution department via email or phone on 0333 207 1145. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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