Internet Libel Case in London

From Alex Hilton, founder of Labourhome:

…last year, someone started a defamation action against me over a Labourhome article and the expenses are bourne by me, they were not transferred to Progressive Media, the new owner.

…I can’t tell you too much about the case because I don’t want to annoy the court. But this is what I am comfortable telling you.

  1. An active Labourhome user wrote a piece about the past of a Labour member who had defected to Respect. That person has since joined the Conservative Party.
  2. The Labourhome user is also being sued by this particular Tory, who is a litigant in person and has no lawyer.
  3. The offended person contacted me about the piece, which I immediately deleted. I offered the front and centre spot on Labourhome to the offended person for their right of reply or to write something else of their own choice. My offer was declined.
  4. Because of my actions, my lawyer says I have an absolute defence under Section One of the Defamation Act. I also have other defence strategies available, one of which is the possibility that the article was not defamatory, thought this is still being explored.
  5. Because the complainant is a litigant in person, this case has been more complicated than normal and I have actually received a total of four writs before it got tidied up into one action. This is partly why this defence is so expensive.
  6. Despite the likelihood that I will probably win this case, I do not have a strong prospect of recouping my costs, at least in a reasonable timescale. I don’t have the five-figure sum the complainant wants as a settlement.

It says something about the fear which UK libel law can engender that a defendant is reluctant even to name his accuser, lest it cause extra problems. However, various other sites identify her as a certain Johanna Kaschke. Even I have to be careful what I say and where I link to, and Harry’s Place‘s piece on the libel threat carries the warning:

As you can appreciate, you can say NOTHING about this woman at all. Particularly not in these comment boxes. Therefore, anything you do say must not relate to her at all. She can, does, and will sue.

It should be noted, though, that Kaschke has a blog in which in the past she has discussed the matters which she considers libellous – although some of these entries have now been removed. In one entry she wrote that:

I am pleased to notice that Private Eye have finally apologised for their article about me in a May 2007 issue. Please read bottom of page 6 right…

It surely cannot be dangerous to point to an apology in Private Eye which she herself has implored her readers to look at, and as it happens it is available online here. She has also sent rebuttals which she has described as “press releases” to certain blogs, and in one of these she states that she “would not object” to the facts alone being discussed, just the “sensationalist” reporting of them.

The ultimate origin of the material to which Kaschke objects is a very old newspaper article from Der Spiegel. Kaschke appears now to identify with the libertarian end of the Conservative Party, and this is interesting as old newspaper articles that right-libertarians don’t want being publicised have more than once now resulted in libel threats – most famously Paul Staines’ February 2007 threat against Sunny Hundal.

Meanwhile, Hilton has asked for donations in order to fight his corner. I haven’t seen the piece he is being sued over, so I cannot say whether his claim of having an “absolute defence” is valid. Tim at Bloggerheads is unimpressed with Hilton’s journalistic standards, and notes his failure to stand up for other bloggers facing libel threats. Indeed, when Staines was after Tim (on another matter), Tim recalls that Hilton opined that

I… can’t really be bothered to look into it. If Tim’s done something wrong, then there are consequences. If not, he has nothing to worry about.