A Note on the Peter Jukes Libellers

A post from Peter Jukes on the Crowd Justice website:

Life-Changing Libel About Me, Spread by Right Wing Activists
by Peter Jukes

About me: I’m an author and dramatist who, in the last ten years, has dedicated myself to helping to fund accurate, accountable journalism first through the Byline.com crowdfunding site and the Byline Festival, and now the successful investigative newspaper and news site Byline Times

Summary On the weekend of 19 June this year I was hideously libeled by former UKIP leadership campaign manager Jay Beecher on the site Politicalite, edited by Jordan James (Jordan Kendall).

Both had previously threatened Byline Times months before. The entirely fake allegation of child sexual abuse was published without the comments I had sent them,. A tweet with even worse commentary (“just the tip of the iceberg” was spread by Blue Tick account James Melville (with over Twitter 180,000 follower) and his editor at Country Squire Magazine, James Bembridge. Both also have a history of derogatory comments about me.

The Legal Principles. I have instructed specialist defamation solicitors at Bindmans LLP. I understand this is a slam dunk case of serious harm (what could be more distressing and damaging than an allegation of child sexual abuse?), but bringing the sources of this malicious libel to book is an expensive process, and there is no security that I could recover my own legal costs if it goes all the way to court and an inevitable victory.

I previously wrote about Byline here and here, and I have met Peter a few times. He is perhaps best known to the general public for his efforts with Alastair Morgan to highlight the police corruption that stymied police investigations into the 1987 murder of Alastair’s brother Daniel Morgan.

Beecher’s article claims that a man named “Adam” alleges that Peter sexually assaulted him in the 1980s when he was 12, apparently in Edinburgh. On Twitter, Beecher has stated that he is unconcerned as to whether the claim is true or not, but that he is is entitled to publish the allegation. He has expressed confidence that this amounts to a defence in law. There is nothing in the Politicalite article to indicate that Beecher made any enquiries as to “Adam’s” credibility or the plausibility of the allegation, and Peter has expressed scepticism that he even exists. Politicalite has run various posts attacking Byline for political reasons.

The Politicalite post was amplified on Twitter by an anonymous troll account, and a Tweet from this account was in turn promoted by Melville and Bembridge, neither of whom have any apparent link with Beecher. Unlike Beecher, they have both apologised for their actions, although in ways that are inadequate and possibly even vexatious. First, Melville:

Yesterday, I retweeted a serious allegation against Peter Jukes, made in a news article online, that was damaging to his reputation. I apologise unreservedly and am sorry for any harm this has done and distress caused. @peterjukes [1]

It’s important to act respectfully and with care on social media. Yesterday I didn’t do that. I let myself down. I am ashamed that I fell into this trap I often warn others about. So, a note to self and from me to you, be careful, be respectful and be mindful. Always. [2]

This does not amount to a repudiation of the post, and describing it as “a news article online” obscures the nature of Politicalite as a vicious fringe-right attack site. His subsequent victim narrative, in which he “fell into this trap”, and pontifications on the need to “be mindful” come across as self-serving.

Bembridge, meanwhile, has a mitigation defence:

Last night I retweeted a tweet which I apologise for retweeting related to @peterjukes. Having now read the tweet and the article it linked to, I realise that I should not have unthinkingly just retweeted the tweet. My reaction was premature. Apologies, Peter.

But Bembridge did not just “retweet a tweet” – he embedded the Tweet into a Tweet of his own, adding the suggestion that it undermined Peter’s standing to call him a “cheap polemicist”. It is very difficult to believe that he did not read the Tweet’s content, in which the allegation was laid out explicitly. And as with Melville, this again does not amount to a repudiation of the story, and the word “premature” implies he believes that it may yet be substantiated in some way.

The former England rugby player Brian Moore, who is also a qualified lawyer, had some advice:

To @TheBembridge – I’ve seen your so-called apology to Peter Jukes and as a former lawyer who did defamation work I just wanted to tell you it won’t be sufficient to defend a libel claim.

Peter noticed that Bembridge had also deleted older Tweets in which he had criticised or mocked him. Bembridge perhaps did this because a history of prior hostility might be evidence of motive if the matter comes to court; if so, though, his efforts here have been undermined by a close associate who has waded in with abusive trolling of Peter and of Brian Moore (the latter dismissed as a “shite lawyer”).

It is worth noting that the site where Bembridge is “Deputy Editor” was featured in the Guardian in late 2019 in relation to the “Hijacked Labour” smear chart that was published in the Sun ahead of the last general election. As explained by Daniel Trilling:

The map linked to by the Sun closely resembles an earlier graphic that first appeared online in August, under the name the Traitor’s Chart. The earliest mention of it that I can find is on an obscure website called Country Squire Magazine, which said it had received a press release about the map. That article, since deleted, had a publication date of 21 August. The website’s only other significant intervention to date has been a pro-Brexit polemic that described Ireland as a “land of puppy farms, rain-soaked holidays, dingy bars, drugs mule celebs, verbal diarrhoea and squeaky fiddles”, also now deleted.

There is no evidence that anyone else received the “press release”, and it should be noted that the Traitors’ Chart and Country Squire Magazine were both built using the same WordPress theme (appropriately called Canard). The deletion of the article and creation of the new “Hijacked Labour” version of the graphic occurred just a few days before the Sun article appeared. The Sun item itself was pulled after just a short time online, and its author, Tom Newton Dunn, has been derided ever since over his refusal to provide any explanation.

UPDATE (31 July): Bembridge and Melville have now both Tweeted the same formal apology, which they have agreed to pin as their top tweet for two weeks (here and here). The text reads:

On 19 June 2021, I retweeted allegations about Peter Jukes @peterjukes which I have no reason to believe are true, and am not aware of any evidence to suggest are true. I apologise for this and have paid a sum to charity and his legal costs.

The troll account of the “close associate” of Bembridge mentioned above has not reacted, although a different anonymous account fired off abuse against random Twitter users who were mocking him over the outcome. I attempted to bring this to his attention, as a consequence of which I was blocked.

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