Laurence Fox Lashes Out After Libel Loss

In the Guardian, drag queen Crystal writes about their recent libel victory over Reclaim Party leader Laurence Fox:

It’s been bizarre to watch Fox’s behaviour this week. He’s refused to admit defeat, threatened to appeal, and doubled down on the rhetoric that started this whole mess. It’s especially bizarre given that damages are yet to be awarded – but perhaps if we view it as political strategy, it starts to make sense. I didn’t want to go to court, but Fox forced our hand by not only refusing to apologise, but with his ultimately failed countersuit (hole: dug).

Perhaps we gave him and any financial backers exactly what they wanted: publicity, outrage and, for some, damage to the reputation of our legal system. Regardless, I needed to see it through – I had to clear my name, and there must be consequences for defamation.

I wrote about the potential issues in 2020, including the possibility that Fox might counter-sue, which is what happened. Crystal, along with deputy chair of Stonewall Simon Blake and the actor Nicola Thorp, had accused Fox on social media of racism, based on their view of things he had said. Fox responded by calling the trio paedophiles. Fox’s defence was that he obviously wasn’t seriously accusing them, but, rather, simply trading socially stigmatising terms of abuse.

In the case of Thorp, he previously prevailed at the Court of Appeal, because he had mimicked her wording and the so context was clear. In the case of Crystal and Blake, though, he has lost. According to the judge:

Mr Fox’s firecracker ‘paedophile’ tweets may have been indiscriminately lobbed… but here they landed on highly combustible material, reputationally speaking. Three things about Mr Blake and Mr Seymour [i.e. Crystal] stand out in particular.

First, they are not only both gay men, but both had a public profile as such – Mr Blake in his Stonewall and other diversity roles, and Mr Seymour in the distinctively gay subculture or art-world of drag […] They both gave evidence from their own experience, which was not challenged, and which I accept, that one of the oldest, most pernicious and most stubbornly ineradicable falsities or myths of homophobia is that men whose sexuality is orientated to other men thereby exhibit a general ‘proclivity’ likely to comprehend a sexual orientation to children.

…Second, both claimants had, in the course of their respective professions, worked with children in circumstances in which sexual propriety was of the essence

…And third, remarkably, each claimant shared a name with a convicted child sex offender.

…Finally, there is no suggestion whatever that either claimant had himself previously done or said anything remotely capable of justifiably casting the shadow of paedophilia on himself.

Fox in contrast failed in his countersuit because he was unable to show that he had been seriously harmed by their “racist” allegation. Had this bar been reached, then the trio would have relied on an honest opinion defence, likely bolstered by Fox’s own testimony in court. As quoted in the Guardian, Fox thought it helpful to expound the view that “If a man is just released from a Ugandan jail where he’s been gang-raped by several men and he walks out and he goes: ‘I hate black people’, it’s a sort of understandable response”, and he chanted a haka to contrast footballers “taking the knee” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement with New Zealand rugby players. Speaking on The News Agents podcast, Thorp described spectacle as a”parody” and “an uneducated interpretation of a tribal dance”. (2)

Meanwhile, Fox has indeed been using the outcome to “damage to the reputation of our legal system”, via a series of bitter social media posts and and self-pitying video monologues made from the back of a car. In particular, he complains that the judge had failed to define the meaning of “racism”, and that it therefore is a meaningless term that he is now free to deploy against others. Thus he addresses Thorp:

Racist as a term now means nothing.

So actually, I won.

He followed this up with a post calling her a racist (1).

This is a wild compensationary extrapolation, but it reflects Fox’s apparent inability or refusal to understand that meaning arises out of context (also seen, for example, in his belief that “Aussie” and “Paki” are equivalent abbreviations), even though this is why Thorp’s claim failed and the others didn’t.  He also misrepresents the basis for the judge’s reasoning. As discussed by Sunder Katwala:

Fox has misunderstood the judgment. He attributed serious changes in reputation (eg loss of agent) to a couple of specific tweeters. The judgement shows his reputation (agent, public, media) was very different long before that owing to his penchant for controversy.

Fox needed to sue many more people earlier in the reputation shift.

Fox himself uses “racist” incessantly, eg for Sainsbury’s marking black history month/taking knee. He says this is key to free political expression. But he also now wants some kind of court ruling to define it

If you want to risk calling Laurence Fox (or Farage, Starmer, Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, Lammy, Braverman, Johnson, Southgate, Rashford or Katwala racist) + are asked to defend it legally, need either “fair comment, reasonably held” or “substantively true”. Fox case failed before that.

Fox seeks to defend as free expression statements like “most anti-racists are racist” about his specific political/ideological opponents & many EDI programmes) while seeking legal protection against other people describing any of his own statements as “racist” as honest opinion.

How far Fox is just being dim or alternatively has enough donor cash to put a lot of £ into losing, appealing & then miscommunicating why he lost for political reputation/martyr purposes hard to gauge. Tweet yesterday [calling Thorp a racist] is as/more stupid as the extremely stupid paedophile tweets

Also:

Other people have won defamation cases for being called racist. Fox’s team failed to make the case he needed to make for court to assess this (that his reputation was damaged by those tweets). The judgment suggests it may have been difficult for him had they needed to take a view.

It is also difficult to see how he can argue that he has lost his acting career when he boasted in May 2023 that he was “10 million quid up” for his performance in the Breitbart film My Son Hunter. The figure was always implausible (the film was crowdfunded for $2.75 million), but he can’t have it both ways in how he chooses to present himself.

Of course, there is some argument that the law should be reformed – Brendan O’Neill makes the case that people shouldn’t find themselves in court due to what he calls “a rhetorical flourish”. If an appeal goes ahead the judge’s reasoning will come under scrutiny more serious than Fox’s rants. Fox, though, is hardly helping the effort, even if his political patron Jeremy Hosking (Fox was quoted by the judge of boasting about receving “a huge wad of cash for this game” as leader of Reclaim) is happy with how Fox is framing the outcome and riling up his base of supporters.

Notes

1. In the original post, Fox also baselessly claimed that Thorp’s case against him failed because the court had earlier found her to be a “compulsive and vexatious liar”. He then went on to allege in an angry video that her commentary about the case was putting his life in danger.

2. The notion that “taking the knee” is an attitude of passivity or submission has arisen due to it having been taken out of its original context, which was as a defiant gesture of non-participation in standing for the American national anthem as a protest against police brutality against Black people. British sportspeople and some politicians adopted the position in solidarity following the death of George Floyd, but nearly four years later Prime Minister Rishi Sunak now sees it as something for which Keir Starmer should be derided.

One Response

  1. Why the heck would anyone think it was okay to use the term “paedophile” in jest? It’s one of the worst things to call someone to whom the term doesn’t apply. I haven’t seen a lot of Mr Fox’s acting work but recall he was decent in ‘Endeavour’.

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