Blogger to pay 25k damages to chief executive
9:02am Wednesday 20th March 2013 in News
A HIGH COURT libel judge has dismissed claims by Towy Valley blogger Jacqui Thompson against Carmarthenshire County Council chief executive Mark James relating to comments he made in a letter posted online in the aftermath of her arrest for filming a council meeting in June 2011.
The 50-year-old mother of four, from Llanwrda, had sued Mr James and the county council for alleged libel over his comments.
She claimed Mr James was wrong to say she was ‘running a campaign of harassment’ because her actions were no more than reasonable ‘political criticism’ and were therefore protected by freedom of expression laws.
But Mr Justice Tugendhat found that she had indeed run a campaign against Mr James and other council staff, saying there was no plausible explanation for her campaign other than revenge over previous planning issues.
Upholding claims made by Mr James against Mrs Thompson in relation to three posts on her blog – in February, March and April 2011 – the judge said her use of the phrase ‘slush fund’ was defamatory.
Mrs Thompson had used this phrase in reference to the council’s decision to amend its constitution so officers could use council funds to bring libel claims – which Mr James used to bring his counter- claim against Mrs Thompson.
The judge dismissed Mrs Thompson’s claim in its entirety and upheld Mr James’ counter-claim, awarding him the sum of £25,000, including £5,000 in aggravated damages.
In a statement following the ruling, Mr James said: “Councils and other public bodies accept they are open to legitimate criticism, but this cannot extend to malicious and unlawful harassment and unfounded allegations of wrongdoing by its officers.
“In the course of this long-running campaign, spanning six years, (Mrs Thompson) has falsely accused individuals of corruption, lying, perjury, assault and theft.
“I am pleased for the staff who have been falsely accused that they have been completely vindicated by this judgment.”