It gets worse

It turns out the libel law in England is even worse than I could possibly imagine. Now I have both Gina Ford and her solicitor Tony Jaffa on my case.

At least Gina Ford has contacted me directly and hasn’t demanded that I take down my blog posts. Her solicitor, however, has not. Instead he pressures me via the Times’ lawyers to remove my blog postings. Perhaps he believes the Times will be more effective at ‘persuading’ me to keep quiet?

It may seem Kafka-esque, but it turns out that even by having a live link to the original article (which the Times has now pulled), I am effectively publishing the original Times piece – even though the article is no longer accessibly on the Times website. Hence I have removed the live link for the time being.

Why has the Times removed my article? Their lawyer states: “It is standard practice in most cases where a solicitor threatens libel for us to take an article down – either until we are satisfied we can defend it or the matters is resolved or not pursued. In this day and age leaving articles up after a complaint has been received receives very short shrift from the courts and inevitably increases the damages that might be payable.”

Just in case you thought we had a free press in the UK.

5 Responses to “It gets worse”

  1. tim_rodgers says:

    Did you still get paid for it?

  2. Wat Tyler says:

    Hi Heather

    I trust the fact that you haven’t posted for four days simply means you’ve taken the weekend off.

    But they sure ain’t gonna bludgeon you.

  3. Nick Evans says:

    In your article, you claimed that the Mumsnet founders stood by the comments. Is this consistent with their settlement with Gina Ford? If they had said to her that they don’t support the comments and so she’d withdrawn her libel claim on that basis, you can see why she’d be annoyed if they’re immediately telling the press that they do.

  4. heather says:

    Tim – Yes, I was still paid. However a professional writer writes for publication not for a black hole of obscurity.

    Wat – I’m still here, don’t worry. There was a scare when my website was taken off the server one evening but it transpired that it was only being updated. The Times’ lawyers have since written to Tony Jaffa, Gina Ford’s lawyer, supporting my article. Hooray! Now it’s a case of ‘wait and see’.

    Nick – Justine Roberts has stated that she did not think the comments were defamatory but the cost of defending them in court would take up to two years with legal costs being assessed throughout. That cost was simply too much to bear. Therefore, like most writers and publishers, she settled due to financial necessity. Very few publishers are willing to take their chances against a libel law so heavily weighted against freedom of expression – with the end result that our public debate is much the poorer.
    See articles:
    http://www.out-law.com/page-8040
    Justine Roberts’ blog: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/justine_roberts/2007/05/mums_the_word_from_now_on.html

  5. Nick Evans says:

    In her blog, she apologised for the words used. Mumsnet may not think that they were defamatory, but apologising for a comment is hardly standing by it. Perhaps if you’d referred to that apology, your article wouldn’t have been removed.

    And, given the success of Gina Ford’s books, I find it difficult to believe that Mumsnet would have been unable to recover their costs if the case had gone to trial and they had won. Contrary to the claims in your earlier article, there are defences against libel if the defamation is justified or fair comment. So if Mumsnet had wanted to stand by the words they could have done. Yes, there would have been a risk, but what alternative are you or Mumsnet proposing? That somebody hosting a website should be free to publish any libel (or incitement to racial hatred or terrorism, or threats to kill?) without recourse for the victim? Mumsnet has a number of banner adverts on its site, and it’s not unreasonable to suppose that the adverts provide them with an income. Why shouldn’t the publisher of a website use this income to be as responsible as the publisher of a newspaper for the words they publish?

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