Mike Sivier ordered to pay Rachel Riley £50,000 in damages following libel claim

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Mike Sivier ordered to pay Rachel Riley £50,000 in damages following libel claim

Countdown star, Rachel Riley, was awarded damages of £50,000 last week in her libel claim against political blogger, Mike Sivier, who had described her as a “serial abuser”.

In January 2019, Mr Sivier published an article via his website headlined “Serial abuser Rachel Riley to receive “extra protection” – on the grounds that she is receiving abuse”.

The reference in the headline of the article was to an online debate that Ms Riley participated in about antisemitism in the Labour Party. During that Twitter debate, Ms Riley exchanged messages with an individual who later identified themselves as a 16 year old.

Ms Riley claimed that Mr Sivier’s article had seriously damaged her reputation and caused her to receive threats to her personal safety.

At a previous hearing, a judge had found that the article would lead people to believe the Countdown start had (1) “engaged upon, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16 year old girl, conduct which has also incited her followers to make death threats towards her” which is not true. In doing so, (2) the words complained about also meant that Ms Riley “is a serial abuser and has acted hypocritically…recklessly and irresponsibility… and obscenely.” The former meaning was held to be a statement of fact, whereas the latter part of the single meaning an expression of opinion. The meaning, as a whole, was held to be defamatory.

Initially responding to the claim, Mr Sivier raised defences of truth, public interest and honest opinion but they were rejected by the Court in January 2021.

Mr Sivier was then successful on appeal to the Court of Appeal and permitted to pursue the public interest defence at trial.

The case was then remitted back to the High Court to consider whether the article has caused or was likely to cause serious harm to Ms Riley’s reputation, and if so, whether Mr Sivier could rely upon the section 4 defence of public interest.

Last week, Mrs Justice Steyn ruled in favour of Rachel Riley, granting her the five-figure sum of £50,000 in damages, as well as an injunction requiring Mr Sivier to remove the article and not repeat its contents.

Mrs Justice Steyn held, in considering the defence of public interest, that Mr Sivier had published on a matter of public interest and had a belief in public interest publication. However, his belief that the article was in the public interest was wholly unreasonable and had no basis in evidence. Mrs Justice Steyn noted that Mr Sivier should have given Rachel Riley the opportunity to comment on the article prior to publication.

The Judge also rejected Mr Sivier’s attempts to assert that Ms Riley had not suffered serious harm, as she had a “pre-existing bad reputation” as being “highly controversial and offensive”, and the contention that Ms Rilely had no reputation amongst the readers of his article, “…as an accusation of engaging upon, supporting and encouraging a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16 year old girl…” would have made readers think less of Ms Riley. The Judge found the libel to be grave, and the publication reached circa 50,000 people.

This is not the first success Ms Riley has had in defamation litigation. In December 2021, she was awarded £10,000 in damages after suing Jeremy Coybn’s ex aide, Laura Murray, in libel for a Tweet Ms Murray had posted in response to Rachel Riley’s Tweet following an egg attack incident on Mr Corbyn (what is commonly known as the Good Advice Tweet).The damages awarded by Mrs Justice Steyn are five fold higher than Ms Murray was awarded to pay and on the higher side of awards seen of late. Notably, Mrs Justice Steyn in the judgment commented on the extended reach of this article to the 10,000 to 15,000 people that the tweets in the Murray case reached, and the nature of the accusation alongside Ms Riley’s well known TV career, is such that the libel was likely to have spread to many more than those who read the article.

Ms Riley had limited her claim to £50,000 on issuing the claim form, and the possibility of amending the statement of value in the claim form was explored in the Judgment. Ms Riley has stated publicly that any monies received will be donated to charity.

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