Feeds

Business rival makes highest ever online libel payout

£119,000 in damages - costs to be decided

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A company and its chief executive will be paid the highest damages yet awarded for libel on the internet in the UK. Peter Walls and Gentoo will be paid £119,000 by rival firm owner John Finn.

Finn initially denied posting a series of defamatory and abusive comments but changed his position during a trial last year and has agreed to pay out the £119,000. A trial to assess damages was due to begin on 1 April.

Finn agreed the payout after negotiations with Gentoo and Walls and a statement was read out in the High Court today explaining the settlement. Finn will also be liable for as-yet-undetermined legal costs which are expected to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Gentoo is a social housing company that was formerly the Sunderland Housing Group. Finn runs rival firm Pallion.

The case centred on remarks made by anonymous posters to the Dads Place website.

"From behind their cloak of anonymity, Dads Place used their publications and in particular the website to conduct a malicious, unpleasant and relentless campaign of libel and harassment," Gentoo's lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC told the High Court.

"The claimants brought proceedings for libel in respect of numerous seriously defamatory allegations ranging from corruption to nepotism and the promotion of female employees in exchange for sexual favours," Tomlinson told the court.

Gentoo will be paid £5,000, other employees £14,000 and Walls £100,000 in what is believed to be the biggest payout in UK legal history over online libel.

Finn has paid £125,000 to the court already as an interim payment to cover costs, and the court will hear a case on costs if he and Gentoo and Walls, represented by law firm Olswang, cannot come to an agreement on costs.

Tomlinson told the court that the people behind the Dads Place website tried hard to stay anonymous. "Those responsible for the publication of the Dads Place Publications took careful steps to conceal their identities and it took many months of painstaking investigation to identify just some of those responsible for Dads Place and bring proceedings against them," he said. "As a result of those proceedings the website was finally shut down in July 2006."

Tomlinson said that the allegations made against his client had had a significant effect on him.

"Mr Walls was forced to withstand an almost daily barrage of anonymous allegations, threats, and abuse and suffered very serious damage to his professional and personal reputation. Many other Gentoo employees were subject to wholly unacceptable levels of harassment and abuse."

"This case illustrates that the internet is not a lawless state," said John Mackenzie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "The court can and will award substantial sums of money for false and defamatory statements. While the court was told of the difficulties of tracking people down, the fact remains that they can be tracked down."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
Apple tried to get a ban on Galaxy, judge said: NO, NO, NO
Judge Koh refuses Samsung ban for the third time
Pedals and wheel in that Google robo-car or it's off the road – Cali DMV
And insists on $5 million insurance per motor against accidents
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?