Anon Mail commenters to stay anon

High Court rules they have right to privacy

The Daily Mail does not have to identify the people behind two anonymously posted comments on its website because to do so would breach their rights to privacy, the High Court has said.

The subject of a news story had demanded information from the Daily Mail that would help her to identify the two commenters so that she could sue them for defamation, but the Court said that identification of those people would be disproportionate.

Mrs Justice Sharp said that the posters' rights to privacy were more important than the woman's right to take legal action about comments that were little more than "pub talk".

Jane Clift sued Slough Council after it put her on its list of potentially violent people following her complaint to the Council about the antisocial behaviour of a man in a park.

The Council said that Clift's conduct in complaining had been threatening and it put her name on the list, where it could be seen by Council departments and Government agencies, for 18 months.

Clift won her case and was paid libel damages. The Daily Mail's website carried a report on the story and a year after its publication Clift saw it. She objected to remarks made by two readers in the comments section of the web page.

She asked the High Court to order the Daily Mail to give her information which could help identify the people so that she could sue them for defamation. Her case was against Martin Clarke, publisher of the Daily Mail's websites.

Mrs Justice Sharp said that Clift's case was not strong enough to merit the identification, and that she should not have taken the comments as seriously as she did.

"It was fanciful to suggest that a sensible and reasonable reader would understand those comments as being anything more than 'pub talk'," he said in his ruling.

"The postings were of two lines and were effectively posted anonymously by members of the public who did not report to have knowledge of the matters they concerned," he said. "It is important to put the postings into context as to their meaning and what they were commenting on."

The judge said that more important than Clift's right to sue the commenters were the commenters' rights to privacy.

"The potential disclosure of information to [Clift] engaged the users' rights to respect for their private and family lives under the European Convention on Human Rights," said Mrs Justice Sharp. "It was disproportionate to grant the application."

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