ADDITIONAL, 12/12/2020: I woke up this morning to discover my personal Twitter account – @MidWalesMike – has been suspended. I have received no email providing any reason but can only conclude it is because I tweeted the link to this article, and somebody complained. It is not a breach of Twitter rules to tweet a link to a fair and accurate article like this.
Please contact Twitter to request the restoration of my account.
Judgment was reserved – I could have screamed!
It means the judge will consider the evidence and deliver a written judgment in due course, stating whether or not she considers there to be enough evidence to support my defence against Rachel Riley’s claim of libel against me – and for a trial to take place in order to establish whether I libelled her or whether I was right to make the statements I did.
But the fact that a public hearing took place today (December 11) that mentioned some of the evidence means we can discuss that evidence here.
The claim is that I libelled Riley by saying that she had 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.
There are also claims which are defended as matters of honest opinion, based on these facts.
The judge seemed most interested in the way Riley was alleged to have bullied a girl who was aged 16 at the time, and who had mental health issues.
She heard that:
“Celebrity adult claimant” Riley first heard of the vulnerable “child victim” (as my counsel characterised them both) after she tweeted in support of claims that left-wing journalist Owen Jones acted an in anti-Semitic way when he tweeted in support of Lord Sugar leaving the UK if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister.
The “child victim” tweeted in support of Jones, and this attracted the attention of Twitter followers of Ms Riley, who replied with abuse. They would not have seen the girl’s tweets if they had not been followers of Riley, and she sent a tweet to the celebrity, pointing out the abuse she had received.
This led to more abuse, to which the girl responded at one point by saying Riley had been “encouraging a smear campaign” (against Jones).
Riley responded with seven tweets, all sent to the girl within a 13-minute time frame. Some right-thinking people have questioned whether sending a teenager with mental health issues a tweet every two minutes is harassment.
The content of those tweets is also questionable. My counsel argued that Riley ignored the subject matter – her smearing of Owen Jones – and instead tried to gaslight the girl into doubting both her views and herself.
While recognising the abuse the girl had been subjected to, it was claimed that Riley failed to condemn her own supporters who had perpetrated it, patronised the girl, questioned her motives and suggested she was a dupe for the opinions of undesirable other people.
This led to a “dogpile” on the girl, with many more abusive comments from Riley’s Twitter followers. Riley herself wrote a second thread, but again failed to condemn the activities of her followers (despite the fact that every tweet was a reply to her – meaning she would have seen all the abuse).
By this time, she was referring to the “smear” as being about the Labour Party claiming accusations of anti-Semitism generally were smears, rather than about her having smeared Owen Jones.
She accused the girl of having called her a liar, and also of “helping to spread the virus that is antisemitism”.
The thread totalled 16 tweets over 44 minutes. Harassment?
The girl had certainly had enough, it seems, because she tried to end the dialogue, tweeting, “Have a lovely Christmas, I’m putting this debate behind me now.” [This was on December 17, 2018.]
Matters then became more sinister, because the court heard that Riley would not leave the girl alone. She tweeted: “Thank you for listening Rosie, I would appreciate an update to this please, so as to not encourage the smear rhetoric, if you now think there’s more to the story?” The girl also received more abusive tweets from Riley’s followers.
So the following day, she tweeted that she had blocked Riley. This means Riley was not allowed to read or respond to the girl’s tweets, or have anything directly to do with her on Twitter.
The judge took interest in this and wanted to know how we could be sure that Riley genuinely had been blocked. She mentioned it herself in a tweet on January 15 the following year: “I wouldn’t have been able to contact her even if I wanted to.” Riley certainly never contacted the girl directly again, indicating that she no longer could.
So how did she manage to acquire tweets the girl published on December 31, 2018, and January 8, 2019 – which she published in a 13-tweet Twitter thread on January 9?
This led to a discussion of stalking, and whether Riley had stalked this vulnerable teenager who has – let’s bear in mind – anxiety issues.
Riley’s counsel argued that the dialogue between her and the girl had been entirely polite and civilised, and denied that his client’s tweets contained any questionable material.
He said that when Riley mentioned the girl in her thread of January 9, and another on January 15, she had removed the girl’s Twitter handle in order to discourage any more dogpiles – but her name was clearly visible, along with her profile picture, and her father was fully identified in the January 15 thread, meaning anybody who wanted to do it could go back through Riley’s timeline and find all the contact details they needed.
Speaking for Riley, and in addition to his claims that the dialogue between his client and the girl was perfectly polite, John Stables said the “celebrity adult claimant” could not be associated with any abuse directed at the girl because she was not responsible for the behaviour of her followers.
The judge summed up his submissions as saying, not that there had been no online abuse of the girl but that Riley had not taken part in it or encouraged it, and any such campaign was nothing to do with her.
If that was the case, then why did the abuse follow – and refer back to – Riley’s tweets? Isn’t it more accurate to say that the abuse the “child victim” received would not have happened if Rachel Riley had not tweeted about her and to her?
Stables also suggested that we do not know to what extent the “child victim” suffered Twitter dogpiles. This is also not true, as the defence lists exactly the number of retweets, ‘likes’ and replies each of Riley’s threads received.
There was much more argument but these were the main sticking-points.
Bearing in mind that this hearing was only to establish whether there was enough evidence for a trial, what do you think?
If you reckon I have a strong enough defence, please help me fund it in the now time-honoured manner:
Consider making a donation yourself, if you can afford it, via the CrowdJustice page.
Email your friends, asking them to pledge to the CrowdJustice site.
Post a link to Facebook, asking readers to pledge.
On Twitter, tweet in support, quoting the address of the appeal.
The evidence may seem obvious from the above – but I have to admit that it is impossible for me to be objective about this case as I am the defendant. The judge may see matters differently.
It seems unlikely that the judge will throw the whole case out completely – as Stables had to retreat from a claim that my defence that I said what I did in the public interest should also be struck out.
But any decision in Riley’s favour could result in a crippling costs order against me.
And even if I beat this application to strike out my defence, I still need to fund the actual trial.
That won’t happen for some time yet, but I need to be ready for it, when it does happen.
I must thank everybody who has supported the crowdfunding effort already. Without your help I would not have been able to get to court at all.
Please help me see this through to the end.