The dust has settled a little, we’ve all got a little distance, so hopefully it will be possible to discuss my libel trial against Rachel Riley and report it to you – with a little objectivity.
As the Claimant, Rachel Riley was the first person to go into the witness box and provide verbal evidence.
She did this after her counsel, John Stables, had failed in a bid to have parts of my defence that discussed her reputation, as it was before my article was published, struck out.
Mr Stables said they were irrelevant matters, inserted into the case to “rubbish” Ms Riley. My counsel, David Mitchell, said they were relevant to her hypocrisy on anti-Semitism and the bullying of other people. The judge, Mrs Justice Steyn, refused the application.
As a result, Ms Riley faced a considerable amount of questioning on this, and on the related question of whether my “Serial abuser…” article caused serious harm to her reputation.
One aspect of this was the fact that hits on the article increased whenever her lawsuit against me arrived at the courts. Were new readers being attracted to it – potentially increasing any harm done to her – or were these boosts merely people who had already read it, refreshing their memories after reading the latest information?
Mr Mitchell suggested that these increases in the number of times the article had been read (but not necessarily its number of readers) were “a necessary consequence of defending the claim”. Ms Riley said: “It was a necessary consequence of me having to pursue the claim because he kept repeating his libel.”
Mr Mitchell pointed out: “In terms of harm to reputation, it is true a number of things were published prior to the January 26  article.”
Ms Riley responded: “I take the advice of my counsel on what I should take action over. I dispute everything that was written.”
Mr Mitchell questioned when online abuse against her reached its high point: “You identified the high point as being January 9, two and a half weeks before Mr Sivier’s article.”
Ms Riley responded by saying she changed her Twitter settings “so I didn’t read all the abuse coming to me after that. I didn’t say January 9 [was the high point]; I said that was around when the floodgates opened.”
In that case, how could she say, as she did in her witness statement, that her friend Natasha Devon had spoken to her “around the time that the bullying allegations were at their height” about friends questioning her about Riley bullying children?
When did Ms Devon say this? “I have absolutely no idea,” responded Ms Riley.
Mr Mitchell referred to another part of her witness statement, “the meeting with your employer [on March 7, 2019, to address complaints made about her by people on Twitter], you relied on the ‘good advice’ tweet [in her case against Laura Murray] causing serious harm to reputation. You have recycled that here, haven’t you?”
Ms Riley said: “When I spoke to my employer I gave the headlines of things that were coming at me.”
“That wasn’t exactly what you said in the Laura Murray case.”
“It wasn’t relevant. I didn’t want to draw attention to these articles. I explained the narrative but said it was rubbish.”
Mr Mitchell made his point: “You didn’t refer to it because you weren’t relying on it [to show that she had suffered harm wrongly].”
“If it was in legal proceedings, I wouldn’t want to prejudice them,” said Ms Riley.
But she was not in legal proceedings against me at the time, Mr Mitchell pointed out.
Ms Riley said this was “Irrelevant. If I’m going to be in legal proceedings, I’m not going to damage my case by talking about it.”
Next, apparently unprompted, Ms Riley made a claim about comments on my CrowdJustice site: “There was a comment on his crowdfunding page that I should be raped in my house.”
This is not accurate. There is a comment, “F— ’em in their homes”, but this is a quotation from a TV show called The Wire, referring to the issuing of subpoenas (writs ordering people to attend court). It seems to have been intended as encouragement for me to take Ms Riley to court, rather than any threat of sexual violence.
Ms Riley continued: “They [the comments] change all the time; we can’t read them chronologically.” This is not true. New comments are added at the top of the comment column, which may be read in reverse order. That is what I did in order to find the message to which Ms Riley was referring.
Mr Mitchell queried the truth of the claim: “There are threats of violence against you? Where are they in the bundle [the evidence provided to the judge by the parties in a civil case, which form the only information to which the judge may refer]?
“I don’t know,” said Ms Riley.
“Anything done in the crowdfunding is caused by your claim.”
“No, it’s caused by him repeating these libels. I call that victim-blaming,” she said.
Mr Mitchell pressed his point – that Ms Riley was being dishonest: “If there was any basis in truth to these claims it would be in your evidence.”
Ms Riley said: “I have them; I have provided them. What is included and not is not up to me.” This is an odd statement; as the Claimant, her case belongs to her and she should have had approval over every document in it. I had to, on my side.
Mr Mitchell moved on to Ms Riley’s reputation: “Mr Sivier relies on matters which suggest you are not a person who has a reputation that should be protected in libels. He referred to matters he said show you have a questionable reputation on anti-Semitism and called into question your conduct in terms of threats to other persons [in particular the 16-year-old girl I alleged had been subjected to abuse and harassment by Ms Riley].”
He referred to Ms Riley’s support for Sussex Friends of Israel, a group that had been shown in online videos to use violence in the way they protest against, notably, Palestine Solidarity Campaign stalls in Brighton. One such clip showed a member issuing a death threat.
Ms Riley laughed. “This is Mike Sivier’s version of my support? I reject any notion that these people are violent. This is being used to show I’m supporting a violent group? I can barely find the words to say how ridiculous this is.”
Referring to a page in the evidence bundle, Mr Mitchell pointed out: “There is an exchange between you and Sussex Friends of Israel. This is you indicating your support.”
In the tweets, the Sussex Friends account stated: “Time for a well deserved break Rachel. You didn’t need to step up but you did. For that many of us will be eternally grateful,” to which Ms Riley had responded with a red “heart” emoji and a yellow “strength” emoji.
But on this occasion, Ms Riley said: “I reject that. I see that as someone saying, have a break and thank you.”
Moving on, Mr Mitchell said: “The background to your dispute with [the teenager] was your condemning tweets from Owen Jones about Lord Sugar’s statements. These led to the child … responding to you. Criticism of Lord Sugar was nothing to do with him being Jewish.”
This referred to an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, in which Lord Sugar had said he would leave the UK if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister. He said he feared for the future of his grandchildren and their children – but crucially used only an economic argument to attack the then-Labour leader: “It would be like watching your mother-in-law drive the family Ferrari off a cliff.”
Another person had tweeted an implication that Owen Jones’s response (“Celebrate good times, come on!”) was anti-Semitic because Lord Sugar was a Jewish man fearing for his family’s safety, and Ms Riley had re-published the tweet and elaborated on it.
The girl’s tweet had stated: “Disappointed with @RachelRileyRR. Please don’t believe the bias of the media that brings Jeremy Corbyn down. He is a man that would never spread hatred in society – he fights for equality. Use your platform to inform worried Jewish people that they’re being fed lies by the media.”
“It has nothing to do with Alan Sugar,” claimed Ms Riley. Then she said: “He said he feared for his grandchildren.
“At that period, 40 per cent of Jewish people said they would flee the UK if Jeremy Corbyn was elected.” This was according to a poll for the anti-Corbyn newspaper Jewish Chronicle: https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/nearly-40-per-cent-of-british-jews-would-seriously-consider-emigrating-if-corbyn-became-pm-1.469270 – but this is acknowledged to be a primarily media-led opinion that had nothing to do with Mr Corbyn’s actual behaviour or policies.
“I make no mention of Alan Sugar or his position, other than that Jewish families were considering leaving the UK because they were scared,” said Ms Riley. This was not true; she had re-published David Collier’s, Owen Jones’s and Good Morning Britain’s tweets that very clearly referred to Lord Sugar’s words.
Mr Mitchell pointed out: “You were reinforcing the narrative that this was anti-Semitism.”
Ms Riley replied: “Alan Sugar was saying he would leave the UK because of anti-Semitism.” The information available showed that this was clearly untrue.
Mr Mitchell moved on to the case of Mark Meechan, who taught his dog to perform a Nazi salute when he shouted “Sieg heil!” and “Gas the Jews!” and who then complained when, in the run-up to his trial, he was compelled to wear an electronic ankle tag. Ms Riley had described this as “Insane”.
“Mark Meechan: you tweeted in support of him,” said Mr Mitchell.
“I tweeted one word, based on my opinion from a podcast with David Baddiel and Ricky Gervais,” said Ms Riley. “I thought it was comedy. I thought it was undermining the fight against anti-Semitism to attack jokes.”
Mr Mitchell persisted: “The court found it was anti-Semitism.”
“You tweeted it was insane.”
“You tweeted that it isn’t something you thought would be a criminal matter.”
“I said that,” admitted Ms Riley, “and I said in the same thread it’s not a hill I’d want to die on.”
“You don’t condemn Mark Meechan.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yet you did condemn Noam Chomsky for having published a foreword to a book published by a Holocaust denier.”
“Yes I condemned him.”
“You called him an anti-Semite.”
“I said he promotes anti-Semitism.”
“You’re saying there’s a difference between anti-Semitism and promoting anti-Semitism.”
“So you’ve got freedom of speech for Mark Meechan but not for Chomsky.”
“Chomsky is a genocide denier.”
“We have no evidence for that,” said Mr Mitchell, meaning that no such claim was in the evidence bundles.
“Not here,” admitted Ms Riley. “Do a search on the internet.”
But that is not how the UK civil court system works. If the evidence is not in the bundles, it’s not a part of the case.
Mr Mitchell moved on again, to the Channel 4 interview and podcast Ms Riley made with reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy: “‘I don’t look like a typical Jew.’ That is classic anti-Semitism, isn’t it?”
Ms Riley insisted: “No, it’s not.”
Mr Mitchell asked: “What DOES a typical Jew look like?”
Ms Riley responded: “There’s no such thing!”
“Yet it is something you saw fit to compare yourself against in an interview on Channel 4,” said Mr Mitchell. “Had it been said by anyone you considered a political opponent, you would have immediately decried it as anti-Semitism.”
“You have to take into account context,” Ms Riley insisted. Then she added: “This is an offensive and irritating line of questioning.”
Mr Mitchell responded: “These standards don’t apply to you or your political allies. They’re double-standards, aren’t they? What applies to others doesn’t apply to you.”
Ms Riley insisted: “When something is not anti-Semitic, it is not double-standards to say it is not anti-Semitic.”
“You sent a tweet in April 2019 with a picture of Mr Corbyn imposed on a Game of Thrones background,” said Mr Mitchell. “In it, you said, ‘If you take out the leader, the rest will follow’. You were inciting violence against Mr Corbyn.”
“It was just a joke?”
“Like Mr Meechan.”
Ms Riley replied: “This was about Seamus Milne being the leader and Jeremy Corbyn being a puppet.”
“Was the apartheid regime in South Africa racist?” asked Mr Mitchell. Following up on the response, he said: “On South Africa, you agree that the apartheid regime was real. You defaced the photo.”
This was a reference to a t-shirt that Ms Riley wore, on which an image of a banner-wearing Jeremy Corbyn being arrested at an anti-apartheid protest had been doctored so the sign said, “Jeremy Corbyn is a racist endeavour.”
On doctoring the image, Ms Riley said: “I didn’t. I wore a t-shirt that someone else had done.”
To clarify, Mr Mitchell asked: “If you are wearing it, you support the defacement and the changing of words in the original photo.”
“You do that, causing offence not least to South Africans.”
“This was a simply offensive stand on your part.”
Ms Riley said: “The photo was a canard to show what a saint Jeremy Corbyn was. What Jeremy Corbyn was being arrested for was being part of a picket opposed by the indigenous movement in South Africa. They said it would hinder their movement. It demonstrates that it is all a fiction. He was going against their will. He is a racist.”
This is not true: The Anti-Apartheid Movement did not support the Non-Stop Picket, as it was called, because they had agreed not to demonstrate within 30 feet of the embassy, and the picket failed to gain support from the London ANC – but there were political reasons for that. “Corbyn … is proud to acknowledge he was part of the Non-Stop Picket, a protest outside the South African embassy in London that continued for half a decade,” states the New Statesman article. “But so was almost every Labour MP. Fighting apartheid and racism in South Africa had been part of the Labour Party’s DNA since the days of Keir Hardie… The Anti-Apartheid Movement, of which the African National Congress was a part, was made up of local affiliates like CLAAG [City of London Anti-Apartheid Group]. The Movement took the view that it would only highlight the plight of one political prisoner: Nelson Mandela… There was a price to be paid for this decision. Other political prisoners languished in the shadows…” and a motion for the ANC to be recognised as the “sole legitimate representative of the people of South Africa” was rejected by the UK Labour Party because adopting this position would put it at odds with the Organisation of African Unity and UN – despite the ANC sending a “powerful delegation”, led by the honorary secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. So coldness between these organisations wasn’t because Jeremy Corbyn was a racist who ignored the AAM and ANC’s wishes; it was because Labour had rejected an attempted power-grab by the ANC, that had been supported by the AAM.
Ms Riley elaborated: “He [Jeremy Corbyn] wanted to block the IHRA definitions [of anti-Semitism] because he said Israel is a racist endeavour. This also seems to be untrue: Jeremy Corbyn never said Israel was a racist endeavour. Labour omitted some IHRA anti-Semitism examples and included others in order to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.
“The reason you wore this t-shirt was to attack Jeremy Corbyn, wasn’t it?” asked Mr Mitchell.
Referring to Mr Corbyn, Ms Riley sadi: “An anti-Jewish racist was in my building and I wanted to oppose it.” This was a derogatory reference to Mr Corbyn. A leader debate between him and Boris Johnson was taking place at Channel 4 in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
Mr Mitchell summed up this part of his cross-examination as follows: “In your campaign against Mr Corbyn, the history of apartheid is irrelevant. All of the victims are irrelevant, because none of them mean anything compared to your stand aimed at attacking Mr Corbyn as a racist endeavour.”
Ms Riley insisted: “It’s a false premise. He disregarded the express views of the anti-apartheid group in South Africa.” Again, it seems this was not true. Labour did as she suggested – it was a decision by the party leadership at the time.
Concluding, Mr Mitchell said: “There are no depths to which you will not stoop to attack an enemy.”
Then Mr Mitchell moved on to the focus of the Serial abuser article: “Another of your enemies was a 16 year old girl named Rose.”
“What a ridiculous statement,” said Ms Riley.
At this point, the judge intervened: “You know what she said in the tweets. Any new information can’t form part of his [my] reasonable belief at the time.”
But this was not Mr Mitchell’s point: “Your interaction with Rose ended on December 18 .”
“You published 13 tweets on January 9 listing screengrabs of your exchanges with Rose the previous year. That was 2.5-to-three weeks since your contact with Rose had finished and in your tweets of January 9 you set out your side of the story. You say in your witness statement it was the high point [of the abuse].”
“I said the taps were turned on.”
“You were arguing against a narrative about the bullying of Rose. Something happened. It wasn’t about your exchange with Rose ending on December 18. You considered that your reputation had been sufficiently harmed, by January 9, that you had to address that harm, more than two weeks before Mr Sivier’s article.”
“You made a further series of tweets on January 15.”
“That version of events was already out there so I was referring to supporters.”
Mr Stables objected but the judge clarified: “The question is the suggestion that any serious harm would accrue from something earlier than the article.”
After a cross-examination, a witness’s representative is entitled to re-examine them, to clarify any points covered by their opponent. Mr Stables had just one question: “David Mitchell spent 40 minutes asking you about Sussex Friends of Israel, Chomsky, Meechan etc. How do you feel about those questions?”
“Angry, upset, frustrated, anxious,” said Ms Riley. “It brings back years of abuse and not being able to answer to it.”
That was – more or less – the extent of her witness evidence. I have tried not to editorialise or pass any personal comment on it.
If you wish to give your verdict, the best way is not to say anything. But if you disagree with Ms Riley’s claims, please contribute to my CrowdJustice fund, as my representation at the trial is still not totally paid-up. After three and a half years, you may know the routine off by heart, but here it is again:
Make a donation via the CrowdJustice page. Keep donating regularly until you see the total pass the amount I need.
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.
Use other social media in the same way.
And don’t forget that if you’re having trouble, or simply don’t like donating via CrowdJustice, you can always donate direct to me via the Vox Political PayPal button at the bottom of this article, where it appears on that website. But please remember to include a message telling me it’s for the crowdfund!
I have already stated my belief that this case will end up in the Court of Appeal again, whichever way it goes – and that will need to be funded, if it happens. I’d like to have the trial paid off by the time we find out.
And please don’t comment directly on the trial. A factual article is permissible but you should not risk influencing the judge (as unlikely as this may seem) with any opinions.
I’ll try to discuss my own cross-examination next time.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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