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High Court rules that serious harm test applies to tweets

Jack Monroe v Katie Hopkins [2017] EWHC 433

Jack Monroe, a food blogger and political activist was awarded £24,000 in a defamation case brought against Katie Hopkins in respect of two tweets published on Twitter by Ms Hopkins, relating to Ms Monroe.  Hopkins’ tweets concerned the vandalising of a war memorial during an anti-austerity protest and were prompted by a post from New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny who tweeted, ‘I don’t have a problem with this.  The bravery of past generations does not oblige us to be cowed today.’

Ms Hopkin’s tweet in response mistook Ms Monroe for Ms Penny.  Ms Monroe subsequently asked for a public apology and charitable donation.  Ms Hopkins deleted the tweet but failed to apologise or retract the statement.  She then tweeted for a second time.

Ms Monroe claimed that the first tweet suggested that she had either vandalised a war memorial or condoned it, and that the second tweet carried defamatory innuendo, which implied that she approved or condoned the vandalism.  She argued that the tweets had caused her ‘serious harm’ in accordance with the Defamation Act 2013. 

Mr Justice Wharby was required to determine:

(i)     the meanings of the tweets,
(ii)    whether those meaning were defamatory, and
(iii)  whether it was proved that the serious harm requirement was met.

The statement was construed as if it had been conveyed to a hypothetical reader, who reasonably represented Twitter users.  The judge found that both tweets were defamatory, the first indicated that Ms Monroe approved the defacing of war memorials while the second would be read in the context of the first tweet.  The Court found that the harm to Ms Monroe’s reputation was serious, although not very serious or grave to justify more substantial damages.

Read Inforrm article here.