Author Chris McGrath faces six figure legal bill after unfavourable Amazon reviews case is struck out

 

An author who tried to sue a father of three from the West Midlands over comments made in a series of unfavourable reviews on Amazon is facing a six figure legal bill after a judge struck out his case.

Chris McGrath, an online entrepreneur from Milton Keynes, tried to sue Vaughan Jones, 28, from Nuneaton, over a series of reviews and postings he made on the Amazon website about his self-published and little-known book “The Attempted Murder of God”.

Amazon, the prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and his eponymous foundation were also named as defendants because they either carried the review or discussion threads linked to it that Mr McGrath claimed were libellous.

The four defendants applied to have the case thrown out with proceedings coming to the High Court late last year. The judgement has now been made available to the public. In it Judge Maloney dismissed the case against Amazon, Richard Dawkins and his foundation whilst throwing out the vast majority of the case against Mr Jones. Mr McGrath will now face legal bills of around £100,000.

The judge ruled that although a small portion of Mr Jones’ words might be deemed libellous by a jury if it went to a full trial, there was little point pursuing that avenue because the potential damages would be slight compared to court costs and time.

The judge also questioned whether Mr McGrath, a married father of two, might have trouble convincing a jury that he had been wronged because of his own online behaviour. During proceedings it emerged that the author had used a number of online pseudonyms to review his self-published book and come to his defence once people began to criticise his work.

Mr McGrath’s book – which he described as a satirical parody of the often fractious debate between science and religion – was initially published anonymously under the pen name “Scrooby”. It came to the attention of Mr Jones in September 2010 when multiple links to Mr McGrath’s work began appearing under reviews for “The Grand Design”, a popular science book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow which argued that God is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe.

Mr Jones wrote a series of uncomplimentary reviews of “The Attempted Murder of God” and, after doing online research, outed Mr McGrath as the author. He also named Mr McGrath’s two children, something Judge Maloney described as “nasty”. Increasingly hostile replies went back and forth between Mr Jones, Mr McGrath and Mr McGrath’s online pseudonyms – the content of which became subject to libel proceedings.

Libel reform campaigners, who have expressed concern that Britain’s defamation laws disproportionately favour claimants, said last night that the case should not have got to the preliminary hearing stage.

Michael Harris, from Index on Censorship, said: “We want the government to ensure that libel actions cannot proceed unless the harm caused is both “serious” and “substantial”. We’re concerned that it cost Amazon £77,000 to have this case struck out by a judge, an amount of money that most ordinary libel defendants simply cannot afford. Change to our archaic libel laws cannot come soon enough.”

In a statement provided to The Independent, Mr McGrath said he intended to appeal against the strike out ruling and proceed to a full libel trial. “There are many legal bases for believing this judgement is deeply flawed and we have until 30 April 2012 to challenge the decision to ban us from appealing,” he said.

He rounded on libel reform campaigners, stating that British law had made it all but impossible for litigants in person such as himself to successfully bring a libel case. He also defended his use of online pseudonyms stating that he was “trying to pull off a complicated satire” at the time.

“There are artistic reasons that are not unethical, to use fake review accounts and, in sudden defence of a serious attack, it seems eminently reasonable to reach for whatever resources there are available to protect family, name and reputation,” he said.

In an attempt to bring proceedings to a close, Mr Jones has agreed not to repeat any of the sentences that the judge ruled might be deemed libellous by a jury.

“I did win my strike out application, no question,” he said. “But when you consider the case as a whole, no-one has won here really. And that's why, I suspect, libel reform is needed more than ever.”

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there