Jacqueline Thompson: blogger who waged 'campaign of harassment' against council chief ordered to pay £25,000 damages


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The Independent Online

A blogger who waged an “unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation” against a council chief executive has been ordered to pay him £25,000 libel damages.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said today that 50-year-old Jacqueline Thompson's behaviour towards Mark James, of Carmarthenshire County Council, and other officers was "vindictive" and in revenge for the refusal of a number of planning applications.

The campaign was conducted through letters and emails, which Mrs Thompson, of Llandwra, Carmarthen, circulated to large numbers of addressees and the media from March 2006, and by her blog started in 2009.

Her dominant motive was to injure Mr James, who said he was horrified by what he read.

The strongest point in favour of the mother-of-four was that the allegations in the three postings in February, March and April 2011, while serious, were made only to a small number of readers, added the judge.

He dismissed "in its entirety" Mrs Thompson's own libel claim against Mr James and the council over a July 2011 letter which Mr James published to councillors.

The judge said that the council and Mr James did not suggest there was anything unlawful about Mrs Thompson maintaining a blog which was critical of them.

"Everyone is entitled to publish to the world opinions that they honestly hold about matters of public interest. Everyone is entitled to state facts which are true."

Mr James's complaint was that what Mrs Thompson had written included allegations of corruption, lying and misappropriation of public money, which were false and for which she had no foundation.

The judge, at London's High Court, said that Mrs Thompson's campaign of harassment and libel was the most recent of a number of cases which had recently come before the courts.

"Many such campaigns are not aimed at officials of public authorities, but some are. In Mrs Thompson's case the motive is revenge. In other cases the motive is financial gain, or an obsession for which there is no obvious explanation. These campaigns are commonly conducted on the internet."

He added: "There is nothing new about such campaigns of vilification: they have existed throughout history where one or more persons have wished to demonise another.

"But the internet had made them easier for individuals to conduct."

In the 19th century, campaigns of vilification were so commonly used in election campaigns that, in 1895, legislation was made which became the Representation of the People Act.

He said he shared the concern that a libel action might chill public discussion of matters of public interest but where a person maliciously spread false and defamatory allegations about individuals holding public offices, a libel action might be the best means of establishing the truth and preventing repetition.

"If those who work in or for public authorities could not defend themselves against the dissemination of falsehoods, the public would be the losers," the judge said.