Rotherham youth worker wins £40,000 from ex-Ukip politician over grooming slur that ‘triggered abuse’

High Court judge says completely innocent father has had his home vandalised over false accusations

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 19 December 2018 14:46 GMT
The tweet was sent from an official local Ukip account in Bristol
The tweet was sent from an official local Ukip account in Bristol (PA)

A Rotherham youth worker who was falsely accused of involvement in grooming gangs has successfully sued a former Ukip politician for £40,000.

Days before the 2015 general election, a tweet sent from the official Bristol Ukip Twitter account showed Zahir Monir alongside Sarah Champion MP, with a caption accusing the Labour candidate of standing with “two suspended child grooming taxi drivers”.

The then local chair Stephen Wood was found to be legally responsible for the post, which was written by Ukip Bristol vice chairman John Langley.

A High Court judge awarded £40,000 in damages and costs to Mr Monir over the “completely false and highly damaging allegation”, and warned that a newspaper could have been fined £250,000 for making the same claim. Mr Wood vowed to appeal the decision and said he would be " financially ruined".

Handing down his judgment on Wednesday, Mr Justice Nicklin said: “Mr Monir is not a taxi driver, and no one suggests that he had been involved in any ‘child grooming’. The allegation was false.”

The judge added: “It needs to be stated clearly: Mr Monir is completely innocent. He has been seriously libelled. He has been forced to fight a libel claim all the way through to trial with every single conceivable point being taken against him.”

Mr Monir made an “irate” call to Mr Wood after being alerted to the tweet, which was posted on 4 May 2015, but said the Ukip politician told him to “piss off” and hung up.

After trying to contact Facebook, where the allegation was spreading further, and Bristol Ukip he rang the police.

Mr Wood claimed he was not aware of the tweet until being contacted by police almost a month later, and gave differing accounts of the call from Mr Monir.

Judge Nicklin said that although the post was then deleted, the false allegation had already been repeated widely including on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media.

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He said it “ended up being published to people that Mr Monir knew from his local area and even his next-door neighbour”, causing him hurt, embarrassment, fear and distress.

“It has transformed the life of Mr Monir and his family for the worse,” the judge said. “Mr Monir has become something of a recluse; afraid to carry on his normal life. The consequences of that extend beyond Mr Monir and touch his whole family.”

The court heard that Mr Monir, who has lived in Rotherham all his life, was well-known in the local area and his father was made an MBE for charity work.

Mr Monir had campaigned for the local Labour party and was considering standing himself in local elections when the tweet was sent, while carrying out charity and voluntary work.

Following the tweet, he has had eggs thrown at his house and a brick thrown through the window, while being verbally abused by members of the public, including outside his son's primary school.

The court heard that the tweet was written and posted by Mr Langley, who was vice chairman of Bristol Ukip at the time, but Judge Nicklin found he was “clearly acting as the agent of Mr Wood when he was posting material on the Bristol Ukip Twitter”.

Mr Wood was standing as the party’s candidate for the Bristol South constituency and accepted in court that he should not have let Mr Langley continue running the branch’s account.

Mr Langley had been the object of media ridicule over his sideline as a porn star and adult film producer, and Ukip considered sacking him after he posted Islamophobic material.

The High Court found that Mr Monir’s call put Mr Wood legally “on notice” for the tweet and he was also liable for its continued publication from 8 May.

Mr Monir’s solicitor said the “vile and baseless tweet” had been published for political gain.

Jeremy Clarke-Williams, of Penningtons Manches, added: “This judgment provides Mr Monir with the complete vindication he deserves. He has had to endure more than three years of suffering and stress to achieve this victory and the failure of the defendant to apologise for, or retract, the allegation is, as the judge noted, ‘on simply a human level … a difficult stance to understand’.”

Mr Clarke-Williams said the case could set a precedent for legal liability in organisations that delegate staff to run social media accounts on their behalf.

Mr Wood said the judgement would "ruin me financially" and predicted that costs and damages combined could exceed £300,000.

"I would have never approved the publication of the tweet," he added in a statement. "When I was chairman, I specifically prohibited any personal attacks or material which might be interpreted as racist or xenophobic."

Mr Wood accused Mr Monir of threatening him in the initial phone call and said he had not understood who he was, or what he was talking about.

He added: "There were numerous identical or similar tweets published contemporaneously by others about Mr Monir to far greater numbers of followers.

"I believe the dangerous effect of the judgment is to make any member of a club, association, or voluntary group liable for acts performed by other members of the group even if such acts were not approved ... such a judgement has very troubling and far-reaching consequences for the public."

The case comes after another legal battle that saw a Ukip MEP ordered to pay £358,000 in damages to three MPs in 207.

Jane Collins had falsely accused the politicians of knowing about the sexual abuse of children by grooming gangs in Rotherham but failing to intervene.

Police are still investigating the abuse of up to 1,500 victims between 1997 and 2013.

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