By Edward Joffe
The British Telegraph announced today that a law student falsely named as a pedophile on Facebook has won a £10,000 libel damages payout at the High Court.
Chef, Jeremiah Barber, 24, posted child porn on the Facebook page of student, [name withheld], along with the comment: "[name withheld], you like kids and you are gay so I bet you love this picture, Ha ha." Barber, who had fallen out with Mr [name withheld] over an £80 debt, removed the post, made on 23 November 2008, within 24 hours.
- So was Mr. Barber arrested and thrown in jail/prison for posting child porn online?
Mr [name withheld] said there had been 11 links to the post, 2 comments from viewers, and more than 800 people would have been able to view the material But he later pleaded guilty to making and distributing an indecent image of a child at Stafford Crown Court and was ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work and handed a £1,200 costs bill.
Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting at London's High Court, has awarded Mr. [name withheld] £10,000 in libel damages for the stress he endured, including anxiety that hundreds of people in his local area may have seen the post.
Mr [name withheld], 24, who lives with his parents in Stone, Staffs, suffers from high functioning Asperger's Syndrome, but has secured a place on a full time degree course studying law at Stafford University. The dispute between him and Barber, from Stafford, arose after Mr [name withheld] lent his former pal £80 and he failed to pay it back, said the judge. Mr [name withheld]'s efforts to secure repayment included obtaining a County Court order. Judgment was entered for Mr [name withheld] in the libel case in November last year but he had to return to the High Court for an assessment of his damages.
In the witness box, Mr [name withheld] said:
Jeremy Barber put a defamatory blog (sic) on Facebook and made me appear to be a pedophile with homosexual tendencies, neither of which is true. He did so with intention and malice. When I viewed the pictures I was shocked because they were repulsive and disgusting and in no way reflected my attitude to life. I asked for an apology which I have not to this date received. The whole thing has been distressing, not only for myself but for my family.
Mr [name withheld] said there had been 11 links to the post, 2 comments from viewers, and more than 800 people would have been able to view the material.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said: "This was not only defamatory, but a defamation which goes to a central aspect of Mr [name withheld]'s private life as well as his public reputation."
This post was deeply offensive to him, but also a cause for alarm. He could not go out in public because he feared he would be a victim of violence, which is not infrequently the result for those accused of pedophilia. It is well known that people accused of being pedophiles may be subjected to serious violence, even when there is no basis for the accusation. I can infer that the number of people who saw this Facebook page would have been in the hundreds. "This post was clearly a malicious act and the defendant has done nothing to express any regret. "Damages in libel actions are awarded as compensation, not as punishment, to vindicate reputation, to compensate for harm to that reputation and as compensation for injury to feelings.
"I assess the damages in this case at £10,000," the judge concluded, also imposing an injunction banning Barber from repeating the libel.