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Defamation bill passed - Owlstalk celebrates this 'win' !


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In 2008 - George Monbiot of the Guardian newspaper wrote this excellent piece about the case

 

So we saw him off. Last week, in a victory for both medicine and free speech, Matthias Rath dropped his libel suit against the Guardian. But it seems amazing that the courts of this country allowed him to pursue this case. Rath, a German doctor, appears to have encouraged South Africans suffering from HIV to stop using anti-retroviral drugs and take his vitamin pills instead. Several of them died. It’s an important story, which shows that journalists are of some use after all. But the Guardian stood to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds for having the impudence to publish it.

 

This newspaper is big enough to look after itself, and on Monday it was also able to settle its legal dispute with Tesco. But the net that Rath used is now being cast to catch ever smaller fry. In the past few days, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club has dropped its cases against some of its fans(1,2). I am now allowed to write about the worst example of legal bullying I have ever seen.

 

The club has had serious problems, on and off the pitch, and many of its fans use an internet forum – owlstalk.co.uk – to discuss them. They make the kind of comments you would expect to find on any talk board, and which would normally be forgotten within 15 minutes. Two and half years ago the club launched its first suit. Only now have the people who posted these comments emerged blinking from the labyrinthine nightmare of English law.

 

As Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol explain in their excellent book Media Law, England’s defamation laws date back to a statute created in 1275. The criminal offence of scandalum magnatum was devised to protect “the great men of the realm” from stories which could stir the people against them. Three centuries later, the Star Chamber allowed noblemen to launch civil actions for libel, to provide them with an alternative to duelling(3).

 

They made prolific use of this privilege until Fox’s Libel Act of 1792 determined that the claimant (the person bringing the case) had to prove that the words used against him were false, malicious and damaging. This means that libel law 216 years ago was more liberal and more in tune with the principle of free speech than it is today. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Robertson and Nicol show, “the common law was re-fashioned to serve the British class system from the perspective of … the Victorian club.” To protect wealthy people from criticism, the courts reversed Fox’s burden of proof. They created a presumption that any derogatory remark made about a gentleman must be false. This remains the case today. Defamation differs from all other civil or criminal laws in Britain: the burden of proof is on the defendant.

 

The law remains the privilege of gentlemen, by which I mean people who are able to afford costs that often exceed a million pounds on each side. Cases tend to be resolved by sheer financial might, as the plaintiffs bankrupt the defendants, or force them to give in before their money runs out. This ensures that the law retains its 13th Century function. It guarantees that most attempts to hold the wealthy to account founder before they are launched, as people bite their tongues for fear of losing their homes.

 

Since 1879, corporations have also been able to sue for libel(4). The inequality of arms this causes is compounded by the fact that there is no legal aid for defamation cases. Lawyers are now allowed to fight these suits on a no-win, no-fee basis, but this freedom is double-edged: if a defendant loses, he could end up paying double the claimant’s legal costs.

 

This is the context in which Sheffield Wednesday went to court to demand the names and email addresses of 14 people who had posted comments on owlstalk. Here are some of the comments over which the club sued. “What an embarrassing, pathetic, laughing stock of a football club we’ve become”. “Another day, another blunder. I doubt even Leeds were in such a mess this time last summer, and look what happened to them”. “I am waiting with baited breath to hear who the Chuckle Brothers have signed after their trip to watch players abroad. With the amount of money they have to spend and the wages they can offer the best we can hope for is that little known Transvestitavian International I.Sukblodov, who last scored in a brothel.”(5)

 

Such comments were deemed by the Sheffield Wednesday’s lawyers to be “false and seriously defamatory messages”(6) which had caused grievous injury to the delicate flowers who ran the club. (They should try posting an article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site). The lawyers threatened “proceedings to include claims for injunctions, damages, interest and legal costs (which could be substantial).”(7) The judge threw most of the application out, but instructed the forum’s host to reveal the email addresses of four of the posters, whose remarks seem to me to be almost as trivial as those he dismissed(8). This took place a year ago, and the long shadow of the law hung over the posters until the club’s lawyers dropped the case last week.

 

Another case dates back to February 2006, when the club sent a warning letter to a fan called Nigel Short. When he received the letter he offered to apologise and to change his comments, but the club rejected this. He was able to fight it only because he found a lawyer – Mark Lewis of George Davies Solicitors in Manchester – who was incensed by this case and was prepared to represent him. “I’ve had two and a half years of worrying I was going to lose my house”, Short tells me. “It’s been hell. If Mark hadn’t done this no win, no fee, I would have been bankrupt by now.”(9)

 

In November 2007, Short was diagnosed with throat cancer. The case continued. But on Wednesday 3rd September he announced that his treatment had been successful(10). On Friday 5th, the club dropped the case and agreed to pay his costs. It issued a press release which suggested it had done so because of “Mr Short’s medical condition.”(11) I asked the club whether it had abandoned the case because it knew that Nigel would now live to fight the action. It has refused to answer my questions.(12)

 

The point of this story is not that the directors of Sheffield Wednesday have behaved like a bunch of petulant bullies. It’s that the law equips them to do so. Most people see this as an issue only for journalists. But the internet ensures that the law of defamation now threatens anyone who stands up for what he believes to be right. This autumn the English branch of PEN, which defends the freedom to write, will launch a campaign against our libel law. But where are the rest of you? Where are the petitions, the public protests, the lobbies of parliament? Why is this 13th-Century law still permitted to stifle legitimate dissent? Wake up Britain: your freedoms are disappearing into the pockets of barristers and billionaires.

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..when anyone questions the change that happened under first LS and then how much MM has changed the culture of the club they should be directed to this thread.

 

I'll never forget the dignity, loyalty and strength of those fans and how they conducted themselves when faced with the arrogant, ignorant bullying of those that 'ran/managed' our club. 

 

You can win cases and feel justified but you can never get back the time when fear, worry and the feeling of being powerless threatened someones day to day life.

 

Shameful.

 

Well done to all those that stood together... Wednesdayites one and all. UTO.

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Owlstalk / Fans (1) - (0) Those who must not be named

 

lol

 

I remember when this all originally kicked off, not the legal action but SHARES saga.

 

I was taken in by the spin, but eventually I saw what was going on after educating myself. And when the legal action was announced, well... it was always going end badly for 'them lot'.

 

Dear Old Guard,

 

Enjoy your obsucrity.

 

Best,

 

Fans x

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Guest phshaw

That legal action is the reason I started visiting OwlsTalk. I wanted to see what these 'vicious individuals' were writing about my club only to realise that there were no 'vicious individuals'.

I truly hope that this change is some comfort to all that suffered throughout those dark days.

Same for me. I had never been on Owlstalk but hearing about the legal action incensed me more than anything else in all my years of supporting the club.

 

The bribes scandal, the shocking sacking of Dooley on Christmas Eve, relegations, etc. were all difficult to stomach at the time but nothing came close in terms of being disgusting and intolerable as the decision to sue your own fans.

 

It was the darkest hour in the history of SWFC, without a doubt. I wanted to walk away but couldn't so I decided to go on Owlstalk, write a long first post on my disgust with respect to the legal action and join the Board of Wednesdayite. A big well done to Owlstalk and all the guys who were subjected to this vicious legal bullying at the time.

 

It shouldn't be forgotten, football fans everywhere owe you. And a massive praise for Brian Laws too. Whatever people think of him as a manager, he deserves our respect as a man for standing up for what was right.

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Dark days indeed , and all the snipers and anti wednesdayiters should hang there heads in shame for berating people who had the balls to stand up to these shysters 

 

As far as i am aware Darryl has never received the promised money from Ashley Carson .

 

Also 3 of those on that list negotiated directors box seats as part of their compensation package when MM took over , Charmers to the end . 

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Having been oblivious to most of this through living down here with no internet access , I find myself appalled by the old guard for even contemplating taking this to court in the first place,comments on a forum are just that ,most said in jokes or in the heat of the moment ,genuine fans pay their money and to me are entitled to speak about things that are happening at the club ,or does freedom of speech not exist when those who are the owners of the club dictate otherwise,i will allways admire Nigel ,Darryl Neil and all the other lads involved in this sham of a court case that was forced onto them ,tbh it was disgusting the way the old guard acted in the first place , but to make fellow fans suffer for two and a half years was as low as anyone can go ,

We ARE WELL RID OF THE LOT OF THEM ,And to all people who were dragged through this despicable action , you have my undying respect ,the underdog was dealt a crap hand and won ,well done to you all .

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I can remember the whole sorry saga, was on the intercity Owl going somewhere or other and got talking to an Owlstalker..Mick...don't think he still posts, but you do the usual thing when you find someone else posts on the site "Whats yer username" etc....and we found we had called each other all sorts of sh*te during a debate about a winger we had...fooked if I can even remember his sodding name at the minute...scored a blinder against the dingles last minute in the league cup, and a winner at Pompey?...someone ante up....

anyroad upwards ..We debated the suing of Nigel and all the KW an' DA stuff..and Mick said...."Imagine if i'd taken the same course when you called me a "feeble minded fookwit"..or sumatt like that....and I thought then...that football fans like myself and Mick, simply accepted the banter, the arguing, the insults etc, that football brings, because we are simply football fans.

The board at Hillsborough, at that time had a siege mentality and saw fans as the enemy, all the fans were doing were asking questions, in the way that fans do.

Brian Laws understood this, the board patently didn't.

The hookers thingy....anyone who can't see the funny side of that, in my humble opinion, is seriously maladjusted..Ive been called all sorts on here, as have the rest of us , no doubt, Ive called folk all sorts on here...we accept it and get on with it, within reason.

A sorry episode in the history of Sheffield Wednesday, thank god the main protagonists have gone, I still think they got off lightly though, 

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A sorry time for the club but at least Wednesdayite got a new member me. Banter is what keeps the site going and if it gets out of hand it's hopefully dealt with. Somebody on here made some comments about me and my family which were hurtful. Quick p.m. to the person involved explaining why apology made and accepted job done. Simple

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I can remember the whole sorry saga, was on the intercity Owl going somewhere or other and got talking to an Owlstalker..Mick...don't think he still posts, but you do the usual thing when you find someone else posts on the site "Whats yer username" etc....and we found we had called each other all sorts of sh*te during a debate about a winger we had...fooked if I can even remember his sodding name at the minute...scored a blinder against the dingles last minute in the league cup, and a winner at Pompey?...someone ante up....

anyroad upwards ..We debated the suing of Nigel and all the KW an' DA stuff..and Mick said...."Imagine if i'd taken the same course when you called me a "feeble minded fookwit"..or sumatt like that....and I thought then...that football fans like myself and Mick, simply accepted the banter, the arguing, the insults etc, that football brings, because we are simply football fans.

The board at Hillsborough, at that time had a siege mentality and saw fans as the enemy, all the fans were doing were asking questions, in the way that fans do.

Brian Laws understood this, the board patently didn't.

The hookers thingy....anyone who can't see the funny side of that, in my humble opinion, is seriously maladjusted..Ive been called all sorts on here, as have the rest of us , no doubt, Ive called folk all sorts on here...we accept it and get on with it, within reason.

A sorry episode in the history of Sheffield Wednesday, thank god the main protagonists have gone, I still think they got off lightly though,

Michael Ready?

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