In a judgment handed down on 29 January, Collins Rice J ruled that the Claimants, gay rights activist Simon Blake and entertainer Colin Seymour, who performs as Crystal, succeeded in their libel claim against Laurence Fox and also succeeded, together with writer and broadcaster Nicola Thorp, in defending the libel counterclaim brought against them by actor and founder of the Reclaim Party, Laurence Fox.
Mr Blake and Mr Seymour’s claims were brought over tweets in which Mr Fox called each of them a “paedophile”. Mr Fox, having previously denied that the tweets bore this meaning (in an appeal refused by the Court of Appeal in August last year), at trial sought to deny that the tweets had caused either of them serious harm, and alleged that if they had, he was entitled to assert a defence of “reply to attack” qualified privilege because each had called him a “racist”.
Collins Rice J found that the allegations of being a paedophile had caused serious harm to both Mr Blake and Mr Seymour. Their reputations had been “pristine” until subjected to this most damaging, and untrue, of accusations. The Judge rejected Mr Fox’s arguments as to reply to attack. Mr Fox’s tweets were “the very epitome of ‘mere retaliation’ – an escalatory and disproportionate response by way of entirely irrelevant statements.”
Mr Fox’s counterclaim concerned three tweets by Mr Blake, Mr Seymour and Ms Thorpe in October 2020, in which he was described as a “racist”, following Mr Fox’s response (also on X, formerly Twitter) to an announcement by Sainsbury’s in October 2020 of its celebration of Black History Month and measures taken to support black and minority ethnic employees.
Collins Rice J found that these tweets had not caused Mr Fox serious harm: there were multiple other probable causes of any damage to Mr Fox’s reputation, including his tweet in relation to Sainsbury’s, his comments on Question Time in January 2020, and his subsequent public comments on racial issues. These included a tweet showing LGBT Progress Pride flags cut up and arranged into a swastika (for which he was suspended from Twitter), a tweet of himself photoshopped into blackface, and a “flowing with blood” tweet about racial unrest in the UK.
Having ruled that Mr Fox had not suffered serious harm from the tweets alleging that he was a racist, the Court declined to rule on the defences of truth and honest opinion.
This trial follows a series of widely reported earlier hearings, including Laurence Fox’s unsuccessful application for a trial by jury and his appeal against the decision by Mr Justice Nicklin as to the meaning of the tweets in each claim (again unsuccessful on all tweets, except that sued upon by Ms Thorp).
Mr Blake, Mr Seymour and Ms Thorp were represented at trial in the High Court by Lorna Skinner KC, leading Beth Grossman, the late Heather Rogers KC represented the Claimants at the earlier hearings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Mark Lewis of Patron Law was the instructing solicitor.