Guido has been awaiting the trial of Ian Puddick with avid interest. Puddick set up a series of websites to vent his anger over his wife’s 10-year affair with her boss, Timothy Haynes. On the first day of the case there has been no suggestion that anything posted online by Ian Puddick is untrue, simply that the widespread and repeated dissemination amounts to harassment. He was raided by the City of London Police on dubious grounds. This is as Mr Puddick himself says “a very interesting case”.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries is hounded online to a degree that is amazing for a backbench MP, even for one as admittedly colourful as Nadine, her persecution is extraordinary. Every thing she says, writes or tweets is deconstructed. Any slip of the tongue is a lie, any poorly phrased blog post is used in evidence against her. She is an outspoken woman with strong views, a socially conservative opponent of abortion. In some circles this is a thought-crime.
Her forays into blogging and tweeting have brought her nothing but grief, Guido advised her some years ago to quit the online limelight. There is little she can do about what people write about her online if it is not defamatory or a provable lie. Opinion is hard to action.
Lawyers believe the Puddick case could help define the limits of free expression online, the prosecution claims the plumber’s actions were harassment such that they forced the adulterous director to leave his position due to stress. In Guido’s opinion unless the harassment takes the form of direct communication – email, telephone, faxes, letters, tweets – it should not be actionable. If this case sets a precedent that online publication can be harassment won’t it have a chilling effect on free expression? For years this blog wrote almost daily negative stories about Gordon Brown, we know that this stressed him greatly. Should Brown be allowed to sue Guido for harassment? Should Nadine be allowed to sue her enemies for harassing her online?