Mrs Justice Steyn has ruled that a TED Talk given by Carole Cadwalladr was defamatory, though Banks failed to prove that “the publication of the TED Talk from 29 April 2020 caused and/or is likely to cause serious harm to his reputation.” He was as a consequence awarded no damages.
The judgement ruled that “there was a significant change of circumstances once … the National Crime Agency” investigation cleared Banks and her public interest defence ceased to apply after that finding. Banks was sanguine, publicly tweeting “Congratulations to Carole on winning today, it leaves open for the journalist the excuse that she thought what she said was correct even though she had no facts. There are important points of law at stake here and we will likely appeal.” For Banks it was never really about money and winning damages – she would have been bankrupted, if she had to pay anyway. It was about clearing his name in court once and for all.
The Judge also dismissed Cadwalladr’s bluster from when she was trying to frame the case as a “freedom of the press” issue, that this was a SLAPP suit:
9. Ms Cadwalladr has repeatedly labelled this claim a SLAPP suit, that is a strategic lawsuit against public participation, designed to silence and intimidate her. Although, for the reasons I have given, Mr Banks’s claim has failed, his attempt to seek vindication through these proceedings was, in my judgment, legitimate. In circumstances where Ms Cadwalladr has no defence of truth, and her defence of public interest has succeeded only in part, it is neither fair nor apt to describe this as a SLAPP suit.
That was always nonsense.
Crucially Justice Steyn ruled
“it may reasonably be inferred that the vast majority of the defendant’s followers on Twitter “are likely to be persons within her own echo chamber” and “it’s probably right that they wouldn’t have thought very much of [the claimant] by that time”. In my judgment, those within the jurisdiction to whom the Tweet was published are likely to consist of people whose opinion of the claimant was of no consequence to him.
The claimant’s case on this issue is essentially dependent on drawing an inference of serious harm from the combination of the gravity of the imputation and the extent of publication. While I have been persuaded, on balance, to draw such an inference in relation to the TED Talk, in my judgment, the claimant has not established that the Tweet caused (or is likely to cause) serious harm to Mr Banks’s reputation.”
In other words Carole Cadwalladr’s #FBPE echo chamber on Twitter constantly repeating deranged allegations does not constitute “serious harm”. “Defamatory tweets don’t matter” is an extraordinary ruling in an age where social media dominates public discourse…
Full judgement Banks v Cadwalladr.
UPDATE: Banks has released a statement on the result:
STATEMENT FROM ARRON BANKS
The Court found that the meaning of Carole’s allegation was that: “On more than one occasion Mr Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding”.
This is untrue and Carole has accepted that was untrue. Prior to trial Carole apologised for suggesting that this allegation was true, but despite this she continues to publish it via the Ted Talk.
At trial, Carole conceded that that there was no evidence that “I had accepted any money from the Russian government or its proxies” or “that Russian money went into the Brexit campaign”, and that she had never thought I was a “Russian agent” or a “Russian actor”.
Carole said that she had only intended to suggest that there were grounds to investigate whether the source of my donations was foreign funding and on that basis the Judge found that, at first, Carole had a public interest defence. The Judge held that the public interest defence fell away in April 2020 following my vindication by the NCA and Electoral Commission, after which it was not reasonable for Carole to believe her statement was in the public interest.
Carole continued to publish the allegations and to seek publicity for them. Whilst I am disappointed my claim failed on a technicality after April 2020, I am pleased the Judge made clear my attempt to seek vindication was legitimate and that it was neither fair nor apt to describe this as a “SLAPP suit”. Quite right. This was never about seeking to silence criticism. Carole knows that had she apologised and agreed not to repeat this false accusation at the outset, these proceedings would never have been necessary.
13 June 2022