Analysis Breaking

Breaking: stunning victory for Heybroek against Riley/Oberman as they withdraw libel claim – and contribute toward her costs

Settlement structure almost unheard-of in libel actions

Jane Heybroek, left, and a recent tweet by Rachel Riley

Labour-supporting immigration barrister Jane Heybroek has won a stunning victory against television personalities Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman. The pair have withdrawn their attempt to sue Ms Heybroek for retweeting an article by Jewish commentator Shaun Lawson and have agreed to pay part of her legal costs in defending the case against them.

The article in question was titled “Beneath Contempt: How Tracy Ann Oberman and Rachel Riley harassed, dogpiled and slandered a 16-year-old child and her father”.

Ms Heybroek has issued the following statement regarding the case and its outcome:

I am Jane Heybroek, a barrister specialising in immigration work. I was the subject of discourse on Twitter, and reports in the mainstream media, earlier this year, as a result of a libel claim being brought against me by the television presenter Rachel Riley and the actress Tracy Ann Oberman.

I am now able to report that the claim against me has been withdrawn and that Ms Riley and Ms Oberman have agreed to make contributions towards my legal costs. I wish to thank everyone who has helped me in the last 18 months; it will not be forgotten.

Ms Riley and Ms Oberman are not personally known to me. Their claim saw them seeking damages and costs in respect of my re-tweet of a tweet by the blogger Shaun Lawson, which contained a link to a blog article he had written about them in January 2019.

Mr Lawson’s article, which concerned the celebrities’ alleged behaviour towards a teenage Labour supporter on Twitter in January 2019, had been re-tweeted/shared by hundreds of people. Some of those people were threatened with legal action like me; others were not.

Ultimately, despite press reports which suggested as many as 70 people might face legal action, I was the only person who was sued. This was despite the fact that I had deleted my re-tweet before I had even received Letters of Claim. I did not even know how long my re-tweet had been live for. Neither, it seems, did Ms Riley or Ms Oberman.

There was no evidence, that I am aware of, to suggest that anyone had read the blog article as a result of clicking the link in my re-tweet. There were also various other ways in which the claim against me could have been (and would have been, had it proceeded) defended.

Ms Riley and Ms Oberman were being represented, from the very outset, on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, and had ‘after the event insurance’. This meant that there was almost no risk to them in bringing the claim. Many people would have felt forced to settle for reasons of pragmatism. Whilst I am in a more fortunate position than most, after having spent almost £30,000 by a very early stage, it was clear to me that I would have no prospect of funding my defence to trial without help. I therefore launched a fundraiser on the website CrowdJustice.com, and was overwhelmed by the response which I received.

Due to the support of a great many people, I was able to continue to retain leading defamation lawyers, and properly contest the case.

I am making this statement for the benefit of those who have supported me emotionally and financially, and to address one other issue.

Ms Riley and Ms Oberman’s vocal stance against antisemitism (and perceived antisemitism) has been widely documented, as has their involvement in other legal cases. This claim, however, did not actually involve any allegations of antisemitism against me or indeed Mr Lawson.

I understand that Mr Lawson is himself Jewish and that his grandmother was a holocaust survivor. For my part, I abhor all forms of racism. Unfortunately, as a result of the litigation, I was subject of a number of nasty comments from a small minority of people who simply presumed to know what the case was about and what the outcome would be. They were wrong on both counts.

Finally, as I have said throughout to those who have supported me, I ask people, for their own sakes, not to discuss the content of Mr Lawson’s article, nor to comment on Ms Riley or Ms Oberman on social media more generally.

Notwithstanding the fact that I am a lawyer by profession, this has been a long, and at times exhausting experience, and I would not wish anyone to find themselves on the
receiving end of legal action.

Analysis:

It’s hard to overstate how big a victory this is.  The SKWAWKBOX understands that the sum offered by Riley and Oberman in their settlement is not huge – but that it is virtually unheard-of for claimants in a libel case to settle with defendants and contribute to their costs without there being some form of confidentiality agreement. There is no such agreement in this case.

The SKWAWKBOX underlines Ms Heybroek’s advice regarding comments concerning the two claimants.

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