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Breaking: judge rejects attempt by co-defendants of deceased LAAS director to quash lawsuit against them

James Wilson is suing James Mendelsohn, Edward Cantor and the late Peter Newbon for libel, misuse of private information, harassment, and breach of data rights. Dr Newbon died in January last year, with right-wing media attempting to blame his death on author Michael Rosen

The High Court has today rejected an attempt by the defendants to have James Wilson’s case against them for alleged libel, misuse of private information, harassment, and breach of data rights struck out.

Dr Peter Newbon, one of the three defendants, died in January last year and no cause of death has been confirmed – the inquest has yet to take place – but this did not stop the right-wing media and activists from attempting to link his death to the reaction to a doctored image Newbon posted on Twitter showing former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reading an antisemitic text to schoolchildren. Corbyn had in fact been reading Michael Rosen’s famous ‘Bear Hunt’ book to the children.

Author Rosen was also targeted by the right because Newbon – who had reportedly received a final warning from his university employers after what appears to have been a number of such incidents – had attempted to sue Rosen for complaining about the abuse of his work. Press coverage at the time of his death neglected to mention that he was also a director of LAAS, the right-wing anti-Corbyn group known for frequent anti-left claims – and did not mention that Newbon was also being sued by James Wilson.

Mr Wilson began his case against Newbon, James Mendelsohn and Edward Cantor after Dr Newbon posted a number of comments about Wilson, during a dispute about the so-called ‘IHRA non-binding definition of antisemitism’ – including “This freak takes pictures of kids, apparently“.

In his judgment published today, King’s Bench judge Master Davison condemned the defendants’ claim that Wilson could have avoided further harm by backing out of the online conversation in which they had attacked him, noting that this would not have undone the ‘alleged harm he had already suffered’ and adding:

It is not very attractive for the defendants, who put the claimant in this position, to say that he should have exercised their suggested form of self-help or that he has been insufficiently robust and resilient. The first defendant and Dr Newbon themselves acknowledged in private conversation on Twitter that to allege publicly that the claimant “took photos of other people’s children” was not something they would wish on themselves: (“Tbf to him, I wouldn’t love it”).

For these reasons I consider that the claimant has a harassment claim against the first defendant which has a real prospect of success.

Paragraph 8 gives a graphic description of Cantor, Mendelsohn and Newbon discussing how they can get Wilson, using ‘derogatory remarks’, and notes that the photo was had already been deleted once on police instruction:

The second defendant came to have the screenshot of the Facebook Post because it had been sent to him by the first defendant as part of a conversation conducted between them by direct message on Twitter. The conversation was in July 2020. It was about the claimant and was couched in derogatory language. It included the first defendant telling the second defendant about a workplace complaint that had been made against the claimant when they (the claimant and the first defendant) were working in the same department.

The Facebook Post itself had been taken down by Ms K on about 4 December 2018 after she was asked to delete it by an officer from West Yorkshire Police. But in the meantime it had come to the first defendant’s attention and he had made a screenshot of it. He provided the screenshot to the second defendant with the intention (as the claimant alleges) of the second defendant using it as ammunition against the claimant.

And in paragraphs 32 and 33 of the judgment, he goes on to discuss the seriousness of the comments posted about Mr Wilson and the consequences:

Although it will, of course, not bind another judge, the defamatory meaning amounts, in my view, to a finding that what was alleged was quasi-criminal conduct – that conduct being harassment of Ms K and her daughter. The allegation that the claimant took pictures of them (a statement of fact) and that this was the conduct of “a weirdo and a freak” (a statement of opinion) added a more troubling aspect to the tweet. I would tend to agree with the plea at paragraph 34.1 of the Amended Particulars of Claim that serious reputational harm is at least a likely consequence of such publication. That plea finds support from the facts – pleaded in the Particulars and described in the claimant’s witness statement – that in the immediate aftermath of the Facebook Post he was threatened or harassed on his way to and from the school. On one of those occasions (and as I have already mentioned) there was explicit reference to him hanging around the school taking photos of children.

It is true that, as Ms Grossman pointed out, the tweets 18 months later on Twitter had a different context. A reader coming upon those tweets would see that they were essentially retaliatory, intended to convey the point that the claimant was a busybody who did not just “jump [in] on other people’s threads” but also sought to police (though Dr Newbon put it as “harassing”) mothers who left their car engines running on the school run. Nevertheless, as already observed above, when the screenshot was posted, the character of the Twitter spat changed. I do not think that the context served to lessen, or much lessen, the gravity of what was alleged. And I think that there is still a respectable, inferential case of serious harm.

The judge rejected the application entirely in regard to James Mendelsohn and in all respects but one in regard to Edward Cantor.

In a statement, James Wilson responded to the finding and summarised the circumstances of his claim:

In December 2018 a parent at the school my child attended published information about me on Facebook. The information was defamatory, untrue and created a risk to my safety. It was deleted the next day after the parent was visited at home by a police officer from West Yorkshire police and told to delete the Facebook post.

In the short time Facebook post was published, a screenshot was taken by the first defendant (Mr James Mendelsohn) who was a former colleague of mine. The way in which the Facebook post came to Mr Mendelsohn’s attention is disputed. Mr Mendelsohn retained the screenshot of the Facebook post.

Some 19 months later in July 2020, the second defendant (Dr Pete Newbon) was seeking information to discredit me. By way of private messages, Mr Mendelsohn provided Dr Newbon the screenshot of the Facebook post and other information about me.

In August 2020 in the course of a debate on Twitter I linked to an article in the London Review of Books by Sir Stephen Sedley, the retired Court of Appeal judge, on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The response of Dr Pete Newbon was to repeatedly publish the information provided by Mr Mendelsohn. Dr Newbon deleted the information the following day after he and Mr Mendelsohn agreed by way of private messages that Mr Mendelsohn should not have provided the information and Dr Newbon should not have published it.

A couple of days later, the third defendant (Eddy Cantor) re-published the screenshot of the Facebook post. It remained published for an 8 month period until Mr Mendelsohn and Dr Newbon agreed by private messages that they would ask Mr Cantor to delete the Facebook post.

All claims could have settled in August 2020 for zero damages, zero costs and with undertakings to delete and not to re-publish the information. It is both inexplicable and deeply regrettable that matters were not settled and High Court claims for defamation, harassment and misuse of private information had to be issued in July 2021.

Dr Newbon tragically died in January 2022. His widow and I reached an agreement resolving all claims against Dr Newbon’s estate. The other defendants chose not to engage in realistic negotiations to settle all the claims at the same time.

My claim has now being going for 2½ years. There have been two court hearings. At the first hearing in January 2022, Mr Mendelsohn and Mr Cantor argued that their publications were not defamatory. The judge decided the publications were defamatory.

At the second hearing in January 2023, Mr Mendelsohn and Mr Cantor applied for summary judgment and to have all my claims struck out. Except to a very limited extent the judge refused to strike out my claims. My claim in harassment against Mr Cantor was struck out on the basis that Mr Cantor only published the screenshot of the Facebook post once.

It is deeply regrettable that Mr Mendelsohn and Mr Cantor have taken an approach that has led to two published judgments which put Dr Newbon’s conduct in the public domain.

Mr Mendelsohn and Mr Cantor continue to maintain that their conduct was lawful and they and others are entitled to publish the information about me that they and Dr Newbon published.

The costs of the case are likely now over £250,000 for claim which could have settled for zero costs. My understanding is that the defendants’ strategy has been to use the threat of bankruptcy or actual bankruptcy to get me to abandon my claim.

The next stage is that my case will go to trial and a judge will decide whether the defendants’ publications are defamatory, amounted to harassment, infringed my privacy, and breached the law on data protection.

I have no other comment except to urge people to respect Dr Newbon’s family by avoiding speculating about this case.

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  1. Bit by bit, and often in whopping big chunks, the lies and scurrilous anti-Semitism claims against JC and the left are falling apart at the seams.
    One would have to be a total numpty to give them any credence.
    It says a lot about the workings and credibility of the MSM in print and broadcast forms. What else are they propagandising at the moment?
    It certainly makes one realise that currently, Freedom certainly has no. wings as far as honest reporting is concerned.

  2. Hmm, interesting. Emily Maitlis was ‘at it’ the other evening, on Twitter.

    Retweeting an article by William Hague – yes, that William Hague – and seeming to suggest, that was proof positive, JC was anti-Semitic.

    I’m not sure if she’d been tippling beforehand, but she was soon put right.

    Whether she took any notice, or not, is a different matter.

    P.S. I feel for Pete Newbon’s wife and children.

    1. George Peel
      For the sake of her career Emily’s got to continue with the charade. After all apart from the AS claims she was one who took great delight insinuating Jeremy was very friendly with Russia. So any so called ‘evidence’ will do.

  3. Re: An earlier conversation in which there was mention of the “White Helmets”.
    This evening the BBC has published this report
    in which it states, with regard to a delivery of aid to Idlib,
    “The UN aid… is the regular and periodic assistance that has been occurring since before the earthquake,” tweeted the White Helmets, an organisation whose volunteer first responders operate in the region.
    “It is not special aid and equipment for the search and rescue teams, and the recovery of those trapped under the rubble.”
    The BBC also shows a map of the areas in Syria and Turkey that are affected by the earthquakes. In Syria the map shows who controls each area. The area around Idlib is shown on the map as being under the control of Jihadist forces”.
    Yet, somehow, the Beeb is promoting the White Helmets as a “humanitarian” group.

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