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Libel

(15 Posts)
fuckedoffandwanttoscream Sun 13-Oct-19 22:39:10

I run a voluntary organisation where we often get attendees come along for a few months and then we never see them again. We email/text to see if everything's ok but often get no reply.

We made a few changes a couple of months ago and emailed the person it would affect most a week before everyone else out of courtesy. The email left no doubt that we were there to talk and see how we could move forward. No reply. A week later we updated all our members of the changes including the above mentioned person. Still no response. Busy couple of months and we didn't chase but because there was no reply we went ahead with the changes.

Fast forward to this week and we get a request from a reporter to comment on this person's allegation of discrimination and that we kicked them out. Lengthy email to reporter about our legal obligations. The local authority backed us up. The reporter ran the story anyway with the usual sad faced pictures (loads of them). National papers picked up the story. Then our ITV regional TV news contacted us and asked for a comment as they were going to feature the story that night. I gave them the same information as the reporter but also added my original email to the person making the accusations. I also stated that the person had the whole of August to get in touch so that we could work out a way to include them going forward. I also stated that the person accusing us of these things could have helped out at any time (we regularly update the group that they can come in and help out) but never volunteered. ITV didn't feature it on the news.

I've had some pretty vile messages - I'm disgusting and what we did is appalling. We should be shut down and boycotted.

The headlines in all the newspapers were lies. We did not kick this person out, there was no sex discrimination.

I would like to contact a solicitor to see if we have a case for libel but the other person running the organisation would rather do nothing and let it blow over and doesn't want their name brought into it if we are able to bring a case against the newspapers. My reason for wanting to go for legal action is that members of similar organisations commented on the story and it may harm our working relationship with similar organisations in the future.

All I want is an apology from the papers and a letter sent to this person warning them not to bring our organisation into more disrepute.

Sorry if this is vague but don't want to name our organisation or our activities.

Any help appreciated.

Thank you.

Itsarainyday555 Sun 13-Oct-19 22:47:22

Defamation is a tricky claim to bring and you're likely to spend a lot of money not achieving alot. However a threatening solicitors letter may make the person involved realise that what they're doing isn't without consequences. The difficulty in this situation is it tends to validate their view that you are picking on them. Find a decent defamation solicitor and chat it through but their advice may well be to leave it alone.

Itsarainyday555 Sun 13-Oct-19 22:50:38

Also (and I freely admit it's not my speciality) but I expect the chances of a claim again the newspaper/an apology has no hope. Papers print one person's side if the story everyday without repercussion. You may get a 'correction' with the encouragement of a solicitors letter but you risk drawing more attention to it than if you'd have just left it alone.

fuckedoffandwanttoscream Sun 13-Oct-19 22:54:22

Luckily, I get legal cover through a professional membership. I'm going to be speaking to them tomorrow.

Since the story went online and in the papers, several people have contacted me to say that the family are well known locally for being odd, awkward and strange. But you didn't hear that from me wink

I'm happy to say that we've had no negative responses from other members of the group.

fuckedoffandwanttoscream Sun 13-Oct-19 22:57:08

I think if I'd contacted the papers myself and said that the laws were too strict and were restricting our activities as a group, there's probably no way they'd have printed that.

fuckedoffandwanttoscream Sun 13-Oct-19 23:00:30

@itsarainyday555 thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

KatyCarrCan Sun 13-Oct-19 23:07:17

I can't comment on the legal perspective, but from a charity pr pov, if you know who commented from the other organisations then I'd be tempted to either host an event to update them on the new changes (so you address the misinformation indirectly) or if they directly criticised your organisation, then email them with a brief explanation of how you can't discuss it because of privacy concerns but you can assure them that any actions were taken in line with legislation, LA policy, your mission statement, etc.
Legal action could leave you open to even more negative publicity if readers/viewers think you're spending funds on defending your name rather than providing your service.

JaniceBattersby Sun 13-Oct-19 23:18:43

Hi OP, I’m a newspaper reporter. I’d forget about defamation. It’s hideously expensive (and I doubt your legal cover would stretch to a libel case, although you could check), incredibly difficult to prove and will drag on forever.

If all you want is an apology and for the papers to admit they got it wrong then write a letter to the editor in the first instance asking for a correction and an apology. If you get no joy, go to IPSO (in fact, I’d go to IPSO anyway, even if the papers do apologise. We don’t want bad reporters to continue to give us all a bad name).

It’s difficult without knowing the exact details of the issue to know whether the papers are in the right or the wrong here but it certainly sounds like they’ve made mistakes.

Itsarainyday555 Sun 13-Oct-19 23:19:27

Very good advice from @KatyCarrCan.

If you know they are 'odd' then it might be best left alone. People often consider pursuing legal action of the basis that the recipient is a rational person, which they usually aren't! You may just end up encouraging them rather than killing the issue.

fuckedoffandwanttoscream Sun 13-Oct-19 23:26:40

@JaniceBattersby I've never heard of IPSO so thank you for that.

I did consider writing to the editor but a quick search hasn't given me an email address. I'll do some digging. I'll include my original email to the person in my email to the editor. It stopped ITV news so it may make him think twice.

@itsarainyday555 part of me hopes that if she received a letter from my solicitor it will stop her doing something similar to another organisation.

KatyCarrCan Sun 13-Oct-19 23:32:45

Do you have the authority to write to the editor on behalf of the organisation? It sounds as though your peer doesn't want to pursue this and if you both run the organisation together then it will be impossible for you to act without it impacting the organisation and your colleague.
You sound as though you're angry and in reaction. You need to pause and take all ramifications into account, including irreparably damaging your relationship with the other person who runs the organisation.

fuckedoffandwanttoscream Sun 13-Oct-19 23:42:49

@KatyCarrCan the other person is the type who will let people walk all over them for an easy life and will advise their child to continue being "friends" with the bullies in their class so as not to rock the boat. I'm the type that if people bully/upset me for their own agenda, I can't be bothered with them anymore (family and close friends are different). My life is too full and busy for that. Between the two of us we make a good team, believe it or not.

RoomR0613 Sun 13-Oct-19 23:44:40

I think I know which story this is (I'm not connected in any way) and if it is that then I wouldn't worry, I can see the headline might be a bit inflammatory, but when you read the article the reason it happened makes sense.

I think you are taking it more personally than you should do and that it will blow over quite quickly, if it hasn't already.

RoomR0613 Mon 14-Oct-19 00:13:30

I've looked at it again. I don't think they have libelled you/ the organisation to an extent that you would get any kind of satisfactory outcome from taking any action.

Yes they use the word discrimination quoting the complainant but the rest of the article very clearly explains that you aren't discriminating and that it's just circumstances.

I doubt you would get much of an apology either because whilst the headline uses ridiculously inflammatory language, it is essentially not untrue that they have been 'unfairly' impacted by the changes, even though that's not your fault.

It's just a sad face opportunity at the end of the day, no one takes them that seriously anyway.

I agree with your colleague... Let it go.

PerryMasonsFriend Mon 14-Oct-19 11:37:07

I run a voluntary organisation

If this is not for profit/a charity, you will probably be able to find someone to give you pro bono advice.

Try Advocate (it's pronounced Advo-Kate (like the verb) not Advo-cat (like the noun) which used to be the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

weareadvocate.org.uk/

Fast forward to this week and we get a request from a reporter to comment on this person's allegation of discrimination and that we kicked them out. Lengthy email to reporter about our legal obligations. The local authority backed us up. The reporter ran the story anyway with the usual sad faced pictures (loads of them).

National papers picked up the story. Then our ITV regional TV news contacted us and asked for a comment as they were going to feature the story that night. I gave them the same information as the reporter but also added my original email to the person making the accusations.

Each of these stories classes a separate publication so you would need separate legal advice in respect of each of them.

National newpapers/broadcasters all have inhouse legal advice which usually will mean that what they say is balanced, includes your side of the story and even if you don't like the spin on it, will give them access to defences of (a) public interest and (b) what used to be called Reynolds Defence - ie "responsible reporting".

That said, it does happen that newspapers make mistakes - sometime big mistakes (Chris Jeffries is a case in point) and get it wrong so it maybe worth looking into and taking some legal advice.

The person who gives the original comment may also be liable if they told untruths. It all depends on the specific facts of the case.

The big problem with libel generally is that you need to be able to show "serious harm" to your reputation. If your organisation does trade for profit (and some volunteer organisations do), then you also have to show actual or likelihood of "serious financial loss"

www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/26/section/1/enacted

I've had some pretty vile messages - I'm disgusting and what we did is appalling. We should be shut down and boycotted.

This is good evidence of reputational harm - which in most cases is hard to come by - often there is very little.

What it boils down to is that without seeing each of the articles and the broadcasts you are upset about, no one can advise you. It is possible that there is serious reputational damage here, but it is equally possible the media organisations each have good legal defences.

I wouldn't be too put off by people saying libel claims are expensive as firstly as I've said if you are a volunteer organisation you should be able to fine a free opinion first off and secondly, there are lots of specialist defamation firms that will act on a no -win no fee basis if you have a good case - if it's a really good case you can also get after the event insurance (which insures against the other sides legal costs).

I'd start with speaking to either Advocate or approaching specialist libel firms that act on a a no-win no -fee basis. You need a specilialist media firm for this initial view most of which are in London. There is no point in going to a local high street firm as you run a real risk of wasting your time and money.

You need a professional expert legal opinion and you should be able to access this relatively easily.

They will need copies or links to every article/broadcast clips you are complaining about, a summary of the true facts and your evidence of reputational damage (vile emails you refer to) at a minimum.

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