Support Chris Packham's libel action against Fieldsports Channel Ltd
Support Chris Packham's libel action against Fieldsports Channel Ltd
This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)
Latest: Nov. 28, 2023
Daily Mail apologises to Chris Packham for inaccurate reporting of libel win
The Daily Mail has been forced to apologise and issue a correction to its inaccurate reporting of Chris's libel win against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and one of its journalists, Andrew (Ben) O'…Read more
Who am I?
I’m Dr Ruth Tingay, a long-time friend and work colleague of wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham CBE. I have set up this crowd funder on his behalf because I know Chris will be reluctant to take this step himself and I think he deserves our help and support.
Summary of the case
In June 2022, Fieldsports Channel Ltd published an article written by one of its journalists, Ben O’Rourke, and an accompanying video, accusing Chris of dishonest and unethical behaviour. They claimed that Chris wrote a fake death letter to himself and that he dishonestly claimed that it was sent to his home by an anonymous member of the shooting and farming community.
These publications also gave a misleading account of a related defamation claim Chris is pursuing against the editor and authors of articles published by Country Squire Magazine (CSM). Those articles claim that Chris fraudulently raised funds from the public in 2018 to rescue five tigers from ex-circus life in Spain. They also claim that Chris misled the public in claiming that muirburn taking place on two grouse-shooting estates in the Cairngorms National Park during the Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in October 2021 would have burnt peat. The CSM Defendants have also made the allegation that Chris has forged a death threat letter to himself. Chris’s defamation action against them will be heard in the High Court in May 2023.
What are the implications of the allegation made by Fieldsports Channel Ltd?
The implications of the absurd handwriting allegation are that Chris lied to his family about the source of the death threat letter and wasted the police’s time in investigating the letter. The CSM Defendants have steadfastly persisted in this allegation even after Chris notified them that their expert had analysed his former accountant’s handwriting, not his. These allegations go to the heart of Chris’ integrity and therefore his reputation. Fieldsports Channel Ltd purports to have an enormous readership, over which it claims to exert significant influence.
Why is this case important?
The allegations made cause serious damage to Chris’s standing, his role within the BBC and the effectiveness of his campaigning for important conservation work. Chris has been at the receiving end of a long-term and vicious smear campaign for many years, including vile personal abuse of him (and his family and colleagues) on social media, having dead animals strung up outside his house, receiving death threats and excrement through the post, and having to deal with repeated calls to be sacked by the BBC. In 2021, a terrifying arson attack at his home caused considerable damage to his property. Thankfully nobody was hurt. It has to stop and those who write and publish defamatory material have to understand there are consequences to their actions.
What is the current status of Chris’s defamation action against Fieldsports Channel Ltd?
Chris’s lawyers wrote to Fieldsports Channel Ltd and their journalist Ben O’Rourke in January 2023, detailing why the material published by Fieldsports Channel Ltd was defamatory and unfounded. This included an express statement that the handwriting analysis on which they relied had been undertaken on handwriting samples that hadn’t been written by Chris. Chris’s lawyers provided an early opportunity for the defendants to acknowledge their error and deal with the consequences quickly but they refused and are contesting the case. A claim for defamation has now been issued in the High Court.
Why am I trying to raise money for Chris’s libel action?
Until now, Chris has covered his legal costs for the Country Squire Magazine case because he hasn’t wanted to raise funds for anything other than wildlife conservation and animal welfare work. But defamation proceedings are expensive and there is no guarantee that costs and damages will be fully recovered. I have therefore, with his permission, decided to launch this crowd funder to raise funds for him to progress the cases against Fieldsports Channel Ltd, Ben O’Rourke and CSM. I have chosen the Crowd Justice platform because donations here go directly to Chris’s legal team rather than to me or to Chris.
How much am I trying to raise?
Initially the target is £20,000 to cover the costs of pre-action correspondence, court applications and the time provided by specialist defamation barristers for preparing detailed advice in the Fieldsports claim. As the case proceeds, costs will inevitably increase and I will add a stretch target as appropriate.
Thank you for your support and backing. It will mean the world to Chris to know that so many are standing with him on this.
Be a promoter
Your share on Facebook could raise £26 for the caseI'll share on Facebook
Dr Ruth Tingay
Nov. 28, 2023
Daily Mail apologises to Chris Packham for inaccurate reporting of libel win
The Daily Mail has been forced to apologise and issue a correction to its inaccurate reporting of Chris's libel win against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and one of its journalists, Andrew (Ben) O'Rourke.
On 7 November 2023, the day after the case concluded at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Daily Mail published an inaccurate article which stated that Chris had sued the wrong company and that he 'may not see a penny' of the £30,000 damages/costs award.
This was false. Fieldsports Channel Ltd had already admitted to the court that it was responsible for false and defamatory publications about Chris and had submitted an apology to the court for publishing such "baseless and damaging allegations of dishonesty" that "fell far below the standards expected of responsible, impartial journalists". It had also agreed to pay Chris £30,000 in three instalments for damages and costs, the first instalment of £10,000 having being paid in October 2023.
On 27 November 2023 the Daily Mail published the following correction and apology:
'An article on November 7 said that, despite his successful libel action against Fieldsports Channel Ltd (FCL), Chris Packham ‘may not see a penny’ because he had sued the wrong company. In fact, FCL admitted responsibility in court and the first of three compensation payments has already been made. We apologise for suggesting otherwise'.
Dr Ruth Tingay
Nov. 7, 2023
Press release: Chris Packham wins libel claim against Fieldsports Channel Ltd
Press release from Leigh Day as Chris Packham wins libel claim against Fieldsports Channel Ltd & Andrew (Ben) O'Rourke:
6 November 2023
Chris Packham settles defamation claim with Fieldsports Channel after it admits death threat claims were untrue.
Environmental campaigner and naturalist Chris Packham CBE has settled a defamation claim against the website Fieldsports Channel after it falsely accused him of writing a fake death threat letter to himself.
The online shooting and hunting channel has agreed to pay Mr Packham substantial damages and contribute to his legal costs as well as provide an undertaking never to repeat the allegation.
In June 2022, Fieldsports Channel and one of its journalists, Ben O’Rourke, published an online video and article alleging the TV presenter had written a fake death threat letter to himself and lied about it being sent by an anonymous third party. The serious allegation was not put to Mr Packham directly to offer him right of reply.
In bringing the claim against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and Mr O’Rourke, Mr Packham’s lawyers argued the allegations were plainly baseless and had caused him enormous reputational damage and distress. They pointed out that the only possible basis for the allegation was handwriting analysis of the letter which has since been comprehensively discredited.
Of particular concern to Mr Packham was the implication he had lied to his family about the death threat, knowing it would cause them considerable anxiety. Also, that he had lied to, and knowingly wasted the time of, Hampshire Police, who investigated the letter and on whom he relies for his and his family’s safety.
Mr Packham’s distress was later compounded by Fieldsports Channel’s derisive response to his claim, in particular mounting caricatures of his head on a “trophy wall” at the British Shooting Show in February 2023. Mr Packham has been the victim of arson attacks and has received numerous death threats, and he considers its actions to have been utterly reckless and irresponsible in that context.
As well as paying Mr Packham substantial damages and contributing to his legal costs, Fieldsports Channel and Mr O’Rourke have agreed never to repeat the allegation and will publish a legal statement, which is also to be read in the High Court on 6 November 2023, explaining the matter on its platforms.
Mr Packham was represented by Mr Jonathan Price and Ms Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers, who are instructed by partner Tessa Gregory and solicitor Carol Day of law firm Leigh Day.
Chris Packham said:
“Fieldsports TV displayed a complete contempt of even the basic codes of real journalism. They allowed a vicious vendetta to drive a targeted catalogue of lies in an attempt to destroy my credibility, integrity and reputation. Further, even when involved in this litigation they recklessly posted images of myself contrived to fuel hatred amongst fire-arms owners when they knew I was already the victim of targeted attacks from members of this community. They also failed to show any respect for the legal process. As a consequence, Fieldsports TV have now issued a full apology and agreed to pay substantial costs and damages. My message is clear – if anyone publishes or perpetuates lies about me or my conduct I will challenge them and I will win.”
Carol Day, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day said:
“Our client Mr Packham was the subject of an egregious slur against his reputation based on the flimsiest of evidence that failed to stand up to even the most basic form of scrutiny. To be accused of writing a fake death threat to himself, with all the consequences that brings for his family and the authorities, was a highly damaging attack on Mr Packham’s integrity. The fact he was then mocked publicly for objecting to these defamatory remarks shows how little regard the defendants had for the reputation of others. Our client can only hope that lessons have been learned from this sorry episode and it brings an end to these gratuitous attacks on Mr Packham’s character by people who simply disagree with his views.”
Dr Ruth Tingay
Nov. 4, 2023
Fieldsports Channel Ltd case update: court hearing Monday 6 November 2023
Fieldsports Channel Ltd case update:
Chris's libel action against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and one of its journalists, Andrew (Ben) O'Rourke, is expected to conclude at the High Court in London on Monday 6th November in front of Mr Justice Griffiths.
A press statement from Chris and his legal representatives can be expected immediately after the hearing.
Dr Ruth Tingay
July 21, 2023
Latest update on CSM & Fieldsports Channel Ltd cases
Country Squire Magazine (CSM) update.
As many of you will know, following Chris’s successful libel claim against the defendants Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean, on 25 May 2023 the Honourable Mr Justice Saini awarded Chris damages of £90,000 (increased to £99,000 due to their failure to accept Chris’s settlement offer) and interim costs of £400,000.
This award of damages and costs followed an earlier Order in March 2023 by the Honourable Mrs Justice Williams DBE, who held that 42 requests for information by Mr Wightman and Mr Bean by way of a Specific Disclosure Application were “speculative and irrelevant”. The costs for this failed application were assessed at £21,000, but after paying an initial £1,500, the defendants have defaulted on the remaining payments.
By 30 May 2023, both Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean had declared themselves bankrupt. An Insolvency Practitioner has been appointed to work alongside the Official Receiver in order to ascertain the extent of the Defendants’ assets.
Additionally, Chris lost his claim against the third defendant Paul Read and whilst the judge criticised Mr Read’s conduct in the litigation (finding that he joined in with the first two defendants on the truth defence and allegations that Chris had forged a death threat letter to himself until two months before the trial – and also that he did not distance himself from allegations that Chris was a “rapist, a bully, and a pervert”), the judge determined that the usual rule that the losing party must pay the successful party’s costs should still apply. This means that Chris must pay Mr Read’s legal costs. While these costs are yet to be assessed, Chris was ordered to pay Mr Read an interim payment of £50,000 within 28 days of the judgment.
And then there’s the question of Chris’ own legal fees, which should also be paid by the losing defendants, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, but both are now bankrupt so it is unclear what if any money will be recovered. Chris’ solicitors have worked on heavily discounted fees throughout and are not seeking recovery of any further legal fees until the position regarding the two defendants is clear (but of course Chris ultimately wants to pay them). His barristers are self-employed and have spent a large part of the last two years litigating this case and so they need to be paid. And on top of this there are the costs of experts, other disbursements and court fees.
So, despite Chris winning a massive victory against online trolling and abuse, he currently faces being hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket. I hope that he will be able to recover some money from Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean but I will keep you updated. I will likely consider re-igniting the crowd funder in the future if needs be because I believe it’d be an appalling injustice if Chris’s defence of his personal and professional integrity left him significantly out of pocket. That just can’t be right.
Fieldsports Channel Ltd update.
Supporters will remember that in January 2023, Chris issued a related claim against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and journalist Ben O’Rourke in respect of the death threat letter allegation. The Defendants served their Defence in March 2023, large sections of which had been copied and pasted from the Defence in the CSM case (even where they made no sense in the context of this case). In April 2023, Chris applied to the Court to strike out the defective parts of the Defendant’s Defence and shortly afterwards the Court confirmed the application would be determined at a half-day hearing before a Media and Communications Judge on 6 November 2023.
Following hand down of the Judgment in the CSM case on 25 May 2023, Chris’ lawyers made an application for Summary Judgment on the basis that the Defendants have no real prospect of successfully defending the claim at trial, and there is no other compelling reason why the case should be disposed of at a trial. The Court has now ordered that the Summary Judgment Application be heard also on 6 November at a one-day hearing. Chris is hoping that the case will be brought to a swift end in November.
Dr Ruth Tingay
June 12, 2023
Fieldsports Channel Ltd: case update
Fieldsports Channel Ltd case:
In June 2022, Fieldsports Channel Ltd published an article written by one of its journalists, Andrew (Ben) O’Rourke, and an accompanying video, accusing Chris of dishonest and unethical behaviour. They claimed that Chris wrote a fake death letter to himself and that he dishonestly claimed that it was sent to his home by an anonymous member of the shooting and farming community.
Chris’s lawyers (Leigh Day) wrote to the three Directors of Fieldsports Channel Ltd (Charlie Jacoby, James Westbrook and David Wright) and journalist Ben O’Rourke in January 2023, detailing why the material published by Fieldsports Channel Ltd was defamatory and unfounded. This included pointing out that some of the handwriting analysis on which the Defendants relied had been undertaken on handwriting samples that hadn’t been written by Chris, but were instead those of his accountant. Despite providing an early opportunity for the Defendants to acknowledge their error and deal with the consequences quickly, Fieldsports Channel Ltd and Mr O’Rourke decided to contest the case.
A claim for defamation was issued in the High Court in February 2023 and served on Fieldsports Channel Ltd later that month. Mr O’Rourke argued that he couldn’t accept service at a residential address because he was homeless and also refused to accept the claim by email. Following a short remote court hearing, Chris’s lawyers were granted permission to serve Mr O’Rourke via email and the claim was duly served on him on 3rd March 2023.
The Defendants submitted a joint defence later in March 2023, which appeared to be based on the defences relied upon by Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean in a separate, but related, libel action (i.e. ‘truth’ and ‘public interest’ defences).
Chris’s lawyers explained to the Defendants that the defences failed to comply with the requirements of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and requested amended defences by 4th April 2023. Various extensions to this deadline were requested, but by late April the Defendants had still failed to provide defences compliant with the CPR. Leigh Day therefore applied to the Court for permission to ‘strike out’ the defences (i.e. have them dismissed), and an order that if the Defendants were going to replead them they provide further information regarding which issues were alleged to be in the public interest and the identity of the handwriting expert.
On 19th May 2023, the Court ordered that a hearing to determine the application to strike out the defences will take place before a judge of the Media and Communications List in the High Court in early November.
It’s worth noting that since the application was made to strike out the defences in the Fieldsports Channel Ltd case, judgment was handed down in Chris’ separate libel case against Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean of Country Squire Magazine, where they were effectively forced to abandon what the Honourable Mr Justice Saini called their “extraordinarily serious allegation” that Chris had written a death threat letter to himself; an allegation which the judge said had “no factual basis” and was “obviously unsustainable”.
Dr Ruth Tingay
June 12, 2023
CSM case: Wightman & Bean declare bankruptcy
Following Chris's successful libel claim on 25th May 2023 against Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean for defamatory articles published by Country Squire Magazine, both Wightman and Bean have declared bankruptcy. They owe Chris £99,000 in damages and an interim payment of £400,000 in costs.
Chris's lawyers are currently exploring legal options. I'll provide an update in due course.
Dr Ruth Tingay
June 2, 2023
CSM case: Clarification on Chris's message after libel victory
Chris has been asked to clarify some aspects of his statement of 27 May concerning his successful libel claim against Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean, which he is of course happy to do. To be clear, the Judge found in his judgment that it was Mr Wightman who disseminated to other media organisations the allegation that he forged his own death threat, and Mr Wightman who said he’d carry on making that allegation to the police and professional bodies regardless of the outcome of the proceedings.
Dr Ruth Tingay
May 28, 2023
CSM case: Transcript of Chris Packham's message after libel victory
Yesterday, Chris published a video message on Twitter following his libel victory in the High Court. The transcript of that video is now available, as follows:
Every day many thousands of innocent people are victims of online abuse and hate crimes. This can be racially, religiously or politically motivated. It can be generated in regard to gender politics, environmental beliefs, body shaming.
This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives.
As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us from such hate – something that must change. The current governments ‘Online Safety Bill’ is plodding along. In the meantime a tiny minority of victims are able to take civil action.
I have won my defamation case and been awarded costs and substantial damages.
Who are the defendants?
Dominic Wightman is the editor of Country Squire Magazine. His friend and business associate is a former director of the Countryside Alliance. He claims to be or have been variously an expert on Islamic extremism and terrorism, a gold dealer, the owner of a bank, to have been working for right-wing think tanks and a search engine optimisation expert.
Nigel Bean has a keen interest in fox hunting, having ridden to hounds for thirty five years. He writes the pro hunting ‘The Aldenham’ blog.
Paul Read is the proof reader for some of the defamatory articles for Country Squire Magazine and retweeted the links to them. The court dismissed the claims against him.
At the outset of this litigation the Country Squire website carried the British Association for Shooting and Conservation logo and still carries the logo of Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Baileys – the Hunting Directory.
Mr Wightman and Mr Bean are representatives of the ‘field sports’ fraternity.
In the offending articles and tweets they accused me of defrauding the public to raise money to rescue tigers from circuses, defrauding the public by promoting a crowd-funder during the COVID epidemic, lying about the burning of peat during COP26, writing a death threat letter to myself, and elsewhere of bullying, sexual misconduct and rape. They also accused me of faking an arson attack at my home and repeatedly called upon the BBC to sack me.
In a full and frank vindication of my innocence the court has found that “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth.”
Wightman and Bean had argued that publication of the allegations was in the public interest. This defence failed “by some margin.” The Court has said “rather than approaching the task with an investigative mind, these Defendants targeted Mr Packham as a person against whom they had an agenda.”
The articles published by Mr Wightman and Mr Bean “gave way… to increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing of Mr Packham, with further unsubstantiated allegations”. Several articles and tweets made offensive references to my autism.
The Court has accepted that this campaign “would have misled and agitated vocal and sometimes violent groups”, who “posted threatening and vile material about Mr Packham and his family online.”
Most egregiously all three defendants had advanced an allegation that I had forged a death threat letter to myself, an allegation that they managed to disseminate to the mainstream media, it was covered twice in The Times and widely elsewhere.
The Court has held that I did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two.” The handwriting experts employed by the defendants were discredited and the accusation was withdrawn during the trial by their counsel.
However, the defendants stated under oath that they still believed I wrote it. Indeed when asked what they would do should they lose the case they said, and I’m paraphrasing, that they would ‘carry on’.
I would like to thank my excellent legal team, barristers Jonathan Price and Claire Overman and Carol Day and Tessa Gregory and their team from Leigh Day. They have been steadfast throughout despite often appallingly offensive abuse from the defendants. Thank you.
I would also like to thank Dr Ruth Tingay for setting up a Crowdfunder to help cover the costs of this long and expensive litigation.
And lastly, my followers. Thank you for your unswerving support and belief in my honest crusade to make the world a better place for wildlife, people and the environment.
Dr Ruth Tingay
May 27, 2023
CSM case: A message from Chris Packham after libel victory
Following Chris Packham's libel victory in the High Court on Thursday, he's issued a statement via video on his Twitter account.
I'm not able to post it directly on this website but you can watch it on my blog here.
Dr Ruth Tingay
May 26, 2023
CSM case: Chris Packham wins defamation case
Press release from Chris Packham's lawyers, Leigh Day (25th May 2023):
Chris Packham wins High Court defamation trial & is awarded £90K damages
The High Court has today ruled in favour of environmental campaigner and naturalist Chris Packham CBE in his defamation case brought against Dominic Wightman, editor of Country Squire Magazine, and one of the magazine’s contributors, Nigel Bean. The court accepted the account of a third defendant, Paul Read, who claimed he was a mere proof reader.
The Court has awarded Mr Packham £90,000 in damages against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean.
The case, heard between 2 and 11 May 2023 related to nine articles, ten social media posts and two videos. The court ruled that the allegations made in these materials were defamatory and untrue. The allegations included that:
- Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds for The Wildheart Sanctuary in relation to rescued tigers, which he falsely said had been mistreated
- Mr Packham lied about peat burning on Scottish game estates during COP26.
- Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds for the sanctuary during the covid pandemic while concealing that it would receive an insurance pay-out
During the trial, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean withdrew their truth defence in relation to the second and third of these allegations. They maintained a truth defence in relation to the first allegation, but the court determined that they “fail[ed] to come even close to establishing the substantial truth” of that allegation.
The Court concluded that: “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth. There was no fraud of any type committed by him in making the fundraising statements.”
Mr Wightman and Mr Bean also argued that they had a reasonable belief that publication of the allegations was in the public interest. The court ruled that this defence also failed “by some margin.”
The judgment states that, “rather than approaching the task with an investigative mind, these defendants targeted Mr Packham as a person against whom they had an agenda”. In particular, following receipt of Mr Packham’s initial legal complaint, the articles published by Mr Wightman and Mr Bean “gave way… to increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing of Mr Packham, with further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and the Trust’s insurance gratuitously thrown in”. One of the articles complained of mocked Mr Packham’s manner of speaking, and several made offensive references to his autism.
During the trial the court heard that Country Squire Magazine published 16 articles mentioning Mr Packham in the four years before the first article complained of in the legal case, and a further 93 articles were published in the three years following. Mr Packham had not been approached for comment before the publication of any of the articles containing allegations about him, as is journalistic best practice. Furthermore, there was sparse documentary evidence that any of the allegations had been properly researched to ensure their veracity.
Mr Read withdrew his reliance on the defences of truth and public interest when he instructed separate legal representation shortly before trial, and his case (which the Court accepted) was solely that: (i) as a mere proof-reader, he had insufficient involvement in the articles; and (ii) his retweets of the defamatory allegations had not circulated sufficiently widely to have caused serious reputational harm to Mr Packham.
In awarding Mr Packham substantial damages against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, the High Court accepted that their campaign “would have misled and agitated vocal and sometimes violent groups”, who “posted threatening and vile material about Mr Packham and his family online”.
The Court also held that the men had used this case as a way of introducing offensive and wholly unsubstantiated allegations to smear Mr Packham, and to “scare [him] off… from seeking recourse in a public hearing for the libels”.
In addition to the articles, social media posts and video complained of the in the legal case the defendants had also claimed that a death threat received by Mr Packham had been written by himself. This caused particular anguish to Mr Packham as it implied that he had lied to his family and friends, as well as wasting police time. The court held that Mr Packham did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two.”
The court had also expected the handwriting expert instructed by Mr Wightman, Mr Bean and Mr Read to have been “horrified… and to have unequivocally withdrawn their evidence” when it emerged in November 2022 that their report, which concluded with certainty that Mr Packham wrote the death threat, had in fact analysed samples of his accountant’s handwriting. However, Mr Wightman, Mr Bean and Mr Read did not withdraw the allegation when this error was pointed out to them. Moreover, the court held that Mr Wightman was instrumental in procuring ostensibly third-party statements repeating the serious allegation, in “The Packham Papers” and in an article by Fieldsports TV. The death threat allegation was only formally withdrawn by Mr Read shortly before trial, and by the other defendants only on the third day of trial.
Chris Packham said:
“Every day many thousands of innocent people are victims of online abuse and hate crimes. This can be racially, religiously or politically motivated. It can be generated in regard to gender politics, environmental beliefs, body shaming. This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples’ educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives.
“As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us from such hate – something that must change. The current governments ‘Online Safety Bill’ is plodding along. In the meantime a tiny minority of victims are able to take civil action.
“In the offending articles and tweets Mr Wightman and Mr Bean accused me of defrauding the public to raise money to rescue tigers from circuses, defrauding the public by promoting a crowd-funder during the COVID epidemic, lying about the burning of peat during COP26, writing a death threat letter to myself, and elsewhere of bullying, sexual misconduct and rape. They also accused me of faking an arson attack at my home and repeatedly called upon the BBC to sack me.
“In a full and frank vindication of my innocence the court has found that “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth”.
“Most egregiously all three defendants had advanced an allegation that I had forged a death threat letter to myself, an allegation that they managed to disseminate to the mainstream media.
“The Court has held that I did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two”.
“Thank you to my followers for your unswerving support and belief in my honest crusade to make the world a better place for wildlife, people and the environment.”
Carol Day, Solicitor at law firm Leigh Day said:
“Mr Packham is grateful to the judge for his careful deliberation of the issues and is delighted with the judgment, which completely vindicates him of any fraudulent motivation in raising funds to rescue the ex-circus tigers, alongside further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and insurance fraud. This case should provide a strong deterrent to anyone who sets out to gratuitously smear someone’s character simply because they don’t agree with their views.”
Mr Packham is represented by partner Tessa Gregory and solicitor Carol Day of Leigh Day and barristers Jonathan Price and Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers. Leigh Day instructed specialist costs counsel Benjamin Williams KC of 4 New Square Chambers for the hearing on costs and consequential matters on 25 May 2023.
The 58-page judgement of The Honourable Mr Justice Saini can be read here.
Dr Ruth Tingay
May 13, 2023
CSM case: trial draws to a close
During the second week of this libel trial at the Royal Courts of Justice, the three defendants from Country Squire Magazine were cross-examined by Jonathan Price, the barrister acting for the claimant, Chris Packham.
Defendant 1 (Dominic Wightman) was on the stand for all of Tuesday and a small part of Wednesday morning. Defendant 2 (Nigel Bean) and Defendant 3 (Paul Read) took up the rest of Wednesday.
For clarity, Defendants 1 & 2 were claiming dual defences of ‘truth’ and ‘public interest’ in relation to the alleged libellous material that was published by CSM. I understand that until recently, Defendant 3 was also pursuing these defences. However, he took separate legal representation in March 2023 and subsequently amended his defence to claim that he wasn’t an author or editor of the alleged libellous material, and that his re-tweeting of the articles didn’t amount to serious harm to Chris’s reputation.
During the trial, Defendants 1 & 2 withdrew a number of their defences as it became apparent that they didn’t have the evidence to support their claims. The Honourable Mr Justice Saini described events as “a moving feast” and took time to clarify the changeable positions. It was hard to follow but my understanding of what was withdrawn and what remained is as follows:
- The allegation that Chris wrote a fake death threat letter to himself was “unequivocally withdrawn”.
- The allegation that Chris dishonestly took part in writing a press release relating to the death of a tiger called ‘Simi’ – the ‘truth’ defence was withdrawn but the ‘public interest’ defence remained.
- The allegation that Chris was dishonest when fundraising for the Wildheart Trust to support the rescue of five tigers from a Spanish circus – the ‘truth’ defence and the ‘public interest’ defence remained.
- The allegation that Chris was dishonest when he re-tweeted an article relating to the burning of peat on two grouse moors during COP26 – the ‘truth’ defence was withdrawn but the ‘public interest’ defence remained.
- The allegation that Chris was dishonest when fundraising for the Wildheart Trust during Covid (alleged insurance fraud) - the ‘truth’ defence was withdrawn but the ‘public interest’ defence remained.
Closing arguments were heard on Thursday from the legal representatives of Defendants 1 & 2 (Nicholas O’Brien) and of Defendant 3 (David Price), as well as from Jonathan Price. Mr Justice Saini reserved judgement and told the parties that he anticipated handing down judgement in writing before the end of this month.
Once the judgement has been announced, it is expected there will be a further hearing to determine costs.
FIELDSPORTS CHANNEL LTD CASE
The second defamation case that Chris is bringing, against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and one of its journalists, Ben O’Rourke, is ongoing. In June 2022, Fieldsports Channel Ltd published an article and an accompanying video, accusing Chris of dishonest and unethical behaviour. They claimed that Chris wrote a fake death threat letter to himself and that he dishonestly claimed that it was sent to his home by an anonymous member of the shooting and farming community.
There should be an update on the status of this case shortly, given the “unequivocal withdrawal” of a similar allegation by Defendants 1 & 2 in the CSM case.
Dr Ruth Tingay
May 4, 2023
Chris Packham's witness statement published
The libel trial is underway at the Royal Courts of Justice and Chris spent all of day two in the witness box giving evidence and responding to cross-examination.
As part of that process, his personal witness statement was referred to in court and so can now be considered a public document.
I'm unable to post it directly on to this site but it is available to read/download on my blog, here.
Dr Ruth Tingay
April 26, 2023
CSM case: defamation case begins in High Court next week
Environmental campaigner and naturalist Chris Packham CBE will have his defamation case against the editor and two contributors to Country Squire Magazine heard in the High Court in London from Tuesday 2 May at 10.30am. The case is listed for eight days.
Mr Packham vigorously denies all the allegations made against him by the magazine and its contributors and will argue in his legal case that they have embarked on a campaign of online hatred and abuse which has caused him anguish, anxiety and distress.
The defamation trial relates to nine articles, ten social media posts and two videos which it is argued the defendants are responsible for. The defendants are: the editor of Country Squire Magazine Dominic Wightman and contributors Nigel Bean and Paul Read.
The key allegations made in these materials are wholly refuted by Mr Packham and he argues that they are all defamatory, designed to damage his financial interests, credibility, integrity and his personal well-being. The allegations made include:
- That Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds from the general public for The Wildheart Trust Sanctuary stating that it had rescued tigers from a circus where they had been mis-treated, when he knew the tigers had been well-treated and had been donated by the circus.
- At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Mr Packham dishonestly sought to raise funds for The Wildheart Trust Sanctuary by appealing for donations whilst concealing that it was due to receive a £500,000 pay-out under its insurance.
- That Mr Packham lied when he said that gamekeepers on two Scottish estates were burning peat during the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, when he knew that no peat was being burnt.
Mr Packham’s case is that the tigers he assisted rehoming from a rescue centre (operated by a leading European animal welfare organisation Animal Advocacy and Protection (AAP)) to The Wildheart Trust Sanctuary had been born into the circus before being moved to an unsuitable holding facility by the circus owners. He had been shown the conditions they suffered and the mistreatment they had been subjected to. The fact that they had been handed over to Animal Advocacy and Protection by the circus and not forcibly seized made no difference to his opinion that they had been rescued and were ultimately rehomed at The Wildheart Sanctuary where they would be properly looked after.
In relation to the allegations of further dishonest fundraising and insurance fraud against The Wildheart Trust Sanctuary Mr Packham‘s case is that in the early stages of the pandemic it was unclear whether the insurance policy would cover loss suffered during the lock-down and it was vital for the sanctuary, as with many other charities, to fundraise to ensure they could keep going. It was only much later that cover was confirmed and the money paid some months after that. However, without the initial fundraising the sanctuary would have likely had to close down and the tigers been returned to AAP.
Mr Packham’s case on muirburning (the burning of heather, gorse and other vegetation to facilitate grouse shooting) is that it cannot be guaranteed that the underlying peat will not be burned, releasing a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere and destroying important habitats for wildlife.
Throughout the course of the litigation the defendants have continued to repeat the initial defamatory allegations, sometimes under the guise of raising money for their own legal costs.
On top of this, the Defendants have continued to generate unpleasant material, including an allegation that Mr Packham wrote a death threat letter to himself, therefore deceiving his family and friends, and wasting police time. The defendants’ case is that a handwriting expert has confirmed that the handwriting from the death threat and a sample from documents taken from Companies House were written by the same person – however, the writing on the Companies House documents was written by Mr Packham’s accountant. Despite this being pointed out to them last year, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean maintain this allegation.
Mr Wightman and Mr Bean have indicated that they intend to rely on the defences to defamation of truth and publishing information in the public interest.
Mr Read is separately represented and his case is that he is not responsible for the publications attributed to him and his retweeting of the articles did not cause Mr Packham serious harm.
Chris Packham said:
“On a daily basis I endure an enormous amount of trolling from the field sports community and I’ve reconciled that this has to become part and parcel of my campaigning life. Occasionally the trolling is about other environmental issues and occasionally it’s about mental health, including my autism. However, in relation to the material at issue in this legal case I felt the defendants had clearly overstepped the mark and printed defamatory statements which were designed to damage my financial interests, my credibility, integrity and my personal well-being. I had no choice but to take civil litigation against these people.
“The actions of the defendants in making and repeating unfounded allegations, and their conduct throughout the course of this litigation, has been draining, exhausting and entirely counterproductive to living what could be described as a typical decent life. Ultimately this is about accountability, in a world where there is an increasing lack of accountability for those that cause harm to others, and this is not acceptable. In addition to their personal attacks about me, it is deeply concerning that in 2023 they still seek to protect and thereby encourage the keeping of big cats in circuses and protect those who want to damage our environment through burning our uplands for grouse shooting.
“Unfortunately, online abuse and hatred is commonplace in our society. People receive this for racial, religious, political, sexual and many other personal reasons. It damages their businesses, their education, their mental health and ultimately and tragically we have seen it can on occasion lead to people taking their own lives. Many people don’t have the financial capacity to go through the process of taking civil action or do not feel invested with the mental stoicism to fight their abusers in court, and I believe it’s important that this case focusses attention on this type of abuse. I believe we need reforms in the law to protect people from this kind of online harm and regardless of the outcome, I will be working closely with support groups addressing the heinous effects of online harm to try to tackle this issue.
“I go to court expecting to be fully vindicated that none of the defendants’ accusations have any truth.”
Carol Day, said:
“Our client feels that the defendants have behaved woefully throughout this litigation, incessantly repeating serious allegations and using the court process to make further damaging and hurtful statements about him. Mr Packham hopes that by taking this legal action the defendants will be held accountable for their actions and that others will realise they cannot make seriously damaging unfounded allegations against people, just because they don’t share their point of view.”
Mr Packham is represented by solicitor Carol Day and partner Tessa Gregory of law firm Leigh Day with Jonathan Price and Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers.
Dr Ruth Tingay, a friend and colleague of Mr Packham's from Wild Justice, a not for profit that campaigns for legal reforms in environmental cases in the UK has set up a Crowd Justice account to support the case financially . Details here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/support-chris-packhams-libel-action/
Dr Ruth Tingay
April 6, 2023
CSM case: Defendants' application for specific disclosure refused
At a hearing in the High Court of Justice King’s Bench Division on 30 March 2023, the Honourable Mrs Justice Heather Williams DBE heard an application from Defendants 1 & 2 (Dominic Wightman & Nigel Bean, acting as litigants-in-person) who were seeking specific disclosure and/or inspection of a Schedule of 42 categories of documents.
In response, Chris’s lawyers argued that Chris had provided all disclosable documents not covered by legal professional privilege and that the further documents requested were either irrelevant to the defendant’s case as pleaded, had already been provided, or were not in his control.
The Honourable Mrs Justice Williams DBE considered the application in a two and a half hour hearing and in a lengthy and detailed judgment delivered afterwards she dealt with each of the requests in turn, refusing permission for all 42 of them after deeming the requests speculative and irrelevant.
Here is a copy of her judgement:
The Honourable Mrs Justice Williams DBE further ordered that the First and Second Defendants are to pay the Claimant’s costs of the Specific Disclosure Application within 14 days. These costs were assessed at £17,500 plus VAT. For clarity, the Third Defendant (Paul Read) took no part in the Specific Disclosure Application or the hearing.
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