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Defamation: Rachel Riley v Michael Sivier

The High Court Judgement was provided on the 20 January 2021 for the case, Riley v Sivier [2021] EWHC 79 (QB). Rachel Riley, a well-known television presenter brought a defamation action against Michael Sivier over an article published on his website, Vox Political. The 26 January 2019 article contained the headline, “Serial abuser Rachel Riley to receive ‘extra protection’ on grounds that she is receiving abuse”.

The foundation of the article is a debate about antisemitism and the Labour Party which focused on the leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn. Sivier’s website appeared to support Corbyn politically and Riley is Jewish and had spoken publicly with concerns over Labour’s handling of antisemitism. The dispute involved a 16-year-old Twitter user, sympathetic to Corbyn.

A December 2019 trial of preliminary issues held that the statement complained of asserts that Riley “engaged upon, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl, conduct which has also incited her followers to make death threats towards her”. By doing so Riley is a serial abuser and has acted “hypocritically by complaining about being the victim of online abuse and death threats whilst at the same time committing serial abuse of someone who has in consequence herself now been subjected to death threats (but someone who unlike Riley, cannot afford additional security protection)”.

Mr Sivier filed a defence of truth in January 2020 in relation to the statement.

The High Court ruled against the defence and found that it is not substantially true that Riley engaged upon, supported, and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment. If such threats were made to the 16-year-old girl, there is no basis for saying Riley incited them as alleged. Mr Sivier’s article was an assertion of fact, not a personal opinion. The court found the “only online speech of Ms Riley cited in this case falls far short of anything that could fairly and arguably be said to constitute a campaign of harassment and abuse”.

As such “it is neither fair nor in the interests of justice for a proposed defence of substantial truth to proceed to trial”. Rachel Riley’s application to strike out Michael Sivier’s defence has succeeded.

The recent celebrity defamation cases have brought this area of law to the front pages of the press. It shows how important it is to pause before you post. You should not unnecessarily risk having another bringing a claim against you or your business for alleged defamation. At Lawdit we can assist you with defamation whether you are alleging defamation, or another has accused you of defamation.

At Lawdit Stay Legal we offer a complete package to keep your website on the right side of the law. We can supply you with all the documents you need for legal compliance and protection. With a free initial consultation there is no need to delay, so book today!

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