Court hands down first Twitter libel damages order

A Welsh councillor has been ordered to pay what is believed to be the first libel damages to a political rival as a result of comments posted to Twitter.

Caerphilly county councillor Colin Elsbury was ordered to pay £3,000 damages plus costs after using the social network to wrongly claim Eddie Talbot had been removed from a polling station by police during a by-election in 2009.

Cardiff Crown Court made the order against the Plaid Cymru politician on Friday. He will tweet an apology and faces a costs bill of around £50,000 after acknowledging that he defamed Talbot.

The libel occured as both men were standing for election to Caerphilly town council – where Elsbury had previously served as mayor.

Elsbury eventually won the by-election in the St Martin’s ward by 160 seats with independent challenger Talbot coming second.

Elsbury claimed it was a case of mistaken identity – a member of the public had been ejected from the polling station – and attempted to correct his tweet, however Talbot took him to court.

Talbot’s solicitor, Nigel Jones, predicted after the hearing that the damages award could open the floodgates to claims of libel on Twitter.

The Times reported Jones saying: “It is the first case that I have heard of in Britain but no doubt there will be more when people realise they can sue for Twitter libel.

“The amount of compensation wasn’t an issue, it was the protection of Mr Talbot’s reputation. The implication of the Twitter statement was that Mr Talbot had been forcibly removed for criminal or disreputable conduct.

“The allegation was completely untrue and defamatory. Anything posted on Twitter is in the public domain and is subject to libel laws.”

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