Harry Potter author JK Rowling sues Daily Mail over article about her 'sob story past as single mother'

Harry Potter author JK Rowling is suing the Daily Mail for libel over a story about her time as a struggling single mother living in Edinburgh.

The author is seeking unspecified damages from Associated Newspaper for the story which was first published on the Daily Mail’s website on 28 September 2013.

Rowling is taking the action under her married name Joanne Kathleen Murray.

Mail Online picked up the story from the Gingerbread website where Rowling had written about her experiences as a single mother in Edinburgh before she became famous.

Rowling’s legal team claims that Mail Online and the Daily Mail misrepresented her comments, injured her reputation and caused great distress and embarrassment.

The story “How JK Rowling’s sob story about her past as a single mother has left the churchgoers who cared for her upset and bewildered”, went online at 23:38 and appeared in the following day’s print edition.

According to High Court documents, Rowling’s legal team said: “In their natural and ordinary meaning, and in the context in which they appeared, the said words meant and were understood to mean that the claimant had given a knowingly false account of her time as a single mother in Edinburgh in which she falsely and inexcusably accused her fellow churchgoers of behaving in a bigoted, unchristian manner towards her, of stigmatising her and cruelly taunting her for being a single mother.”

Rowling’s legal team claimed the author “has been gravely injured in her reputation and has been caused great distress and embarrassment” by the article.

The document continues: “Not only is the allegation complained of self-evidently of a serious nature, but it was premised on a false picture of the claimant’s article on the Gingerbread website. As the defendant's journalist must have known (since he had read the article) the claimant had not accused her fellow churchgoers of ‘stigmatising’ or ‘cruelly taunting’ her; rather, she had referred to a single occasion involving a woman who had visited the church one day whilst she was working there. There was thus no basis in fact for the central premise of the article.”

Rowling’s legal team denied that any of the congregation who had helped her previously had been “upset and bewildered” or “surprised and confused” by the post on Gingerbread as claimed in the Mail Online and the Daily Mail.

The document states that a woman quoted in both versions of the story had neither been “upset” or “bewildered” and claims that the newspaper had been “misleading and unfair” by accusing Rowling of “making knowingly false statements”.

According to the document: “When the defendant’s journalist contacted the claimant’s representative in advance of publication he failed to put to her or offer any opportunity to comment on the allegations he was proposing to publish.

“This was contrary to basic standards of fair and responsible journalism. Had he done so the claimant would have been able to repeat that which was already clear from the content of her Gingerbread article – that she had made no complaint about her treatment at the hands of the members of her church (indeed quite to the contrary). In the teeth of the claimant’s express denial the defendant would not have been able to run a story making the allegations that it did.”

Rowling’s legal team said the article is still being published on the Mail Online and they want an injunction to prevent the publication of “the same or any similar defamatory words”.

The Daily Mail did not provide a comment at the time of publication. 

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