A building industry expert has won a £70,000 libel payout over a “cyber bullying” campaign orchestrated against him on Twitter and blogs. (Picture: Shutterstock)
Richard Johnson was awarded the damages by Sir David Eady in the High Court for numerous slurs – described by the judge as “the most serious and distressing kind” – made against him between November 2011 and June 2013, including 129 tweets over a 24-hour period.
Johnson was targeted after he found the Twitter account and blog of Graham Steele, which were purporting to be a helpline but in fact were a means for “promoting Mr Steele’s own damp-proofing business”. Johnson discovered that Steele, who he had never met before, was behind the account and website.
In his judgment, Eady said: “He was also using it to make scurrilous statements about others under the cloak of anonymity.”
After Johnson defended the Property Care Association, which Steele was anonymously attacking on the sites during an “ongoing dispute”, he “found himself the victim of a sustained attack by way of blogs and Twitter accounts, which were authored and published by Steele, attempting again to use various means of anonymity, or obscuring his identity”.
Eady said that the claim related in particular to two blogs. He said: “Various serious allegations of dishonesty, misconduct, criminal offences, and so on, were made, which had no basis and which I do not propose to repear in the course of this judgment, which would only give them further currency. Suffice to say they are allegations of the most serious and distressing kind.”
Steele had launched three more Twitter accounts to “attack” Johnson by July 2012.
Eady also told how he heard of Steele setting up a “copycat mirror site” in the United States two days after Johnson had some of the UK sties suspended for defamatory.
A “particularly distressing feature of the campaign”, Eady said, was Steele’s creaton of fake accounts in Johnson’s name, which would have been seen “when people Googled him or his business”.
Eady judged that the allegations made against Johnson would have been read by “thousands – possibly in the tens of thousands, but certainly many thousands” – of people over the period.
The judge also noted that Steele had used some six computers “as far as we know, and some of those were hidden, some were destroyed, and I think two were found in his daughter’s shed at one stage” after a High Court warning that he should “co-operate and maintain the availability of those computers”.
Eady said Steele had made false allegations about Johnson to the police.
“In this case, the conduct of the defendant has been quite extraordinary over many, many months, as I have already made clear,” Eady said.
“He has done everything he can to cause the maximum damage to Mr Johnson’s reputation, while hiding anonymity as best he could.
“There has been no question of any apology or anything to mitigate the effect of the damaging allegations made.”
Barjinder Sahota of Sahota Solicitors, for Johnson, said: "Mr Steele made malicious complaints to various authorities to stop the case; and wrongly maintained he had nothing to do with the online bullying on Twitter and blog accounts when all along everything pointed to him.
"Mr Steele forced my client to go the expense of two blog identity orders; and forensic examination of two of the six computers he held. Justice was done in the end and Mr Steele was exposed for the cyber libel campaign he took against Mr Johnson. It was a good result."
Along with Steele, Lifecote Europe Limited and Damp Proofing Association Limited are listed as defendants.