African media tycoon sues UK lawyer over website

Tanzanian media tycoon Reginald Mengi is suing British solicitor Sarah Hermitage at the High Court in London in a row over her website.

According to details of the claim in a writ filed at the High Court – Hermitage and her husband Stewart Middleton abandoned their 550-acre leased farm in Tanzania three years ago following a dispute with Mengi’s brother, businessman Benjamin Mengi.

The writ states that Hermitage, who claims she and her husband were driven out by Benjamin Mengi who introduced a large herd of cattle infected with foot and mouth disease onto their arable farm in Tanzania, has outlined her grievances in a website.

But Reginald Mengi argues that the website published a series of defamatory allegations about him in 2009 and 2010 and is demanding damages and an injunction to halt the claims.

The postings claimed he directed a campaign of cowardly, deliberately inaccurate and abusive attacks on them, amounting to journalistic terrorism, he says.

They also claimed he had encouraged his business IPP Media to run a campaign of defamation against the Middletons, had lied, and was probably guilty of criminal libel himself, he says.

The writ states that the website also accused him of taking part in a corrupt attempt to intimidate the pair to grab their property, and failing to honour promises made to the High Commissioner that the defamatory campaign would be stopped, and that he would pay their legal costs from his brother’s court proceedings.

He argues the postings alleged he is hypocritical, given his public condemnation of corruption, and falls short of the standards of the Lutheran Church with which he is deeply involved.

Mengi, who runs a string of newspapers, television and radio stations in East Africa, says his personal and business reputation has been damaged and that he has suffered significant hurt, distress and embarrassment.

He is also demanding aggravated damages from Hermitage, who now lives in Kent, saying he has been deterred from taking part in international conferences, fearing he would be forced to spend time rebutting her false accusations which would compromise the effective functioning of the conferences.

Father of three Mengi accuses Hermitage of spearheading a deliberate campaign to damage his personal and business reputation. He says he has no control over the content of the newspapers and broadcasters owned by IPP, which is solely a matter for the editors and journalists.

Hermitage, he claims, knows this, and as a result knew he did not promise the High Commissioner that media stories about the pair would change, or that he would pay their legal costs.

Mengi, who also runs a bottling company importing the drink Coke, contends that Hermitage has run an illegitimate campaign and threatened to publish her claims to others, including the Coca Cola Company, the Commonwealth Press Union, the World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation.He seeks an injunction banning repetition of the claims at the centre of her legal battle as well as damages.

He has instructed solicitors Whitman Breed to act for him.

Hermitage, who is being represented by media lawyers Carter Ruck on a no win, no fee basis, told Press Gazette: “I can confirm that these proceedings have been filed against me in the High Court in London. It is my intention to vigorously defend them.”

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