The Guardian today succeeded in getting a libel case against a former Conservative Party council candidate struck out.
In April, Press Gazette revealed that Payam Tamiz was suing the paper over claims he had been part of a Facebook group describing women in his local area as “slags”.
The two complained-about articles followed an Evening Standard investigation, which claimed that Tamiz had resigned from the party because of the revelation that he was part of a Facebook group called “Girls in THANET… you are slags, hoes, brasses and bheads”.
Tamiz admitted he had made derogatory comments on his Facebook page but denied that they were aimed at women in general. He said that these had been written while he was a teenager. He also denied being a member of the Facebook group.
The Evening Standard story was published shortly before 5 May 2011. After Tamiz made a claim against the paper in January 2012, the paper removed the article, published an apology and paid damages to him in September 2012.
Tamiz made his original complaints about The Guardian articles, written by Andrew Sparrow and Catherine Elliott, in May 2011, when they were first published.
At this stage, according to The Guardian, he asked for a follow-up article so readers could understand his point of view and a retraction stating that he had not been a member of the Facebook group.
In August that year, Tamiz wrote a letter to the paper demanding damages and the removal of the article. Later that month, The Guardian said its offer of a clarification was turned down and was told only a full removal would be accepted.
In October 2011, the paper claimed it had reached an agreement with Tamiz that a correction/clarification footnote with amendments to the article. According to The Guardian, Tamiz said in an email: “I accept the measures proposed in your email and the wording of the footnote.”
The Guardian then said Tamiz wrote to it “out of the blue” in October 2012 saying that the articles were “still defamatory of me”. He then asked for a “full and unequivocal” apology and complained about hyperlinks to the Evening Standard’s initial story.
Gill Phillips, The Guardian’s director of editorial legal services, said it felt like the paper was being “mucked about”, pointing out that Tamiz had already agreed that the amendments made in October 2011 were acceptable.
She said: “I believe the timing of the renewed compaint is highly significant. It came soon after [Tamiz’s] settlement with the Evening Standard in about September or early October 2012.
“It is obvious that [Tamiz] decided, fortified by his recent victory, to see if he could re-open the whole complaint against [The Guardian] in order to obtain damages from it as well (having failed to achieve this in 2011-2012).
“Presumably he considered that, if the publisher of the Evening Standard was prepared to reach a commercial settlement (for I believe that is what it must have been) then [The Guardian] could be similarly pressurised into settling once it saw his success against the Evening Standard.”
Today in court, Phillips applied for the libel action to be struck out. In order to do this, Mrs Justice Sharp said he would need to be shown that Tamiz “has no real prospect of success and there is no other compelling reason why the claim should be disposed of at trial”.
He noted that Tamiz “consented to the publication of the words he is now suing on” and said, therefore, that he is not in a position to “complain of them, or claim damages”.
Sharp described the libel action as an “abuse of the process of the court” and ruled that there was no real prospect of Tamiz winning more than “minimal damages”.
“I have concluded in all the circumstances, it would be an abuse of the process of the court for the claim to proceed when so little is at stake and the likely (irrecoverable) costs are so high,” Sharp said.
“There is in my judgment no other reason why this claim should be tried. As it is, [The Guardian], for the reasons set out above, succeeds in its application to strike out the claim and/or for summary judgment.”
Tamiz pointed out that large parts of The Guardian’s evidence went uncontested in court and told Press Gazette he is planning on appealing the decision by Sharp.
A Guardian spokesperson said: "The Guardian is pleased with the court's decisive ruling in this matter, which is testament to our reasonable and proportionate handling of Mr Tamiz's original complaint."