Claimant awarded £5,000 in damages over ex-wife’s Facebook claims, but declines the award.

In the first libel trial of 2016, Businessman and Property Developer, Ronald Stocker, who sued his ex-wife for libel over an email and Facebook postings on his new partner, Deborah Bligh’s page in 2012 has won his case, but decided not to take any damages from his opponent.

Mr Justice Mitting assessed the appropriate compensation in the sum of £5,000 but added that he was not making an award of damages as, “to his credit”, Mr Stocker did not want one.

Mrs Stocker had claimed on the Facebook posts, that Mr Stocker had attempted to kill her nearly 10 years earlier by strangling her and had also threatened her, had been arrested many times and had breached a non-molestation order. This post was published to 21 others and was visible to 110 of Ms Bligh’s Facebook friends.

Mr Stocker said that the statements painted him as a “dangerous and thoroughly disreputable” man.

Mrs Stocker denied libel and stated that her husband was sometimes a violent man who had snapped and strangled her after she pricked him with a pin when she shortened the hem of his trousers. She said that Mr Stocker had pinned her down on a sofa and attempted to strangle her. Mrs Stocker stated that she managed to push him off and hide in the office where she rang emergency services. She advised the court that her throat had red marks and felt very sore.

In his evidence, Mr Stocker responded and said that he had only put his hand over her mouth to stop her shouting and waking their son. He stated, “to me this was a very, very small domestic incident where I hadn’t done the things suggested”.

In his Judgment, Mr Justice Mitting said that Mr Stocker had a “meritorious” claim. He stated:

"Under the stress of a failing marriage, each behaved towards the other in a manner which does no credit to either of them."

Mr Justice Mitting did not accept Mr Stocker’s account of the incident but added:

I do not believe he was capable, even in temper, of attempted murder.”

In reference to the red marks on Mrs Stocker’s neck, Mr Justice Mitting said that these had more likely been caused by Mr Stocker holding Mrs Stocker as he tried to stop her waking their child. Furthermore, he stated that Mrs Stocker had proved that Mr Stocker did commit an offence against her (of at least common assault) that he was arrested three times and had made threats. Despite this Mr Justice Mitting went on to say:

But she has not met the sting of posting that he was a dangerous man. The impression to an ordinary reader was a significant and distorted overstatement of what had in fact occurred”.

Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the comments were indeed defamatory and he said that:

The impression given was a significant and distorted overstatement of what had in fact occurred.”

He also stated that:

The libel was not trivial. Painting the false picture that he was a dangerous man to the Facebook friends of Mrs Bligh was intended to be and was damaging to his reputation.”

Mr Justice Mitting added that a comment on Facebook was the same as a comment posted on an office noticeboard and that Mrs Stocker had no right to assume it was private and was liable for the consequences if it was not.

It was decided, that in view of the post’s limited circulation that the appropriate damages were £5000, which Mr Stocker declined.

Mrs Stocker now faces a costs bill of approximately £200,000 and must make an interim payment of £140,000 within 28 days unless she pursues an appeal. She has also given an undertaking not to repeat the defamatory words.

This case underlines the importance of being careful about what you write on social media, as the consequences of making overblown defamatory statements can be extremely costly.

Jessica Baker | Paralegal