Triumphant Chris Packham calls for tougher punishment for ‘online abuse and hate crimes’ as he wins £90,000 libel battle over claims he ‘manipulated’ the public into donating to wildlife charity
- He said: ‘As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us’
Environmentalist Chris Packham has called on perpetrators of ‘online abuse and hate crimes’ to receive tougher punishments after he was awarded £90,000 in a libel trial.
The environmentalist sued three men over nine articles which inferred he ‘manipulated’ people into donating to rescue five tigers after knowing that they were had been well looked after.
Dominic Wightman, editor of the online site Country Squire Magazine, defended the libel claim along with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read.
In a judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Saini ruled in Mr Packham’s favour against Wightman and Bean but dismissed his claim against Mr Read – who had said he was a ‘mere proofreader’ of some of the articles.
Speaking outside of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Packham said: ‘Every day many thousands of innocent people are victims of online abuse and hate crimes.
Mr Packham criticised the laws surrounding online hate speech in his statement after the verdict was delivered
Wightman and Bean were ordered to pay £90,000 in damages to Mr Packham
‘This can be racially, religiously or politically motivated.
‘It can be generated in regard to gender politics, environmental beliefs, body shaming.
‘This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples’ educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives.
‘As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us from such hate – something that must change.’
He continued: ‘In a full and frank vindication of my innocence the court has found that ‘Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth’.’
The presenter added: ‘I would like to thank my excellent legal team, barristers Jonathan Price and Claire Overman and Carol Day and Tessa Gregory and their team from Leigh Day. They have been steadfast throughout despite often appallingly offensive abuse from the defendants. Thank you.
‘I would also like to thank Dr Ruth Tingay for setting up a Crowdfunder to help cover the costs of this long and expensive litigation.
‘And lastly, my followers. Thank you for your unswerving support and belief in my honest crusade to make the world a better place for wildlife, people and the environment.’
In his 58-page judgment, Mr Justice Saini awarded £90,000 in damages to Mr Packham, which the presenter said would be going to charity.
Mr Packham continued: ‘What we’ve seen here is the exposure of an agenda, of a calculated campaign, which in its own words, was set up to – and I quote – “destroy me”. On this occasion, it hasn’t.
‘But I don’t expect the fight to finish here. What I expect is to retrieve the damages that I have been awarded and put them firmly in the hands of those charities that are going to be doing good work for wild animal welfare.’
Mr Packham later said the law needs to be reformed and that the planned Online Safety Bill must be ‘significantly robust’ against online abuse.
The draft legislation, currently going through the House of Lords, aims to keep people, especially youngsters, secure in the cyber world by imposing new legal duties on big tech companies and service providers.
On the issue of hate speech he said: ‘This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples’ educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives’
He added: ‘I went into this not thinking that I was ever going to make money out of it. I went into it as a matter of principle.
‘Because every day at this moment, people across this country and all over the world are suffering online abuse, and it’s ruining their lives, their livelihoods, their businesses, some people end up taking their own life, their mental health is damaged, their education is ruined – it cannot continue, the law has to be reformed.
‘And at the moment, the only recourse is to take civil action here, which is what I’ve done.
‘I hope I’ve drawn a line in the sand, I hope I’ve shown a degree of strength and resilience, which others will be able to draw into their lives so that they will be able to stand up against this online hatred, which really does need to be regulated.
‘The Government’s Online Safety Bill needs to be robust, significantly robust, particularly to support young people who are continually exposed to all sorts of problems online, which again, are extremely damaging at that point in their lives.’
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