This article has been co-authored by Oliver Corbally, Paralegal, Media Disputes
Laurence Fox, actor and activist, has lost a High Court libel case after being sued by former Stonewall trustee Simon Blake and drag artist Crystal (Colin Seymour) following an exchange on X, (formerly Twitter), in which he referred to Blake and Seymour as “paedophiles”. The exchange, which happened in October 2020, started after Blake and Seymour had accused Fox of being racist following comments he had made about a decision by Sainsbury’s to provide a safe space for black employees during Black History month.
Seymour and Blake lodged a claim for defamation in April 2021 in the High Court, whilst Fox filed a countersuit over the accusations of racism. On 29 January 2024, Justice Collins Rice handed down her judgment, ruling in favour of the claimants. The Judge ruled Fox’s labelling of Seymour and Blake as paedophiles was “seriously harmful, defamatory and baseless” and Fox’s tweets “the very epitome of ‘mere retaliation’ – an escalatory and disproportionate response by way of entirely irrelevant statements.” In her ruling against Fox, the Judge summarised “the law affords few defences to defamation of this sort. Mr Fox did not attempt to show these allegations were true, and he was not able to bring himself on the facts within the terms of any other defence recognised in law.” The issue of damages and any other remedies will be discussed at a later date.
In respect of the counterclaim made by Fox, the Judge did not make a ruling on whether describing him as “a racist” was “substantially true”, after finding that the tweets cited in his counterclaim were unlikely to cause serious harm to his reputation. There were multiple other probable causes of any damage to Fox’s reputation, including: his Sainsbury’s tweet; his comments on Question Time in January 2020 about racism; and his subsequent public comments on racial issues. These included a tweet showing LGBT Progress Pride flags cut up and arranged into a swastika (for which he was suspended from X), a tweet of himself photoshopped into blackface, and a “flowing with blood” tweet about racial unrest in the UK.
This case is by no means an isolated incident, with the freedom of social media creating a dangerous field for abuse to run rampant.
Impact of the case
This case highlights the seriousness of online abuse and demonstrates the extent to which the law will go to protect victims of such defamatory statements. The Judge found the tweets have caused “serious harm” to the previously “pristine” reputations of Mr Blake and Mr Seymour. The failure of Fox’s counterclaim also demonstrates the law will take into account whether a claimant’s own actions have contributed to the “serious harm” they claim to have suffered as a result of a social media post.
Hamlins’ Media Disputes department is one of the largest and most successful Media Disputes teams in the UK and is widely recognised as an advisor of choice for both public and private figures seeking advice in relation to defamation, reputation management, pre-publication libel and privacy law.
If you are concerned you have suffered reputational damage as a result of a defamatory social media post, and would like to find out more about how Hamlins can help you, please get in touch.