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Stewart White, SolicitorThis is yet another blog regarding a high profile Tweeter.   However, this one isn’t about somebody being caught out by their youthful exploits on social media or somebody confirming that they were involved in a road traffic accident involving a cyclist and not reporting it to the Police. This is about the Common’s Speaker’s wife, Sally Bercow tweeting, what could be regarded as innuendo about the Tory Peer, Lord McAlpine.  

In November last year Newsnight reported that a senior political figure had been accused of abusing children in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Newsnight did all but stop short of naming Lord McAlpine, however, Sally Bercow, at the time, posted a tweet that went as follows “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*”.   Suffice to say, Lord McAlpine was innocent of all charges put to him by social media and not by the police who were never involved! Following her tweet, Twitter became awash with rumours linking him to the incident., Lord McAlpine issued a statement that he would go after anybody who had defamed him via Twitter who had over 500 followers.   Regrettably for Sally Bercow, she had 56,000 followers.

The case was in the civil court this week and the court found against Sally Bercow on the basis that her telling her followers, (not all 56,000) that she did not know why Lord McAlpine was trending, and there was no alternative explanation for why he was being named in the tweets (a plethora of which constitutes a trend), produced the trend, the court found that it was reasonable to infer that he was trending because he fitted the description of the unnamed abuser.   The Judge couldn’t find any sensible reason for including the words “innocent face” in the tweet if they are to be taken as meaning that the defendants more simply wants to know that the answer to the factual question.  It would have been interesting to know whether the High Court would have considered the tweet without “innocent face” to be defamatory.

Following the decision, Mrs Bercow will now have to compensate Lord McAlpine.

It was evident that following the tweet, Bercow apologised and also issued letters to the plaintiff, Lord McAlpine.   Unfortunately, an apology of sorts was not enough to undo the damage caused by initial tweet but may serve to mitigate them out of damages payable to Lord McAlpine.

I must admit to being initially surprised by the judgement in this case but having read the judgement I now agree with it.   Sally Bercow’s conduct seems to have been at the lower end of out and out defamation, however, it fell within the parameters of what was actionable and thus deserving of the decision against her. 

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