Carmarthenshire blogger loses libel case against council chief

Jacqui Thompson says she is not sure if she will continue with her website

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A blogger who sued a council chief executive for libel says she is "absolutely devastated" after losing the case and being told to pay him £25,000 damages when he counter-sued.

Jacqui Thompson launched her action after a letter responding to criticism of Carmarthenshire council, after she was ejected from a meeting for filming.

But the High Court dismissed her claim.

Chief executive Mark James said councils cannot accept "harassment" and "unfounded allegations of wrongdoing".

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I believe this judgement has dire consequences for others who publicly scrutinise and criticise their local authority, including the press”

End Quote Jacqui Thompson Blogger

Lawyers representing the blogger had claimed her case was one of "state versus citizen".

But Mr James's legal team argued that Mrs Thompson had carried out a "wholly improper" campaign in her online blog.

The legal spat developed after Mrs Thompson was removed from a council meeting and arrested after refusing to stop filming it in June 2011.

The court has been told that Mr James wrote a letter in response to Mrs Thompson's criticism of the council following the incident.

The letter was sent sent to 74 councillors and viewed 825 times after being republished on another blog.

But giving his written ruling in a reserved judgement after a series of hearings in London, Mr Justice Tugendhat said: "I have found that Mrs Thompson was engaged in an unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation targeted against Mr James and other council officers."

In a statement, Ms Thompson said she was "absolutely devastated" and considering an appeal.

"I have always acted in good faith, my motives have always been sincere and have merely criticised the council where I felt it appropriate, and have never had a complaint until the counter-claim was issued," she said.

'Completely vindicated'

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Councils and other public bodies accept that they are open to legitimate criticism, but this cannot extend to... unlawful harassment and unfounded allegations of wrongdoing by its officers”

End Quote Mark James Carmarthenshire council

"This has potentially opened the floodgates for similar actions and I believe this judgement has dire consequences for others who publicly scrutinise and criticise their local authority, including the press.

"With regards to the damages, I have no idea where I'm going to get £25,000 from, I haven't got £25. I am trying to remain positive and will try continue with my blog and calls for transparency as best I can."

In a statement Mr James said: "Councils and other public bodies accept that they are open to legitimate criticism, but this cannot extend to... unlawful harassment and unfounded allegations of wrongdoing by its officers."

Mr James said that "on the one occasion the council responded to her attacks Mrs Thompson secured the services of specialist libel solicitors and counsel and sued for libel with the benefit of a conditional fee agreement with success fee."

Mr James said he was pleased "for the staff who have been falsely accused that they have been completely vindicated by this judgment. My only regret is that Mrs Thompson has wasted a huge amount of time and money."

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