Scotland

Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman wins defamation case

Andy Wightman
Image caption Mr Wightman said his blog post was "legitimate comment and criticism" of Wildcat Haven

An attempt to sue a Scottish Green MSP for £750,000 in a defamation case has been unsuccessful.

Andy Wightman had been accused of damaging the reputation of business Wildcat Haven Enterprises with comments he made online in 2015 and 2016.

The MSP raised more than £170,000 from crowdfunding supporters to be able to challenge the legal action at the Court of Session.

Lord Clark ruled Mr Wightman's comments were not defamatory.

What is Wildcat Haven?

The business was established with the stated aim of helping to protect Scottish wildcats and to ensure they thrive in Scotland.

As part of its fundraising efforts, it offered donors the chance to buy a one square foot plot of land in a wildcat haven.

The firm said that people buying these "souvenir" plots were "explicitly" warned that they would not actually become the registered owner of the land.

It also allowed buyers to use the title Lord or Lady, which it said was "a bit of fun" and did not give buyers an "actual title".

What was the case about?

Mr Wightman criticised Wildcat Haven Enterprises and their business practices online in 2015 and 2016.

Company director Paul O'Donoghue alleged that a blog written by Mr Wightman contained false statements which claimed his business, Wildcat Haven, was a tax haven and damaged its reputation.

The business was seeking a payment of £750,000 as well as a court order to prevent Mr Wightman from republishing one of the blogs online.

Dr O'Donoghue said the title of the blog - "Wildcat Haven, Bumblebee Haven or Tax Haven?" - was "clearly, and only, about offshore tax havens", saying that "falsely accusing a small company dedicated to saving the wildcat as a tax haven is not in the public interest" and was "deeply upsetting".

Lawyers for Mr Wightman contended that the blog contained "legitimate comment and criticism" stemming from his "legitimate concerns" about the firm.

What did the judge decide?

Lord Clark's judgement concluded that none of Mr Wightman's comments were defamatory.

The judge noted, in a 64-page judgment: "I conclude that the pursuer has failed to prove any loss."

He added: "The defamation claims made by the pursuer fail because the meanings alleged are not made out, or available defences apply."

He said that Wildcat Haven was "engaged in a genuine scheme aimed at the conservation of wildcats, run by well-intentioned and enthusiastic individuals."

Lord Clark added that Mr Wightman made "four untrue statements" online, where there was "no proper basis for [Mr Wightman] to reach these conclusions" in three cases.

However, he added this does not itself mean that the comments made were defamatory.

In his concluding remarks, Lord Clark said the defamation action failed because the meanings taken from a number of Mr Wightman's comments by Dr O'Donoghue "are not the meanings which the ordinary reasonable reader would have taken", adding that it was for that reason that "those claims cannot succeed".

The judge continued: "It is apparent that there are a number of meanings which the pursuer [Dr O'Donoghue] relies upon which are not true meanings and indeed are overstatements by [Dr O'Donoghue] of what was actually stated".

Lord Clark added that other allegations "must also fail" because defences including fair comment could be established.

Donors to be refunded

Responding to the judgement Andy Wightman said he was "delighted". Without the crowdfunder for legal support - which he says cost him more than £150,000 - he would have been "unable to defend" himself.

Mr Wightman said he hoped to refund crowdfunder donors "a substantial part of their donation".

He added: "I have maintained throughout that I did not defame the pursuer and that this action should never have been brought against me."

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