In the first libel trial of 2016, Mr Justice Mitting found that the claimant, Ronald Stocker, had been defamed by his ex-wife, Nicola Stocker, in a post on his new partner’s Facebook page. The Judge rejected Mrs Stocker’s argument that the allegations she had made were substantially true and assessed compensation in the sum of £5,000. He added, however, that he was not making an award of damages because Mr Stocker had indicated that he did not want one.
The claim was based on Facebook posts made by Mrs Stocker on the Facebook page of her husband’s new partner. She claimed that Mr Stocker had tried to kill her nearly 10 years earlier by strangling her and had also threatened her, breached a non-molestation order and been arrested countless times. The allegations were published to 21 individuals who had authorised access to the page and were also visible to 110 of Ms Bligh’s “friends” and to their Facebook “friends”.
Mrs Stocker said that the March 2003 incident was triggered by Mr Stocker being pricked with a pin while he stood on a chair as she shortened the hem of his trousers. She said her he became very angry and pinned her down on a sofa with his hands tightly around her throat. She said “I was unable to breathe and was frightened that he was going to kill me. I remember thinking ‘this is it’.” She said she managed to push him off and hid in the office where she put a chair in front of the door and rang 999. Her throat had red marks and felt very sore.
Mr Stocker said he knew he did not aim for her neck but put one hand over her mouth to stop her shouting and waking up their son. He said “To me this was a very, very small domestic incident where I hadn’t done the things suggested.”
Mr Justice Mitting said that Mr and Mrs Stocker were generally truthful witnesses and had much to commend them but they brought out the worst in each other.
“Under the stress of a failing marriage, each behaved towards the other in a manner which does no credit to either of them.”
He said he did not accept Mr Stocker’s account of the incident – but he was not satisfied that he threatened to kill his wife.
“I do not believe he was capable, even in temper, of attempted murder. The most likely explanation is that he did in temper attempt to silence her forcibly by placing one hand on her mouth and the other under the chin to hold her head still. His intention to silence – not to kill.”
He said that Mrs Stocker had proved that Mr Stocker did commit an offence against her, of at least common assault, and he was arrested three times and had made threats.
“But she has not met the sting of posting that he was a dangerous man. The impression to an ordinary reader was a significant and distorted overstatement of what had in fact occurred.”
Painting such a false picture was intended to be and was damaging to Mr Stocker’s reputation and his relationship with Ms Bligh, but its circulation was limited and the damage substantially remedied.
The judge said that a comment on Facebook was the same as a comment posted on an office noticeboard. Mrs Stocker had no right to assume it was private and was liable for the consequences if it was not.
Mrs Stocker faces a costs bill of about £200,000 and must make an interim payment of £140,000 within 28 days unless she pursues an appeal.