The trial of the case of Jack Monroe v Katie Hopkins (see our case preview from last Friday) began on Monday 27 February 2017 before Mr Justice Warby in Court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Counsel for the claimant, William Bennett, told the court that the defendant’s tweet was “a particular affront” because part of the claimant’s identity “is as a member of a family closely involved with the armed forces”. He said that
“A widely published allegation that someone has either vandalised a war memorial or approved of such an act will inevitably cause serious damage to reputation.”
The claimant, Ms Monroe, then gave evidence. She was cross-examined by Mr Jonathan Price, Counsel for the defendant. She agreed that the claimant was confrontational but denied that she was flippant.
She described the case as a devastating nightmare and said that she had offered to settle several times.
She accepted that she had deleted her own tweets at some point after the commencement of the action.
She was extensively cross-examined about her claim to have suffered vile and abusive threats as a result of the tweet which she claims was defamatory. She said that she had taken screenshots of such tweets but her phone had been damaged and she could not retrieve them.
The claimant later tweeted about her experience
No other evidence was called by either party and the defendant’s closing submissions began on on Monday afternoon.
On behalf of the defendant, Mr Price pointed out that the tweets were sent by the defendant who is well-known to be confrontational, outspoken, forthright, often outrageous, and flippant, and is described in the popular press as a rent-a-gob.
It was argued that the ordinary reasonable reader of the First Tweet would have understood it to be political – not revealing that the claimant had in fact committed criminal damage. The reader would have known that the defendant makes political points in a colourful and controversial way, and engages in political debate and abuse.
The case resumed at 2pm on Tuesday 28 February 2017 and the whole afternoon was occupied by the Defendant’s closing submissions.
It was argued that the court had to look at the case in its political context – in the aftermath of a general election and the court should not chill political debate.
It was suggested that the calculations relied on by the claimant to suggest that over 20,000 had visited the defendant’s profile page during the period for which the First Tweet was available were speculative and unreliable.
In relation to serious harm, it was argued that the allegation was not seriously defamatory, that it was made on Twitter “the wild west of social media”, that publishees were likely to already have strong views for or against the claimant, that there was no evidence that the allegation was believed and that the defendant was a professional controversialist. It was pointed out that this was a transient publication, deleted after 2 hours.
Mr Price argued that there was no compelling evidence of serious harm – that the story very soon became one of mistaken identity and no one attacked the claimant for “defacing a war memorial”.
Mr Bennett will make his closing submissions on behalf of the claimant this morning and the Judge will, almost certainly, reserve judgement to a later date.