Libel victory for Labour bloggers

Case against Alex Hilton and John Gray struck out.

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Some good news from the high court where the bloggers Alex Hilton (formerly of Recess Monkey and Labourhome) and John Gray (John's Labour blog) have had the libel case against them struck out. Both faced bankruptcy if the three-year case proceeded to jury trial.

The case was brought by Johanna Kaschke, a blogger and a remarkable political cross-dresser (in the space of 12 months she defected to George Galloway's Respect from Labour, then joined the Communist Party and finally settled in the Conservative Party), who previously lost her libel action against David Osler.

Jack of Kent, who provided legal assistance to Hilton and Gray, has a long and detailed summary of the background to the case on his blog. But for those who haven't been following the story, the case revolved around the fact that Kaschke was once falsely suspected of being a member of a criminal gang.

Kaschke took exception to Gray's decision to refer to the Baader-Meinhof Gang by name (preferring the euphemistic "criminal gang"), despite previously mentioning them on her own website. As Jack of Kent writes, Kaschke was challenged by the presiding judge to explain the reputational difference between:

1) being arrested on suspicion of being a member of Baader-Meinhof, the terrorist group that carried out bombings, robberies and murder (the meaning on which she is seeking vindication by means of this claim for libel), and

2) being accused of being a member of a criminal gang with the aim to commit terrorist offences (a statement which the claimant herself adopts as the position).

She was unable to do so persuasively. That the case has ended in a victory for free speech and common sense is to be welcomed. But that it was allowed to proceed for so long is a salutary reminder of the desperate need to reform our draconian libel laws.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.