Tuesday, December 02, 2008

In Support of Alex Hilton

Some people may think I have lost my marbles when they read this post, but bear with me. Alex Hilton, who runs Recess Monkey and LabourHome is being sued for libel for something that appeared for a very short time on LabourHome. I'll let Alex take up the story...

I can't tell you too much about the case because I don't want to annoy the court. But this is what I am comfortable telling you.

1. An active Labourhome user wrote a piece about the past of a Labour member who had defected to Respect. That person has since joined the Conservative Party.
2. The Labourhome user is also being sued by this particular Tory, who is a litigant in person and has no lawyer.
3. The offended person contact me about the piece, which I immediately deleted. I offered the front and centre spot on Labourhome to the offended person for their right of reply or to write something else of their own choice. My offer was declined.
4. Because of my actions, my lawyer says I have an absolute defence under Section One of the Defamation Act. I also have other defence strategies available, one of which is the possibility that the article was not defamatory, thought this is still being explored.
5. Because the complainant is a litigant in person, this case has been more complicated than normal and I have actually received a total of four writs before it got tidied up into one action. This is partly why this defence is so expensive.
6. Despite the likelihood that I will probably win this case, I do not have a strong prospect of recouping my costs, at least in a reasonable timescale. I don't have the five-figure sum the complainant wants as a settlement.

I would be very very grateful if readers would consider donating any sum towards my legal costs. I built Labourhome two and a half years ago as an open forum for Labour supporters because I believed it was needed. I'm in court because of the freedom of this forum and I can tell you the whole situation is pretty depressing.
The reason I will be contributing to Alex's legal costs is simple. What's happened to him could happen to any one of us. Even with comment moderation it is perfectly possible for something libellous to be posted on my blog, even for a short time, without me realising it. Alex has said some pretty nasty and vicious things about me in the past, and we have had occasion to fall out. He can be childish, an irritating little s*** and far too tribal for his own good. But that's ancient history.

I'm a forgiving sort and on a simple human level I do feel sorry for what he is going through and know enough about the circumstances which he cannot elaborate on to believe that he has right on his side. I know others think he has it coming, and I understand that viewpoint. I just happen to think it is misguided.

Alex doesn't have the BBC to fight his cause. Like any one of us caught in this situation, he has to finance this on his own. We all recognise this when he stick our heads above the parapet. But despite our political differences, we all belong to the same community - the political blogging community. I'd like to think that if I ever found myself in this situation others would also rally to my aid. And that's why I am rallying to Alex's.

If you would like to donate to Alex's fighting fund, click HERE.

UPDATE: Dave's Part is also being sued by Ms Kaschke. Read his story HERE.

PS: Please be restrained in the comments. There are legal restrictions on what can be said about the case and I am simple not interested in hosting a 'bash Alex Hilton' thread. If it gets out of hand I won't hesitate to censor.


Wrinkled Weasel said...

"Labour member who had defected to Respect. That person has since joined the Conservative Party"

That more or less says it all, apart from the fact he's a litigant in person, which means no sane lawyer would take the case on.

I too think AH is an irritating little shit, but he did all the right things in this case.

actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea

WV mensc

James Manning said...

Recognise the name. Is he the one that reported that Thatcher was dead?

Jenkins @ No10 said...

Endorse your thoughts, Iain, and I will be making a donation.

Re: L Vaughan Spencer, as Rio Ferdinand would say, Iain, you've been "merked".............!!


Armchair Sceptic said...

The decent person in this case is not Hilton, who frankly deserves to lose bigtime in court. LabourHome is a scurrilous anti-Tory website which often carries lies and more lies.

I disagree with Weasel's comments. I am aware who the person is who is suing:

- who was disaffected with Labour because of its moral and ethical bankruptcy;

- joined Respect rather than jumping straight to the Tories;

- later realised that the Conservatives (as most recently demonstrated by David Davis's recent stand) is providing moral and ethical leadership where Labour does not; and

- is perfectly justified in suing Hilton/LabHome.

May LabourHome be closed down as a result.

Letters From A Tory said...

"The reason I will be contributing to Alex's legal costs is simple. What's happened to him could happen to any one of us."

I'm afraid that's where we disagree.

Hilton created his own problem by not bothering to watch what was published on his own website. The fact that he has no sympathy for other people when they try to correct errors on their website makes his stance even more appalling.

The supposedly libellous material on his site was not a 'comment' - it was a full article. He had complete control over what was published but chose not to exercise this control and has ended up in a mess because of that.

Anonymous said...

what if the roles were reversed ?


All Seeing Eye said...

The truth is that even though he is an 18-carat knob I will defend to the death, as has been almost famously observed before, his right to say whatever he believes is accurate.

He'll come out of this vindicated, and will further enhance in law the rights that us bloggers are starting to establish that we can say it as we know it.

Colin said...

Given his previous form, it would interesting to see how he'd respond if the owners of conservative home or some other right wing organs found themselves in his shoes...

Into the bargain, he's a major mouthpiece for the regime that gave us the Iraq war. I won't be contributing.

All Seeing Eye said...

Letters From A Tory, sorry but somebody could blog on my site (and I have a guest blogger too) and I might not know about it for a few days depending on work patterns.

I could post something horrendous on Iain's site (he knows who I am but no reason why that makes any difference) and if he'd out to the cinema then it could linger here for ages. Not his fault.

Anoneumouse said...

If he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear

Letters From A Tory said...

ASE 8:25pm - if you let someone else blog on a site you own, that is your responsibility. If a guest blogger writes something libellous, that is your responsibility and rightly so. Mr Hilton clearly feels that he does not have to bear this responsibility.

As I said above, comparing libellous comments to libellous full articles and blog posts is not correct. Comments do not originate from the website owner whereas articles and posts do, by definition.

Constantly Furious said...

When I read what you said, I tended to agree with you. Then I read LFAT, on your link "others think he has it coming" and suddenly I didn't agree at all: no money, no sympathy.

Its not about crossing the political divide either - no blogger of any persuasion should help him in these circumstances. Darwin was right..

DespairingLiberal said...

Wilted Rose, you need to understand that what is being done to LabourHome here can be done to any blog, including all the overtly Tory-supporting ones. Iain is quite right to say what he has about it.

What is becoming more and more clear by the day is that a battle-royal is currently underway for our most cherished liberties. This is just another symptom of that battle.

Cheque will be in the post.

All Seeing Eye said...

Colin, I'm an (admittedly outspoken) Tory who served in Gulf1 and supports Gulf2 but if you want to bring CHome into this I'd like to think that Tim and Jonathan would be of the inclination to allow people to express their opinions whether we agree with them or no.

If he is wrong then he is wrong, but I couldn't put it better than Anoneumouse.

no longer anonymous said...

"- joined Respect rather than jumping straight to the Tories;

- later realised that the Conservatives (as most recently demonstrated by David Davis's recent stand) is providing moral and ethical leadership where Labour does not"

RESPECT is a coalition of far-left lunatics and Islamic extremists. How the Hell could any sane person think that they show ethical leadership? What's ethical about a bunch of commies who get a hard-on for murderers like Trotsky or Lenin?

And how on Earth can someone suddenly jump from far-left/Islamic extremist to centre-right?

All Seeing Eye said...


Very interesting post. The Devil very frequently takes posts from PDK (with whom I vary rarely agree). Trixy also takes guest posts.

Is it your view/opinion (and I have no knowledge in this area - am seeking advice) that my (perfectly sane in my opinion) guest blogger could put something up which results in the fuzz slapping the cuffs on?

T England. Raised from the dead. said...

Iain! Top man!
I think you are right in what you are doing & saying, we, the internet community should at least stick together when it comes to making political bloggers feel they’re not alone, who ever they are, when push comes to shove, after all, it can go both ways & that is the reason I think you’re right.

More power to ya ;o)

Scary Biscuits said...

My advice here is not to hire a lawyer and defend yourself. You're clearly not up against an expert, and your fees are likely to be far more than any settlement imposed by the court. MOreover, the fact that a lawyer isn't involved on the other side probably tells you all you need to know about the chances of success of the complainant. That's on top of your own legal advice.

The complainant would have to prove damages for the bits and only the bits of your article that are not true. As the article was up for a very short time and you apologised immediately. It is going to be very difficult to argue that the complainant was significantly damaged. The fact that the complainant refused a right of reply is likely to vex the court, as AH appears to have done everything reasonable. This makes it even less likely that AH will lose.

Letters from a Tory is talking out of his arse. The size of the article or comment is irrelevant. The size of a claim is purely related to the size of the damage caused to the complainant. There is no legal precedent to his claim that blog owners are responsible for comments by others either. It is a reasonable argument but it is yet to be tested by a court and, IMHO, would fail as long as it was clear that it was not the policy of the blog owner to moderate the comments.

Letters From A Tory said...

ASE 8:37pm - have a look at the comments on my blog relating to this post, as a legal discussion of sorts kicked off.

Taking down libellous comments can sometimes get you off the hook but the law is very unclear because it's such a new area.

As per your example, if DK or Trixy or anything else lets someone publish something libellous on the website that they own, why should they not be held responsible in part?

Scary Biscuits, I didn't say that legally Hilton is responsible - I said that he should take responsibility in my opinion.

Armchair Sceptic said...

DespairingLiberal, I disagree - I am with LFAT on this - if any Tory blogs allow a CONTRIBUTOR (as opposed to a commenter) to post defamatory material, it is actionable. The blog owner/moderator is at least an accessory to libel if not libellious themselves.

I would like to know how I can donate to the Fighting Fund of the lady who is suing Hilton?

Jimmy said...

"And how on Earth can someone suddenly jump from far-left/Islamic extremist to centre-right?"

Perhaps he's an Islamic fundamentalist attracted by Cameron's pro-family social conservatism?

All Seeing Eye said...

I've seen your commets for several years but never headed over to your blog. My loss I guess and I'm rectifying it right now.

I'm still confused though - if yoo posted on my blog and (as over on DK) you stated in the first line of the post *this is not ASE this is LFAT* are you saying that I'm still legally responsible?

Alexander Hilton said...

Many thanks for your support Iain. Given our bickering in the past, I do feel quite humbled.


Colin said...

All Seeing Eye@8:20

I was in GW1, but didn't support GW2 - not sure of the relevance anyway.

The point I was making is simple. Unless Hilton is secretly totally different from the usual run of the mill regime henchman; he'll no doubt be ungracious in victory, viciously spiteful in defeat and adept at taking any proffered olive branch and using it to batter the person proffering it. As a result, I doubt he'd return the favour. In addition, anyone who opens any form of communication with "comrades" probably deserves everything he's apparently got coming to him.

In any case, he could always scan these posts for an opportunity to launch a libel writ of his own as a sort of hedge.

It's the kids I feel sorry for...

All Seeing Eye said...

Good site LFAT, any objections to me sticking on my blogroll?

Letters From A Tory said...

ASE 8:50pm - I don't know who is responsible, as the law hasn't really been tested in this way before.

As it stands, the website owners might be vulnerable but the precedents in this area are few and far between.

Letters From A Tory said...

Of course I have no objections to being linked to, although I wish it had been under more cheerful circumstances.

All Seeing Eye said...

Happy to swap LFAT, and the Gulf 1 and 2 came from Colin's comments - sorry, weren't really relevant to your posts although interesting to know that you were there.

Scary Biscuits said...

LFAT, It's not a grey area.

If I libel you and cause damage to you worth £100 then you can sue me for that. If I subsequently withdraw my allegation and half the people I originally told accept it then I only owe you £50. This is true regardless of the type of media. If my withdrawal is quick, credible and fulsome it would be very difficult for anybody to argue any damages whatsoever. This is true no matter how heineous the initial allegation is.

The new area caused by the internet is the question of responsbility. If I write a libelous letter to The Times which they publish, it is perfectly reasonable for the damaged person to sue The Times as well as me. This is because The Times careful edits its letters and nothing gets on the page without their active collaboration. On the other hand, if I were to make the same comment whilst live on the BBC, it would be very difficult to sue the BBC. This is because you can only be sued for damages that you can reasonably be held responsible for. Simply providing a medium doesn't make you responsible for everything said on it unless the claimant can prove that you actively collaborated with the damaging comments, as in the letter to The Times.

Anonymous said...

It's decent of you, very decent in fact - but I honestly can't help but feel that if the boot was on the other foot help wouldn't be all that forthcoming. It is unfortunate that a libel case is being brought, people feel the need to go down the route of libel cases all too often because the UK system makes it easy... but heigh ho.

Dick the Prick said...

No longer anonymous - yeah, I was thinking that - bit of a strange journey.

On topic - hmm, it sounds like he did the decent thing which was turned down. Poor bugger.

What's the crack with comments on blogs then - is the host liable? That can't be right.

Mike Hobday said...

Good for you, Iain.

Trend Shed said...

I agree he needs support.

He might be wrong about many things - but freedom of speech is worth defending

I'm not doing anything by Pay-Pal - I'll send a cheque if you or he give some details:

- Postal address
- Payable to
- Anything I've missed

Anonymous said...

So ... just how much did you contribute ..Iain ? in your burst of bloggin' voltaire ....

A daily mail (50p)
A pint of wife beater (stella .. £2.45 in me local ..guv!)
A sex aid (£10.. batts not included )
An average weekly MP's expense claim (£1.5K )
A knighthood (£100k plus)

wots it worth ?

John Pickworth said...

Iain, you're right, this could happen to anyone.

If it were you in this position I'd be the first to put my hand in my pocket simply because you take a sensible and balanced approach to such matters.

Alex does not.

Yes he may have taken appropriate steps on this occasion and he should be commended for that action. He should though let due process take its course. Allow the other party to proceed, the accuser may feel eventually that its simply not worth the time or money. Alex, by seeking a fighting fund, is merely helping to escalate the matter... but then I suspect this would appeal to the martyr within him?

Adam Penny said...

Neil, I don't really think it matters whether or not a person thinks another might reciprocate in the opposite situation. If you think something is right you should do it and I think Iain's position is admirable.

Gordon said...

This is obviously not a reason for donating, but a fortunate byprodute may be that Mr Hilton realises that we conservatives and other centre-rightists are not quite the scum that Labourhome seems to think.

Gordon said...

sorry, that should have said "byproduct"

Lord Elvis of Paisley said...

You'll excuse me if I fart in Alex's general direction...

Lord Elvis of Paisley said...

Question. What's to stop me from creating a second ID, posting something libellous about myself, capturing it before it's removed then suing Iain for allowing the libellous I posted about myself to be viewed by others before it's removed? Think about that one.

DespairingLiberal said...

It isn't as rare as some commentators here suggest that people can transit from the far-left to the Tories during one lifetime. One thinks of Peter Hitchens for example, who was once in the Trot International Socialists. I believe there are others. Wasn't there a Conservative cabinet minister who was a marxist at college? Can't recall which one now.

Brummie Alice said...

Alex says that he is now reviewing whether the post was libellous. Isn't that a bit late?

Anonymous said...

Ironic it's happening to someone running Labour Home.
Perhaps he could get the litigant arrested.
Nice of you to support him though. If I could afford it, I will as the principle of freedom of speech is way too important to be trampled upon.

Unity said...

I don't recall there being an occasion, as yet, when a Tory blogger has actually been sued, but Guido's had at least a couple of close calls.

Then again, I also can't recall there being a case, as yet, where there was sufficient merit in the complainant's position to make it worth having second thoughts about offering support to a blogger facing a threat of litigation.

Pretty much all the previous instances I'm aware of were either minor enough to settled, reasonably, by affording the complainant a right of reply - which the woman suing Alex was offered (and her did also remove the 'offending' article as soon as he received the complaint) or they we're wholly vexatious attempts to suppress information in which there was a legitimate public interest, as in the cases of Craig Murray, Harry's Place, Quackometer and Oliver Kamm.

This is yet another case that would not be possible but for the absurdities of the 150 year old Brunswick ruling, which Justice Phillips indicated (in 2006) would be ruled an abuse of process were the case brought today and if a case does appear to rely on Brunswick then there's a long-standing convention amongst established political blogger that we stand or fall together on this issue, irrespective of any personal or political differences that might otherwise come into play.

Iain, to his credit, has observed that convention in the past and does so now in offering support to Alex and should the day ever dawn when Iain finds himself under a similar kind of threat then he can fully expect the same support from across the political blogosphere.

Tim said...

This was Alex Hilton's reaction to Paul Staines throwing a lawyer at me:

"This article is the first time I have heard of Guido suing Tim. What for? I don't know and can't really be bothered to look into it. If Tim's done something wrong, then there are consequences. If not, he has nothing to worry about." (source)

Well, I *could* be bothered looking into Alex Hilton's situation, but after doing so, I won't be bothering to throw money at him.

Hacked Off said...

Couldn't Alex ask some of the very wealthy folk in the Labour Party for help? Tony Blair must have a few quid he could cough up, then there's all that lovely top up dosh Mandy is getting from Brussels, and Mr and Mrs Balls could chip in from their carefully constructed allowances, surely?

The Penguin

judith said...

Iain - you are obviously a very kindly fellow; having seen Mr Hilton in action as a councillor, the same could not be said about him.

My purse will remain firmly closed.

Newmania said...

I recall Alex Hilton memorably said that Conservatives were the moral equivalent of child molesters. Its always stuck in my mind.
He was threatened by the leader of the Con Future wasn`t he after , what I assume were near the knuckle posts but he apologised.
He knicker sniffed around Nadine D`s daughter`s face book and pulled out a suppsedly racist remark quite disgracefully .

Its hard to feel much love for someone who so evidently loves himself so very dearly and I can think of about million better causes than this still I wish him well.

Are you a forgiving sort Iain ? You were incredibly irate about a little comment I made concerning Boris Johnson .

Chris Paul said...

The problem here is that Labour Home allows substantial posts by just about anyone and provides the means to boost such a post up to the top of the front page. It needs to change, even if this has been an admirably liberal way to go.

I wrote about this for the Parliamentary Monitor conference edition.

I agree with the person who said defend self, but as Alex said he had been blasted with quite a number of writs.

There is obviously something very wrong with the law if all this action can take place and cost be incurred on a likely innocent defendant with no weighing of whether the plaintiff has any sort of case at all.

There are only limited examples of the extraordinary Lab-Resp-Tory defection path. About er, one? And in an area where they do politics with heavy manners if I'm right.

Bloggers would do well to join the NUJ which provides a certain amount of protection to members. And certainly advice. very left-wing union as it goes but not party affiliated.

Chris Paul said...

Newmania: Outrageous comment about Alex and Nad's daughter. Libellous in fact. Repeating an outrageous libel made by Nads herself. You could get Iain into trouble with that.

Now P incidentally working for N at top dollar in HoP, or so I'm told.

Tim said...

I'll happily second what Chris Paul just said re: Nads and back Alex Hilton over Nadine's grubby little paedo-smear (as I have in the past). Odd that some people didn't get quite so worked up over that as they did about the word 'groomed', but there you go.

(And rather than lead the thread any further off-topic, I'd welcome an email pointing me to evidence of the "Conservatives were the moral equivalent of child molesters" comment Newmania refers to, as this appears equally OTT, and I'd appreciate seeing it in context.)

Unknown said...


This is my first *ever* post on your site and it's an honour to do so in such a non-contentious, unifying post.

I'm not a regular reviewer of labourhome, being a self-confessed bluenosed Tory.

That having been said, I have been on the receiving end in the past of both barrels of my utterly, utterly mental ex-wife in the tabloids and find the Courts (at least in Scotland) not helpful in the slightest.

Those alleged "gatekeepers" to the courts (lawyers) ... well, let's just say Shakespeare was right.

I applaud the humility being shown by Mr Hilton; I equally applaud the stance being taken by you, Mr Dale, when you could just as easily have "had a go" at him for this.

The right to free speech must be defended - to paraphrase Voltaire, "You might be a totally unhinged-one, but I will defend to the death your right to be".

However - and a note to the tabloids here - the use of the internet or the tabloid muckrakers to publish something utterly unilateral and from a source known to have an axe to grind will result in an entirely justified libel action. You listening, S****y M**l?