Yesterday a judge finally threw out a defamation claim against Andy Wightman MSP and a ludicrous claim for £750,000 damages against him, made by Dr Paul O’Donoghue of Wildcat Haven Enterprises [and Wilder Britain and Lynx UK Trust], who had argued that Andy had published, with malice, defamatory material on his blog, on Twitter and on Facebook in 2015 and 2016.
Lord Clark ruled that none of Andy’s comments were defamatory and dismissed O’Donoghue’s assertion of financial loss as no evidence was provided to support the claim. This means Andy doesn’t have to pay any damages to O’Donoghue. An expenses hearing will take place in due course to establish whether O’Donoghue will have to cover Andy’s costs.
You can read the full ruling here: Opinion of Lord Clark_WHE v Wightman 2020
[Andy Wightman at a golden eagle nest site in Scotland in his role as Golden Eagle Species Champion. Photo by Ruth Tingay]
This case has been running for several years, putting Andy under enormous stress as he faced bankruptcy and thus the loss of his job had he and his legal team not been able to defend the accusations. If he hadn’t been held in such high regard by thousands of people who helped to crowdfund approx £170,000 to launch a defence, the outcome of this case would have been swift and unjust.
Here’s how Andy broke the news on Twitter after Lord Clark published his verdict:
“I’m delighted with this judgement from Lord Clark. I would like to thank my legal team of Campbell Deane and Roddy Dunlop QC for their support, diligence and hard work over the past three years. I’d also like to thank my family and colleagues at work for their support and understanding over this period.
I want to pay particular thanks to the thousands of people who generously contributed to my crowdfunder, without whom I would simply have been unable to defend myself. I have been hugely encouraged by their ongoing support.
The National Union of Journalists and Scottish PEN have also been very supportive as part of their wider campaign for defamation reform. I have maintained throughout that I did not defame the pursuer and that this action should never have been brought against me.
It is vital that Parliament modernises the law of defamation to ensure that the law provides the right balance between freedom of expression and the rights of people not to have their reputations tarnished. It is also important that the law is clear, so that writers and journalists can write confidently and provide the freedom of expression that is so important in any democracy.”
This case has attracted a lot of media attention, of course. Here are a few articles:
Holyrood Magazine: Andy Wightman wins defamation case
And what of Paul O’Donoghue? Well he’s featured in the current edition of Private Eye, although this time not about this case:
UPDATE 5th February 2022: Andy Wightman awarded over £170K expenses in defamation case (here)