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24.02.15

IPCC caseworkers obtain harassment injunctions after internet abuse campaign

In Coulson & Ors v Wilby [2014] EWHC 3404 (QB) the High Court granted interim harassment injunctions to protect three caseworkers from the Independent Police Complaints Commission who were being harassed by two separate defendants.  The applications were framed in harassment but the claim forms indicated that the Claimants’ relied on actions in defamation, harassment, breach of privacy, misuse of private information and/or using unlawful means to injure another.

The caseworkers, Anthony Coulson, Rebecca Reed and Katherine Lawcock had been targeted by the Defendants after they were dissatisfied with the IPCC’s resolutions of their complaints.

Mr Wilby operated a website (www.upsd.co.uk) whereby he posted a number of articles, authored by him, that made disparaging comments about the caseworkers.

Ms Reed complained that Mr Wilby had also sent a newsletter to IPCC staff members that personally attacked her and other members of staff.  In an email to IPCC staff, Mr Wilby warned them that a protest would take place outside the office of the Police Commissioner and IPCC Wakefield office, where Ms Reed was based.  The protesters used a megaphone to demand that Ms Reed go outside to sit in a coffin which they had brought with them.  This event was reported by Mr Wilby on his website and he later went on to publish a number of webpages in which he described Ms Reed as an ‘IPCC Rogue’ and included a photograph of Ms Reed that had been taken from her Facebook page without her consent.    Articles from his website were subsequently tweeted or repeated on another website operated by him.

Ms Lawcock further complained that Mr Wilby had described her as ‘incompetent and/or dishonest’ on his website and that he suggested that she had an improper relationship with a police officer that affected her objectivity when reviewing complaints made to the IPCC.   A picture from her Facebook page was also used without her consent.

Mr Coulson, who also appeared on the UPSD site, made similar complaints about his inclusion on the website and allegations that he was corrupt or guilty of misconduct.  He blamed Mr Wilby’s actions for a threat that had been made against him and his family by another individual who was in possession of an improvised explosive device.

The effect of this internet campaign by Mr Wilby was that adverse search results that linked to the UPSD website would appear within Google search results when the Claimants’ names were inputted into the search engine.

Ms Reed also brought a second claim against Peter Hofschroer, the author of a blog which contained posts about her.  Her photograph was used by Mr Hofschroer on his blog without Ms Reed’s consent and he made similar disparaging remarks calling her a ‘pervert’, ‘criminal’ and ‘rogue’.   The blog also ranked highly in Google search results associated with her name.

The Claimants sought interim injunctions preventing the Defendants from further harassing them and to compel them to remove certain internet postings.   His Honour Judge Parkes QC said when granting the injunctions:-

“In Ms Reed’s case, Mr Wilby has referred to her as being corrupt, malicious, dishonest and amoral, and he has made use of a photograph which he had no right to use, thereby aggravating her sense of fear and insecurity; he has described Ms Lawcock as being dishonest, incompetent and corrupt, by reason of her supposed relationship with a senior policeman, and he has aggravated her distress by reference to her personal life and, as in the case of Ms Reed, by use of a photograph from her Facebook page; and he has painted Mr Coulson in very similar terms, as a man guilty of habitual lying, or dishonesty, dereliction of duty and corruption.  Mr Hofschroer’s allegations against Ms Reed of covering up for child abusers, of lacking any sense of decency, morality or integrity and of being a known, habitual liar, have perhaps been even more serious thant those published by Mr Wilby.

In my judgment, all of these allegations, considered in particular in the context of the tone and manner in which they are expressed, are plainly calculated to cause alarm and distress.  They go a long way beyond that which is merely unattractive or unreasonable.  They are properly to be described as utterly oppressive, and as tormenting the claimants, who are public servants deserving of protection from those who launch campaigns of personal vilification against them.”

HHK Parkes went on to say that he had no material before him that would suggest a defence to the claim and that if there was such a public interest defence then it would not extend to deeply unpleasant personal abuse and vilification.  Although there had been some delay in making the application, this did not cause the Judge to doubt the genuineness of the claims and he did not find that it had caused prejudice to either defendant.

 The full judgment can be accessed here.

 


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