UKIP in court over "child grooming taxi driver" tweet

UKIP in court over "child grooming taxi driver" tweet

By Admin | 19/04/2018

UKIP in court over 'child grooming taxi driver' tweet

AN INNOCENT Rotherham youth worker who says he was put through hell after a UKIP tweet wrongly branded him a paedophile is suing a former branch chairman for substantial damages.

Zahir Monir says the Bristol branch tweet — which identified him as a “suspended child grooming taxi driver” — had a devastating impact on his life.

He was subjected to abuse outside his child’s school, his house was egged and vicious comments posted about him online.

Via retweets and reposts on Facebook, the accusation made it all the way from Bristol to his next-door neighbour in Yorkshire, his lawyers told the High Court.

Mr Monir (38), is suing Steve Wood for substantial damages, claiming that, although he did not personally pen it, the then Bristol branch chairman is legally responsible for the tweet.

However, Mr Wood (57), who has since left his post, denies any responsibility for the publication, blaming his former campaign manager, John Langley.

Mr Langley operated the branch’s Twitter account, knew about rules banning personal attacks on the branch's social media, and went ahead with the tweet regardless, he claims.

Representing Mr Monir, barrister Julian Santos said the tweet, which came days before the May 2015 General Election, in which Mr Wood stood as UKIP candidate in Bristol South, contained the “most egregious allegation”.

It included a photo of Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, flanked by two men, one of them Mr Monir, with the caption: “Sarah champion labour candidate for Rotherham stood with 2 suspended child grooming taxi drivers DO NOT VOTE LABOUR”.

Mr Santos told High Court judge, Mr Justice Nicklin, that the Rotherham businessman was shocked and did what he could to get the untrue tweet removed.

He called Mr Wood, but the phone was put down on him, he says, and the tweet was only deleted weeks later when police also phoned the chairman.

In the mean time, the message had been retweeted and liked on Twitter numerous times and found its way onto Facebook.

From there, it spread more widely, with clear links taking it all the way from the Bristol branch of UKIP to a neighbour in Mr Monir's street in Rotherham, said Mr Santos.

“Unsurprisingly, publication of this extremely serious libel on such a massive scale has had a devastating impact on Mr Monir,” said his barrister.

“The complete shock caused to Mr Monir by the tweet and the recognition of the impact that it could have on him is apparent even from the recording of his first call to South Yorkshire Police.

“Until the time of the tweet, he had spent his life involved with charities and helping young people.

“The tweet, branding him a paedophile, has had a negative impact on his family life and relationships with his wife and young children, his charitable work and his employment.”

Mr Monir had suffered depression, anxiety and criminal damage. 

He was branded “Jimmy Savile” by a parent outside school and left feeling “extremely threatened”, he said.

Defending the libel claim on Mr Wood's behalf, barrister David Hirst denied that Mr Wood was in any way responsible for the tweet, to which he had “no input”.

It was Mr Langley who was authorised by the branch to operate its social media, he said.

He received no day-to-day guidance or instructions and was specifically warned against posting material which included "personal attacks".

“Mr Wood did not read the branch Twitter account, did not have the app installed on any device and was very busy juggling, running his business, looking after his ill daughter and campaigning to become an MP,” Mr Hirst added.

He continued: “There is a weight of evidence that Mr Langley had no authorisation to publish the type of material which the tweet represented.

“Mr Wood promulgated a general zero tolerance prohibition on any form of racism or xenophobic conduct. He had secured the expulsion of a member, partly for racism.

“Personal attacks on any individuals were not permitted, and members had to stick to facts. Everyone was to be careful what they posted.”

He said Mr Langley — who is not being sued and is not a party to the proceedings — admitted in a statement that he “understood these branch-wide house rules”.

Mr Hirst said Mr Wood had not received a reasonable call from Mr Monir and was instead subjected to repeated “hysterical rants” by a caller claiming to have been wrongly identified as a paedophile.

Mr Hirst is also disputing the meaning of the tweet, claiming it did not mean that Mr Monir was actually a paedophile. 

Instead, it was to be read as though there were grounds for investigating whether he was a child groomer, he said.

And, whoever was responsible for it, Mr Monir had not shown that the publication caused him “serious harm”, the barrister said.

But Mr Santos said that only made matters worse.

“This was an appalling and shameful tweet, which Bristol UKIP should never have published, should have immediately deleted and should have been at pains to apologise for,” he said.

“And Mr Wood, as the chairman of this organisation, should equally have been at pains to apologise.

“To dismiss this tweet as merely ‘unattractive and regrettable’ and to argue that it has not caused serious harm to his reputation unquestionably aggravates the injury even further."

The hearing, which is expected to last until the end of the week, continues.


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