CRT threaten our web site with libel

This web site’s Editor received a letter from CRT recently threatening to take court proceedings for libel against the web site because of statements made in articles revealing and commenting about BW/CRT’s relationship with hire boat holiday brokers Drifters Leisure Limited. CRT has also asked the editor to remove the articles, to make an undisclosed donation to the CRT as recompense, and to publish by way of apology information which is already in the public domain at http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/shares_in_drifters_leisure_limit#incoming-305070 in its own response to a Freedom of Information request.

The Editor refutes the allegation made by CRT for the reason that the articles in question are based on evidence. Analysis and comment about the issues covered in the articles is in the public interest and in particular in the interests of boat dwellers without home moorings.

When big organisations try to silence their critics using threats to sue for libel they do not always get the outcome they want. We would remind CRT that it cost McDonalds around £10,000,000 to pursue a civil libel action against London Greenpeace activists Helen Steel and Dave Morris that was only partially successful. Eventually Steel and Morris were awarded £24,000 compensation in the European Court of Human Rights because they did not get a fair trial on the ground of inequality of arms. That is, they were low waged people with no resources to defend themselves against the action; legal aid is not available for defending a libel action, whereas McDonalds could afford to spend thousands of pounds each day to hire top lawyers.

The threat of court action was received shortly after CRT Chief Executive Robin Evans refused to withdraw derogatory statements about boaters without home moorings following a complaint made to CRT. There appears to be a double standard at work here.

Despite a request by the Editor for clarification of the exact words that are alleged to be defamatory, CRT has not responded. Here is the correspondence between CRT and the Editor:

21 August 2012

DEFAMATORY ARTICLES POSTED ON
http://kanda.boatingcommunity.org.uk
We write regarding the following articles posted on the aforementioned website:
“CRT Head of Boating runs hire boat company” posted on 12 July 2012; “BW had shares in hire
boat company” posted on 19 July 2012 and “Discredited CRT Legal Director and Head of Boating
booted and shrunk” posted on 5 August 2012.

Canal & River Trust considers the unsubstantiated references to impropriety, allegations of
misconduct, bullying, harassment and discreditation in conjunction with the Canal & River Trust’s
directors and senior employees and their positions or office and the malicious unauthorised
mockery of the Trust’s logo published in the aforementioned articles to be calculated to disparage
Canal & River Trust and its directors and are therefore defamatory to Canal & River Trust within
the meaning of Section 2 of the Defamation Act 1952.

It is clear that you are either author, editor or publisher of the defamatory statements referred to through www.boatingcommunity.org.uk reverting to http://kanda.boatingcommunity.org.uk as
envisaged by Section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 and therefore it was your responsibility to take
reasonable care that articles published by you do not contain defamatory statements and images.
Should you allow the publication of the statements to continue, Canal & River Trust will be left with no option but to consider civil proceedings against you.

Accordingly, we request that you cease publicly displaying the aforementioned articles on your
website or elsewhere without delay. We further request that you publish the attached text by way of
an apology and make an undisclosed charitable donation to the Trust as a way of making amends
in line with Section 2 of the Defamation Act 1996.

28 August 2012

I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 21 August 2012 that you sent to
info@boatingcommunity.org.uk. I require you to provide detailed clarification of which specific words or statements in the articles you have referred to that you consider to be “references to impropriety, allegations of misconduct, bullying, harassment and discreditation in conjunction with the Canal & River Trust’s directors and senior employees and their positions or office”. Please specify in detail your arguments for asserting that these words or statements could be construed to be calculated to disparage CRT and its directors.

I would be grateful for your response within seven (7) days.

4 September 2012

Further to your email, I would be grateful if you first clarify whether you are an editor or operator of the website www.boatingcommunity.org.uk. If so, please let me have your correspondence address together with an address of your solicitor (if any) and confirm whether your solicitor is entitled to accept service of legal documents.

If not, please let me have names of the website editor and the website provider together with their contact details. In the meanwhile, I note that the articles referred to in my email of 21 August 2012 continue to be published on the www.boatingcommunity.org.uk website. The website operator and/or editor was put on notice that Canal & River Trust considers the contents of those articles defamatory Accordingly, should this matter progress further, I reserve the right to bring this fact to the court’s attention.

4 September 2012

This is an open letter. I acknowledge receipt of your email of 4 September 2012. I have noted your comments. I am the Editor of http://kanda.boatingcommunity.org.uk (the “Web Site”) and the author of the articles and images that you refer to. The Web Site is not run on a commercial or for profit basis. For all other purposes I am the publisher of the Web Site in that I make the decisions regarding what is published and I perform the electronic publication.

I am not represented by a law firm. I am assisted by the National Bargee Travellers Association (the “NBTA”) and by XXXXXX as McKenzie Friends in this matter. I would be obliged if you would copy any further communication to legal@bargee-traveller.org.uk.
XXXXXX of the NBTA will respond to your enquiry to him in relation to the technical details of the web site.

I observe that you have failed to respond to my request for a clear specification of the specific words or statements that your client alleges are defamatory. Because of your continued interrogation of me, should you not proceed in issuing a claim in this matter, I shall make a complaint pursuant to s.2 Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

It is also material to this matter that, insofar as your client is required to disprove statements when making a claim alleging defamation, the NBTA has now provided evidence, verifying the maladministration on the part of your client, to the Waterways Ombudsman. The NBTA shall refer to additional evidence as appropriate.

I reserve my rights in all respects.

4 September 2012

Without Prejudice Save As To Costs

I write further to my first email of 4 September 2012. I note that the statutory functions of CRT (including the management of the waterways) remain a  public function. Therefore in relation to this public function, CRT remains bound by ECHR. I note that CRT has sought to curtail my fundamental freedom to impart information and ideas regarding the management of the waterways. It follows that your client has violated my Convention rights under Article 10 ECHR. I would be grateful if you would convey my request to your client that it ceases and desists in violating my Convention rights under Article 10 ECHR immediately.

I reserve my rights in all respects.

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