In which I get a nastygram

A couple of months back I wrote about what appears to to me, and to quite a lot of other people, to be a utterly ridiculous and abusive libel action against a blogger by the name of Vaughan Jones.

To save time, I won’t run through the particulars of this case as everything I wanted to say at the time is covered in this post but its fair to say that from what I’d read about the background to this case it seems to me to be a number of similarities with the cases brought by Johanna Kaschke against Dave Osler, Alex Hilton and John Gray, all of which had, by then, been thrown out by the courts.

A couple of days ago, I received a nastygram from the same individual – Christopher McGrath – who is suing Vaughan and, in line with a longstanding policy of openness and transparency at the Ministry, I will now reproduce the text of this letter in full, save for the redaction of personal information, for your edification, educationand, of course, a modicum of criticism.

All annotations to the text that follows are, of course, my own.

Re: Libel – MINISTRY OF TRUTH.ME.UK

You own and run a website entitled minitsryoftruth.me.uk, registered by [Redacted], at URL: [Redacted] and your correspondence address on the public internet registry Whois is confirmed as above.

I shall be having a bit of stern word with my domain registrar about this as it would seem that their system had temporarily lost sight of the fact that the Whois record for the Ministry had been set up so it didn’t display my home address, an issue that has now been corrected.

At the end of the post with the url address, http://www.ministrvoftruth.me.uk/shades-of-kaschke-christopher-mcgrath-aka-scrooby, you state:

“1. Ministry of Truth is hosted in the United States, so don’t bother trying to send take down notices to my webhost as s230 of the Communications Decency Act applies to the contents of this site.

2. Any libel claims/correspondence relating to this post will be referred to the response given to the plaintiff in Arkell vs Pressdram and any communications to that end will be published online for everyone to see.

3. Do look up the ‘Barbara Streisand effect’ before trying anything stupid.”

All of which strikes me as being nothing more than a bit of sensible advice, as Chris is unfortunately about to find out first hand.

You state that your website is hosted in the United States, but your host appears to be a U.K based company.

Oh dear, it seems Chris doesn’t understand the difference between a domain name registrar and  web hosting service and, unfortunately, this mean that I’m about to be regaled with an irrelevant legal arguments which serve no purpose whatsoever as they are entirely unrelated to the point I was actually making about the benefits of using a hosting service based in the United States.

For the record, the point I was making here was simply that s230 of the Communications Decency Act provides US-based hosting companies with immunity from liability for content hosted on their servers by third parties and that this, in turn, provides a measure of defence against the all-too-common and disreputable practice of would-be litigants making threats against a site’s hosting provider in an effort to get content removed without allowing the site’s owner the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they wish to stand by the content of their site or back away from the issue.

So, pretty much everything is the next section is irrelevant but it nevertheless provides Chris with the opportunity to put on a show of flexing his legal ‘muscles’ in the hope that this will help him to intimidate me into backing down when he finally gets around to stating his demands.

In any event, regardless of the place where a site is hosted, the publishing of material is governed by laws not only where that material it is uploaded but also where it is downloaded; such that if a web site is hosted abroad and is downloaded in the UK, the case of R v Perrin [2002] 4 ArchboldNews 2 will apply.

While R v Perrin is concerned with ‘publishing’ electronic data under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, its general principle, that the mere transmission of data constitutes publication, holds. It’s clear from the decision in R v Perrin and in the earlier case of R v Waddon (6th April 2000 unreported), that there is publication both when information is uploaded and when it is downloaded. In the case of R v Waddon the Court of Appeal held that the content of American websites could come under British jurisdiction when downloaded in the United Kingdom.

In the case that you have cited between the Claimants, Mr. Christopher McGrath and McG Productions Ltd and the Fourth Defendant & Others, there is publication of data when it is uploaded and when that information is downloaded. It has clearly been downloaded in the United Kingdom. The page has been copied in full for future reference if required.

Yawn…

Now we start to get to the entertaining part of Chris’s letter…

[Redacted], we trust your website, the ministryoftruth.me.uk, is truly interested in the truth and does not allude to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, a deliberate misnomer, responsible for the falsification of reality, manufacturing ‘truth’ in only the ‘newspeak’ sense of the word and serving a Fascist agenda; and we give you the benefit of the doubt at this preliminary stage in any possible action that:

As you might imagine, I get this a lot whenever I run into some of the more deluded denizens of teh interwebs and, if I;m perfectly honest, one of the main reasons I chose to the call this site the Ministry of Truth was because the name alone does an absolutely wonderful job of winding up troofers and conspiracy nuts without my having to put any real effort into it.

Its a great timesaver if, like me, you get a bit a sadistic pleasure out of watching the convoluted mental contortions that some of these complete nutballs go through as they try to incorporate the name of my blog into their own paranoid delusions due, for the most part, to their own inability to recognise irony when its slapping them around the face with a pan-fried sea bass.

1)  you did not know the character of the Fourth Defendant prior to publishing your post above and do not know the full extent of the case against him, which the Fourth Defendant clearly wishes to conceal, giving only partial and self-serving information on his blog;

What I know of Vaughan comes only from blog and a few comments on Twitter, but he seems to me to be a pretty decent kind of guy and his accounts of the case that McGrath has brought against him look, to my eyes at least, to be entirely on the level although, he is obvious stating things from his own perspective and not that of McGrath.

2)  you do not endorse any of his political or anti-religious views;

Whether or not I agree with or ‘endorse’ any of Vaughan opinions is, so far as I’m concerned, entirely irrelevant but I should point out for anyone who’s got this far without having read my previous article that McGrath is apparently suing Vaughan for calling him a creationist, which he apparently considers to be both defamatory and religious harassment.

(And no, I’m not entirely sure how that one works either but then my overall impression is that rationality is in short supply in the 16 page claim that was lobbed at Vaughan)

3)  you did not know the extent of the case being brought against him, including possible criminal proceedings;

I had to head over to Vaughan’s blog for the first time in a few weeks just to figure out what the hell Chris is on about here and it would appear that he has been blustering on about criminal proceedings in what seems to an entirely ineffectual manner for a while but with there being any sign at that the police are taking the slightest bit of interest in his claims.

What I do find interesting, however, is the contents of a letter that Vaughan appears to have received from McGrath fairly recently, from which it would appear that the fact that I used Google to dig out and publish sections of an old news article about McGrath has been woven into what appears to me to be a rather bizarre and, dare I say it, delusional series of claims which try to suggest that being ridiculed on teh interwebs by a blogger (Vaughan) amounts to a serious threat to the personal safety of McGrath and his family.

For the record, the material I posted came from the website of the Milton Keynes Citizen getting on for four years ago and its still publicly available to anyone who visits the newspaper’s website.

4)  you have been unwittingly enjoined by the Fourth Defendant to add to, and promote, his on-going libel at his own blog, to which you provide the following link in your post:

http://vjohn821ibelcase.blogspot.com/

Oddly enough, that particular link does not appear anywhere in my original post.

As I recall, I picked up on Vaughan’s situation after someone RT’d one of his tweets and this turned up in my stream, did a bit of background reading and then wrote about Vaughan situation because from what I’d read it seems to me that he was on the wrong end of just the kind of abusive libel action that the ongoing Libel Reform campaign has been trying to put a stop by securing changes in legislation.

Does that count as ‘enjoined’? Not according to a dictionary.

If anything, this looks to me to be an attempt to manufacture a conspiracy where none exists, nor have ever existed, and I think that speaks volumes for the merits of McGrath’s claims against Vaughan.

However, whether witting or unwitting, you repeat, endorse and provide links to on-going libellous material and we must therefore put you on notice that if your webpage and Google cache versions are not removed immediately, with an apology, we shall be forced to consider an action for libel against you at the Royal Courts of Justice.

As McGrath had already got one libel action on the go, you’d think that he’d remember that he’s supposed to give notice of the specific statements that he claims are defamatory and wishes to be removed and not just demand that I take down the entire blog post.

If you publish this letter online as you have threatened to do, then this will merely confirm for us that your collusion with the Fourth defendant is malicious in intent and that will be used against you in the action. In addition, you will be named in any further proceedings against the Fourth Defendant.

Oops…

Seriously, I can see nothing any of the posts I linked to at Vaughan blog that strikes me as libellous and everything contained in my original post is either factually true, and back up with links to the relevant evidence, or a matter of honest opinion.

As for ‘collusion’ with Vaughan – mwahahahahahahahahaha!

I write about stuff that interests me and I’m only writing about this now because Chris hasn’t the sense to leave well alone.

For the record, my personal opinion of this entire sorry incident is that McGrath made a fool of himself by spamming the website of a major book distributor in an effort to promote his own, self-published, book and has since compounded this error by mounting what, in my own personal opinion, is an abusive and vexatious libel action against a critic when his efforts at self promotion backfired.

Vaughan has never once asked to write about this issue, in fact I don’t recall having any contact with him since he posted a comment on my original post back in July, although I have looked in on his blog a couple of times since just to see how he’s getting along, so I do know that he’s hoping that a motion to dismiss McGrath’s case will be heard shortly.

And that’s all there is to it, but – of course – McGrath isn’t finished.

We will do nothing more if the blog is removed with a simple apology and no further comment ever is made by you, or caused to be published by you, about Mr. Christopher McGrath or any of his family, or McG Productions Ltd or any other company associated with Mr. Christopher McGrath or any of his family; to make further comment will be considered malicious in intent and harassment in collusion with the Fourth Defendant. If this letter comes into the possession of the Fourth Defendant now or at any time in the future, we will likewise consider it an act of malice and harassment in collusion with the Fourth Defendant.

No further comment ever, eh?

From experience this is standard operational bullshit in abusive threats of litigation hence the ‘I’m not speaking to you any more’ comments in the next paragraph.

No doubt the existing libel case in question will be decided upon in due course and at that point the public will have the benefit of the full picture, until which time we are unable to comment further. We will not respond to any further communication you make online or offline; we will not respond to any correspondence from you unless and until a legal case is raised against you; and we advise that we have one year from the date of the publication of a libel in which to bring an action against you, if this proves necessary.

We trust, however, that this will be the end of the matter and that we will not have to proceed further.

Having considering McGrath’s blustering response I remain entirely satisfied that the leading authority in matters such as this one is Arkell vs Pressdram and, as such, my response to McGrath’s rambling remain the same at that which I indicated at the conclusion of my original post.

  • I love the “I’m not speaking to you anymore” gambit. It always means the blusterer knows (s)he’s in the wrong .

  • Vaughan Jones

    Are you the Batman to my Robin then? The Del Boy to my Rodney?

    McGrath’s level of paranoia is disturbing me to be honest. On another subject related to all things McGrath, the Police have confirmed that no complaints are on file or have been retained had their been a complaint.

    In other words, his letter referring to a “criminal case” is baloney and should be treated with the contempt that it deserves.

  • Bad Biz 2

    I have been following events here with interest. Indeed – similar to the Osler case. The recent apparent threats to extend this to include other parties might mean we end up with another Smith V ADVFN. And another case of interest –  perhaps Freer V Zeb and others might be similar in some ways to this situation and I recommend that judgement as a great read. In that case never has so much nonsense been written by a claimant in such an entertaining manner. For example – in his particulars of claim.  Looks like Mr McGrath might give Mr Freer a run for his money if he carrys on as he is.

    Anyway – here is an amusing extract from that alleged slander case. (no need to worry about being sued – Mr Freer has already been declared a vexatious litigant and his amusing cases are all in the publice domain)

    Freer V Zeb and others.

    http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2008/212.html&query=freer+and+v&method=boolean

    18)

    The Claimant’s case on this aspect of vicarious
    liability is that the Second and Third Defendant acted within the scope
    of their employment or in an unauthorised way within the scope of their
    employment. In support of his case, the Claimant relied before me
    particularly on what is said in paragraph 7 and 8 of the Particulars of
    Claim in which he alleges:

    7. The convolution of surreptitiousness in which the second and third
    Defendant and entangled themselves became unravelled in the
    circumstances described in claim HQ07X03141, thereby and in any event
    occasioning the vexation and ire of the first Defendant and the second
    Defendants wife and family at the apparent opprobrium that had been
    committed. Accordingly, the Claimant claims that the facts and matters
    of the adulterous relationship between the second and third Defendant
    became exposed to the first Defendant in circumstances that caused the
    first and second Defendant bewilderment from discharging their duties to
    the first Defendant and thereby and in any event adversely affecting
    the first Defendants ability to operate as a business. In order to avoid
    being dismissed from the service of the first Defendant the second and
    third Defendant assumed a confederate plan to temper the situation to
    avoid the consequences of their own actions and in such a way as to
    allow them to continue their affair with impunity and in the knowledge
    that no further suspicion would befall them and/or in any event that any
    further suspicion that may otherwise befall them would be extinguished
    by the effects of the defamation they collaborated to cause the Claimant
    to suffer. ”

     

  • Vaughan Jones

    A brilliant line haha… 

  • You have love these people that make all the legal threats, big fancy words in an attempt to silence the truth and the freedom of speech.

    This is the reason why the Defamation laws are a complete embarrassment to the UK.

    I myself and my family have gone through the trauma of similar accusations, but in the end it has not stopped my use of Freedom of Speech nor never will.

  • Vaughan Jones

    UK defamation law is definitely not one of our best ideas (in its current form). I suspect a lot of people decide to cave in rather than defend owing to the exorbitant costs involved.

    I won’t be caving in. No chance.

  • BadBiz 2

    Indeed – was not defamation law brought in as an alternative to duals at dawn. Fair enough – too many people getting killed but they could have thought of something better. A good old British fist fight in the pub of the local perhaps? Then again I suppose McGrath would complain that you would have a distinct advantage.  Or perhaps an alternative would be a tattoo counting contest. Those with the most right wing tattoos on their torso win the money in the kitty.

    On a serious note I think there has been a change in attitude in the courts over the 3 years – due largely to the Libel Reform Campaign. The courts get most of the cases right nowadays (Singh was one exception and that was corrected) but it still takes too long to arrive at a decision. Some claimants have an amazing ability to string out a worthless court case for years. But god willing (and I really mean that) your case hopefully will mark the beginning of the end for the libel fools who clog up the courts.

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