THE MADELEINE FOUNDATION and 3 LIBEL ACTIONS
Statement by Tony Bennett, Secretary, 9pm, 3 December 2011
Brian Kennedy’s concerns that I had libelled him have now been settled on terms acceptable to both parties. No court order or undertaking is involved and I did not pay any of Mr Kennedy’s costs.
In Thursday’s post (1 December), I received a costs estimate (as per High Court procedures) of the likely costs incurred by Edward Smethurst if he pursues his libel claim against me, assuming I continue to defend his claim. I would be liable to pay all those costs if I lose (i.e. if the court holds that any one of my statements about him on Jill's forum libelled him).
In their letter, Carter-Ruck say that Smethurst's costs to date are £28,390 and that his future costs, assuming a three-day libel trial, will be £143,086.50, making the total £171,476.50.
This is based, as set out in a 10-page document, on much of the legal work being done by a Senior Partner at Carter-Ruck who charges £562.50 an hour for his time (inclusive of VAT).
Faced with such huge costs, I clearly must think carefully about my options in advance of a Case Management and Costs Management hearing in the High Court next Wednesday.
At 6.20pm the same day (Thursday), a process server employed by Carter-Ruck came up to Chippingfield in a ‘Godfather’-style limousine, driven by another person, and handed me a large and heavy cardboard box, measuring 16" x 14" x 12" (40cm x 35cm x 30cm for those who do metric), containing 5 huge ring binders of statements on behalf of the McCanns, and accompanying evidence. These contained over 3,000 pages in total, mostly photocopies of my articles on the Madeleine Foundation website and several dozen postings on Jill Havern’s site. The cardboard box was of exceptional quality, while these were no ordinary lever arch files. They were beautifully finished in the attractive Oxford blue livery of Carter-Ruck, complete with their logo and full contact details.
There was also a summons to attend the Royal Courts of Justice to be committed to prison for contempt of court (alternative remedies being a suspended prison sentence, a fine, or seizure of assets, or any combination of these). The case has been listed for a hearing before a judge on Wednesday 8 February. The summons alleges a wholesale breach of one of the four undertakings I gave to the High Court on 25 November 2009, namely not to libel the McCanns.
I intend to defend the McCanns’ application. Arguably, as I have already been advised by one local lawyer, the undertaking I gave in 2009 was too ‘sweeping’ and should either be modified or even withdrawn, given that it amounts virtually to an undertaking to say nothing about the case ever again. The lawyer also suggested it was given under oppressive circumstances, a matter I have already raised under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights with the European Commission on Human Rights, which is currently looking into my claim that the way British laws allows wealthy libel litigants to get their way over defendants who cannot hope to match their financial and legal resources amounts to a breach of human rights. The government has promised to rectify this manifestly unjust situation as a result of a successful campaign by the Libel Reform Campaign.
Included amongst the papers is an 84-paragraph, 27-page affidavit sworn by Senior Partner at Carter-Ruck, Isabel Hudson. I can reproduce parts of that affidavit, but not those parts that include extracts of my disputed articles and postings. We’ll therefore display a redacted version of it on our website.
In Paragraph 58 of her affidavit, Ms Hudson states that a letter sent by myself to Carter-Ruck on 8 June 2011 prompted the McCanns to say “enough is enough”. The McCanns and Carter-Ruck then began what Ms Hudson says in Paragraph 65 was “a painstaking and time-consuming process” of analysing as many postings of mine as they could find on Jillhavern’s forum, to see how many might be construed as libellous. They think that around 50-60 of my 3,700 posts on the forum might breach my undertaking, while the other 3,640-3,650 apparently do not. That explains why, as the forum-owner will confirm, Carter-Ruck have spent literally hundreds of hours on this forum in the past few months, searching for potentially libellous comments, in order to bolster their application to commit me to prison. The forum-owner’s logs record the precise time and length of each visit by Carter-Ruck.
There is a reference to all of this in Dr Kate McCann’s book: ‘madeleine’. She wrote (pp. 289-290):
“Adam Tudor and his colleague Isabel Hudson continue to do a vast amount of work for us, without payment, most of it quietly, behind the scenes”.
To have spent hundreds of hours on Jill Havern’s forum for the past few months ‘painstakingly and time-consumingly’searching, and searching, for possible libels, without any payment whatsoever, would indeed be regarded by many people as an act of very great generosity.
I cannot conclude this statement without giving an honourable mention to Mr Mike Gunnill of Kent, a past member of Jill Havern’s forum, and, for all I know, a present one, under one of his many personas, aliases, and ‘socks’. Mike Gunnill, it may be recalled, was the photojournalist who took the photograph of Debbie Butler (near whom he lives), used by the Sunday Express alongside their front-page headline: ‘The McCanns’ Stalker’ on 16 August 2009. His website at the time was remarkable for including over 100 photos he took at the gruesome ‘House of Horror’, Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey, scene of decades of child abuse and possibly even child murders by depraved paedophiles. Some on this forum may recall how Gunnill e-mailed me in January 2010 under one of his many pseudonyms, ‘Michael Sangerte’, claiming he lived in ‘Berkshire’, asking to buy a copy of ‘60 Reasons’ (other names used by Gunnill in previous correspondence with me (before I knew his real identity) were Jason Peters and Peter Tarwin).
I refused. He then wrote me a further begging letter stating that he really wanted an original copy of ‘60 Reasons’ because of his ‘historical research’, adding that he was ‘willing to pay a high price’ for a copy. I then offered to obtain a copy belonging to a close relative and asked him to send £5 including postage, which he did. He asked me to send the book to Michael Sangerte - not in Berkshire, but at an address in Kent. Subsequent enquiries showed that this was Mike Gunnill’s home near Maidstone, Kent. The very day after the book was sent to him, he bragged on a McCann-believer forum that he had obtained a copy of ‘60 Reasons’ and had already sent it to Carter-Ruck, who were apparently ‘delighted’ to receive it. He later openly stated on that same forum that he was being employed ‘on a mission’.
This, however, is how this incident is reported in Isabel Hudson’s affidavit, paragraph 37:
“We continued to monitor the situation, and in early February 2010 we received evidence (again from a well-wisher) which suggested that the Defendant had sold at least one further copy of the ‘60 Reasons’ booklet (one of the publications specifically complained about in the libel claim form which had been issued for the purpose of obtaining undertakings to the court)…I exhibit a copy of the e-mail thread between this well-wisher and the defendant (which should be read from top to bottom) at page 26 of Exhibit IJH5”.
To deal with these two separate court actions will require a great deal of time and attention. For that reason, and for other reasons, I have decided not to contribute any further postings to the publicly-viewable part this forum until at least these two sets of court proceedings are concluded. Depending on the outcome of those two court cases, I will then consider my position in relation to whether or not to rejoin in any public discussions in the future (or even whether the court will allow me to). In the meantime, and subject as always to the consent of the forum-owner, I shall continue to remain a member of the forum and to contribute where I can to those parts of the forum which are not publicly-viewable.
This withdrawal, whether temporary or permanent, comes at a time when Jill Havern’s forum has remained the most visited Madeleine McCann discussion forum on the internet for the past four months, and its membership has grown to nearly 1,500 members. Very informative discussions are taking place on the forum, to which many contribute.
As Clarence Mitchell himself said nearly a year ago, even the McCanns admit that Madeleine’s abduction is but ‘an assumption’ or a ‘working hypothesis’. Moreover, despite over four years of searching, using private investigators that have cost the McCann Team millions of pounds, the McCann Team are still unable to give us one single usable piece of information about who is supposed to have abducted her, and, if she was abducted, where she was taken. Nor do we really know which of 18 suspects, ‘persons of interest’ and ‘people we wish to eliminate from our enquiries’ (two of whom are women) we are supposed to still be looking out for.
In those circumstances I wish all of you on here committed to discussing what happened to Madeleine every success in getting ever closer to the truth.