Prominent Brexiteer Arron Banks has dropped half of his libel case against Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who is now appealing for help with her legal costs to continue fighting the claim.
Leave.EU campaign donor Banks is suing Cadwalladr after she accused him of telling lies about his relationship with Russia during a Ted Talk she made in April last year.
In the talk, called “Facebook’s role in Brexit and the threat to democracy”, Cadwalladr said: “And I’m not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian government.”
Banks is also taking legal action over a tweet Cadwalladr posted in June in which she linked to the Ted Talk. She wrote in the tweet: “I say he lied about his contact with Russian govt. Because he did.”
But Banks has now discontinued his High Court claim against another talk made by Cadwalladr in June last year in which she said: “We know that the Russian Government offered money to Arron Banks. And so, there’s still question marks.”
Ruling on the meaning of the words last month, Mr Justice Saini said: “In my judgment, the natural and ordinary meaning of the words was: Mr. Banks has been offered money by the Russians and (by way of inference) that there are substantial grounds to investigate whether he would be willing to accept such funds in violation of prohibitions on foreign electoral funding.”
Banks also dropped his claim against a tweet in which Cadwalladr said an investigation into possible corruption in Italian politics involving Russians was a “mirror image of Arron Banks + Russians”.
Mr Justice Saini had ruled the tweet did “carry a form of factual meaning”.
Cadwalladr told Press Gazette: “It’s very good news that he’s given up with two of [the claims] but it’s just ridiculous that he’s continuing with the other two.
“It just shows how vulnerable all journalists are to threats and intimidation from somebody they had been investigating and reporting on.”
She added that she has made the same claims in the Observer but Banks did not pursue claims against the newspaper, only her personally, even though “most journalists would assume to be safe” when talking online about claims published by a national newspaper.
A group of freedom of expression groups, including Reporters Without Borders, Index on Censorship and the European Federation of Journalists, wrote to Banks after Mr Justice Saini’s judgment on meaning calling on him to drop the “vexatious” case.
They said: “We consider this case to be an example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, as it is vexatious in nature and intended to silence Cadwalladr’s courageous investigative journalism. We call on Banks to drop this abusive lawsuit and cease efforts to stifle public interest reporting.
“We note with concern the abusive approach Banks has taken in targeting Cadwalladr as an individual on the basis of comments she made orally – including a single sentence in a TED talk – and on Twitter, rather than similar reporting that had been published in the Guardian.”
Cadwalladr has today launched a new crowdfunding page to raise funds for her lawyers, who are currently working at a reduced rate. It has already raised more than £8,000.
The Guardian Media Group is not covering her legal costs for the case.
She has previously received donations of more than £300,000 from 10,000 people but has decided to ringfence that money to pay Banks’ legal costs if she loses the case.
If she wins, the money will go towards producing more investigative journalism, Cadwalladr said.
Cadwalladr’s legal team are now preparing her defence to be served to the court. A trial date has yet to be set.
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay and Press Gazette