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  1. Media Law
March 12, 2024

Phillip Schofield friend wins £90k damages from news site over false grooming claim

Politicalite's editor sent inflammatory emails to Simon Schofield's solicitors and then did not engage in the case.

By Charlotte Tobitt

A friend of Phillip Schofield has won £90,000 in damages from a news site that wrongly accused him of “grooming”.

Simon Schofield, an actor and producer who is not related to TV presenter Phillip Schofield, successfully brought a claim for defamation, malicious falsehood and misuse of private information against Politicalite and its publisher and editor-in-chief Jordan James Kendall.

Politicalite published a story in September 2022 headlined: “EXCLUSIVE: Phillip Schofield and best pal Simon ‘groomed’ [X], claim Telly insiders.” The public judgment has removed the name originally published in the headline.

Politicalite reshared the article in May 2023 and again in June after news broke that Phillip had been having an affair with a younger colleague.

The article, according to a judgment published on Monday, wrongly alleged that Simon Schofield was “involved in grooming children and/or young people” and that he “uses his position in the theatre and entertainment industry as a means of building relationships with children or young adults for the purposes of manipulating, exploiting or abusing them”.

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Mrs Justice Steyn said: “Those allegations are untrue and seriously defamatory of the claimant.”

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Politicalite editor: ‘Bring it on! See you in court’

Simon Schofield said the article caused him “serious harm” and affected his reputation. He said Live Nation pulled funding of around £55,000 from his theatrical production The Barricade Boys, while a production he had booked with Celebrity Cruises worth around $4,000 (£3,127) was cancelled as a result of the article.

He said he was “struggling to come to terms with” the idea that the damage done may be irreparable and said that at his lowest he stopped leaving the house. It also impacted his wife, he said, who was targeted with anonymous phone calls accusing her of being “the wife of a child groomer”.

He added that the article had a “profoundly damaging” impact on his relationship with Phillip, his friend of more than 20 years, as they feel they can no longer be seen in public together for fear of further false allegations being made about them.

Simon Schofield first complained in a letter from his solicitors on 8 June 2023, four days after the article was shared on Twitter for a third time and given a “prime spot” on the website. He asked for the giving of an undertaking and apology, the making of a statement in open court, and payment of £3,500 legal costs, but no payment of damages.

Kendall replied in three emails in the space of four minutes that afternoon, writing: “Bring it on! See you in court.”

Then: “You pay us £3,500 and we’ll take it down, how does that sound?”

And finally: “Nonce enablers.”

The article was eventually taken down on 29 June 2023 after Simon Schofield’s solicitors wrote to say he would bring proceedings if he did not receive the resolution proposed previously. They then said removal of the article was “far from sufficient to rectify the damage”.

Kendall did not respond so on 3 August a claim form and particulars of the claim were served. Half an hour later he sent a further three emails, again in the space of four minutes, saying: “Stop emailing me spam, or we’ll re-upload the article and publish new details about your client. This will be our next steps.”

The second email read: “Your [sic] not getting a penny from us, so keep sending your spam, it will be marked in our spam folder. NONCE.”

Thirdly he wrote: “Thanks for the correspondence, the article and truthful claims are now back online. [Article link].” The article remained online for up to a further two days.

Phillip Schofield-linked headline was ‘obviously defamatory’

Kendall stopped engaging in the case and missed the deadline to file an acknowledgement of service or defence. Simon Schofield applied for default judgment in September and in November this was granted by a High Court judge. A hearing to determine the level of damages was then held in February.

Mrs Justice Steyn said the headline was “obviously defamatory”.

She said that “imputing that the claimant is guilty of complicity in child grooming… and that he has actively used his position to manipulate, exploit or abuse children and young people, is inherently very serious”.

The judge noted that if the libel had been published in a national newspaper “an award of £250,000 or more could easily have been justified”.

However, Politicalite is a small website so publication had been “very limited”, albeit “life-changing”. Around £40,000 in damages may be more appropriate, Mrs Justice Steyn said.

The judge estimated that readership of the article is likely to have been somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 people given the website said on 19 July it had been shared 4,300 times as well as the public statistics for the three Twitter posts, and the public interest in Phillip Schofield from May 2023.

However, she also analysed the “percolation effect” of other people sharing the article via links and screenshots to discuss the allegations, with examples of tweets and Youtube videos provided by the claimant.

Mrs Justice Steyn said the extent of the publication “increased exponentially” as a result and the allegations remain accessible even though the original article has been taken down.

The “damage and distress caused to the claimant has been seriously exacerbated by the aggravating conduct of the defendants,” the judge added, pointing to the fact Simon was not contacted before publication and to the emails sent by Kendall and the fact he republished the article and then did not engage in the case.

Mrs Justice Steyn therefore found that £90,000 was an appropriate level of damages to “compensate for the injury to reputation, and to feelings, and to ensure adequate vindication in respect of these serious allegations”.

The judge also ordered Politicalite and Kendall to pay £35,000 in legal costs and to publish a summary of the judgment. She also granted an injunction against republishing the false allegations.

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