Publican wins £9,000 for social media libel

Posted: 3rd February 2014

PubA businessman who was viciously lampooned as ‘Mr Toad’ on the Internet after taking over a Cotswold pub has been awarded £9,000 in libel damages.

The businessman had been hit with a torrent of ‘offensive and salacious’ abuse on a Facebook group site set up by a barman who had previously worked at the pub. The two men had fallen out over the management of the 18th Century coaching inn and the group had become a platform for the barman and others to vent their anger and a range of spurious allegations.

The group had been intended to advertise the pub but the barman had offensively re-branded it. It had over 100 members, some of whom had also posted venomous comments about the businessman, who was referred to as ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ and had wholly groundless aspersions cast on his competence, sobriety, sexual behaviour and other attributes.

Although the barman was not the only one to post offending comments, the court found that he was ‘responsible’ for the group and that he had been ‘motivated by malice’. The slurs had caused the businessman substantial embarrassment and reputational damage in the area where he had been born and bred and where he had played for the local cricket team for over 50 years.

Given those factors, the serious nature of the libels and the barman’s malicious motivation, he was ordered to pay £9,000 in damages. The court noted that it would have awarded the businessman double that sum had the barman not belatedly offered an apology.