Chris Packham wins libel case against two men over false tiger donation accusations

25 May 2023, 13:28

Chris Packham won the court case agains two men, while a third claim was dismissed
Chris Packham won the court case agains two men, while a third claim was dismissed. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Springwatch star Chris Packham has won a High Court libel case over claims he misled the public into donating to a wildlife charity so "broken" tigers could be rescued from circuses.

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The presenter sued three men for libel over nine articles which said he had "manipulated" people into donating to save five tigers but knew the animals were being looked after.

He strongly denied the claims, which were also repeated in tweets and videos, about his involvement with the Wildheart Trust, which runs a sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.

The editor of online site Country Squire Magazine, Dominic Wightman, defended the claim with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read.

Mr Justice Saini ruled in favour of Mr Packham's claims against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean on Thursday, but dismissed the claim against Mr Read.

"Mr Packham did not commit any acts of fraud or dishonesty," he ruled.

He wrote in his judgement: "In short, Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth.

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Mr Packham won his libel claims against two men
Mr Packham won his libel claims against two men. Picture: Alamy

"There was no fraud of any type committed by him in making the fundraising statements."

The two men will have to pay £90,000 in damages to Mr Packham.

Speaking outside court, Mr Packham said: "Every day many thousands of innocent people are victims of online abuse and hate crimes.

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"This can be racially, religiously or politically motivated. It can be generated in regard to gender politics, environmental beliefs, body shaming.

"This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples' educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives.

"As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us from such hate - something that must change.

Chris Packham won his claims against two people who edit or write on an online title
Chris Packham won his claims against two people who edit or write on an online title. Picture: Alamy

"The current governments 'Online Safety Bill' is plodding along. In the meantime a tiny minority of victims are able to take civil action."

The judge said Mr Wightman and Mr Bean failed to come "even close to establishing the substantial truth" of the allegation Mr Packham defrauded anyone over the tigers.

"They did not merely allege in the publications that there was some lack of care or negligence on the part of Mr Packham when he made statements about where the tigers had come from or as to their earlier lives," he said.

"Nor did they suggest merely a careless lack of precision by Mr Packham in which he stated or implied the tigers were being kept in cramped conditions... (they) went straight for the most serious allegations of actual fraud and dishonesty."

"However, the agenda adopted by [Mr Wightman and Mr Bean] meant that they approached what might be facts suggesting, at the very highest, that questions might be asked about the accuracy of the fundraising statements, as proving fraud and dishonesty on the part of Mr Packham."

The judge went on: "Any investigative journalism quickly gave way, in the fifth and following articles, to increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing of Mr Packham, with further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and the trust's insurance gratuitously thrown in."

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