Rachel Riley 'vindicated' after winning £50,000 in damages from blogger who claimed she was a 'serial abuser'

16 November 2022, 12:00 | Updated: 16 November 2022, 15:03

Rachel Riley has won £50,000 in damages
Rachel Riley has won £50,000 in damages. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Countdown presenter Rachel Riley has been awarded £50,000 in libel damages from a man who claimed she was a "serial abuser" who had bullied a teenager.

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Ms Riley sued blogger Mike Sivier for the article on his Vox Political website in January 2019 entitled 'Serial abuser Rachel Riley to receive "extra protection" - on grounds that she is receiving abuse'.

The article discussed tweets posted as part of an online debate on antisemitism in the Labour Party, some of which were between Ms Riley and a user who identified herself then as a 16-year-old called Rose, in December 2018 and January 2019.

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A judge previously found that Mr Sivier's article would be read as claiming Ms Riley "engaged upon, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl".

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Ms Riley denied Mr Sivier's allegations.

He defended himself by arguing he had a "reasonable belief" that it was in the public interest to publish the claims in the article.

However, Mrs Justice Steyn ruled in favour of Ms Riley in a damning judgement on Wednesday, granting her the five-figure sum in damages as well as an injunction requiring Mr Sivier to remove the article and not repeat it.

The judge said Mr Sivier had "misrepresented the evidential picture" and that the article was "wholly unbalanced".

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Mrs Justice Steyn said the blogger did not include any references to Ms Riley's denial of the allegation that she had bullied or encouraged the bullying of the 16-year-old and did not give the television presenter a chance to comment.

She said: "It was not reasonable for Mr Sivier to assume, without giving any reason for his belief, that Ms Riley would not comment, rather than provide her with an opportunity to do so.

"The importance of giving Ms Riley an opportunity to comment prior to the publication of the article is particularly evident in light of the numerous matters on which Mr Sivier made assumptions."

Rachel Riley
Rachel Riley. Picture: Getty

Mrs Justice Steyn said: "Whether or not one agrees with the views Ms Riley articulated in her second thread to Rose, Ms Riley expressed herself in a polite and cordial way, providing information to a teenager who had sought to engage with her, and who had said this was a topic about which she was just learning.

"Ms Riley expressed the point that she found it hurtful to be accused of lying and encouraging a smear campaign in restrained and mild terms."

During the trial in July, Mr Sivier's lawyers argued that Ms Riley had a "pre-existing bad reputation" that would affect any harm caused by the article.

However, Mrs Justice Steyn rejected this argument, ruling: "The relevant sector of the claimant's reputation concerns her treatment of children, and in particular whether she has a pre-existing reputation for harassing and abusing them.

Rachel Riley
Rachel Riley. Picture: Getty

"Even if it were established that the claimant has a reputation for being 'highly controversial and offensive', this would not show that she has a bad reputation in the relevant sector."

In January 2021, Mrs Justice Collins Rice struck out all three of Mr Sivier's defences of public interest, truth and honest opinion, finding that they had "no prospect" of succeeding.

However, Mr Sivier won a challenge at the Court of Appeal four months later, finding that his public interest defence should be assessed at a trial.

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In Wednesday's ruling, Mrs Justice Steyn said she had "no hesitation" in finding that "the statement complained of was not only untrue, it was not even arguably true".

She continued: "There has been no retraction, amendment or apology to mitigate the damage to the claimant's reputation or to provide any element of vindication.

"The award of damages, together with this judgment, will have to provide that."

Reacting after the ruling, Ms Riley said she was "very pleased" to have "complete vindication" in the case for Mr Sivier.

"He made very serious accusations which have been shown to be categorically untrue and wholly unreasonable," she said.

She added that Mr Sivier had raised more than £230,000 in crowdfunding to fight the case, claiming that he had taken money from "extremely vulnerable people".

Ms Riley went on: "This is despite my offer for him to pay £1k to a children’s charity and £4k of court fees to settle the matter, which he decided not to disclose during his extensive blogging and grifting.

"In the unlikely event that Sivier pays the £50k the court has awarded, any money I may receive will go to charity as has always been the plan.

"My motivation has always been to combat the lies which has been achieved through due legal process today."

LBC has contacted Mr Sivier for comment.