Sunday, 29 May 2011

South Tyneside Council V The Monkey

For the first time, the American social networking site [Twitter] has bowed to a court action brought by a British group complaining that they were libelled in messages. My comment: The tweeter didn't contest the case leaving Twitter with no option. If the tweeter had contested the case it is likely the outcome would have been very different.

The individuals who brought the legal action were councillors and officials at a local authority, South Tyneside. They launched the case in an attempt to unmask an anonymous whistle-blower who calls himself Mr Monkey. My comment: With Mr Monkey using a pseudonym all they could have obtained from Twitter are the IP addresses and email addresses linked to the Twitter accounts in question. They would still need to link those address to the person behind Mr Monkey. Should they make a mistake and involve an innocent person they could well end up being liable for defamation themselves. 

Mark Stephens, a leading media lawyer who has represented WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange after the US government sought to obtain his Twitter account details, said: “I think it is inappropriate for a local authority to spend money on this kind of exercise. Local authorities cannot sue for libel and, if individual councillors have been defamed, they should take proceedings at their own cost.”

The action is believed to have cost council tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds. My comment: Unconfirmed reports suggest £75,000 so far but the big money together with the big risks for the taxpayer will come when the real legal action starts. No doubt there will also be counter claims from the defendant/s which will further increase the costs and the risks to the taxpayer.]

A council spokesman said: “The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible.”

My comment:  How can it have cost the taxpayer anything if 'individuals' brought the legal action? Surely it is their responsibility to fund their own legal action. The question I would like to ask is what part did the individuals play when the decision to underwrite their legal case was taken by the council?  

In addition only one is a council officer the others named are councillors and as such are not council employees.
The legal action to unmask the culprit was brought by three councillors and one senior official: Ian [Sic] Malcolm, the council’s Labour leader, David Potts, former Conservative group leader who is now an independent, Anne Walsh, a Labour councillor, and Rick O’Farrell, head of enterprise and regeneration. 

Irrespective of the merits of this case I think some external independent scrutiny is urgently needed regarding the risk to the taxpayer. Is anyone in Tyneside a member of the Taxpayer's Alliance or would like to complain to the Audit Commission? One word of warning don't use the Local Government Ombudsman, they are a waste of time and effort.

Readers may be interested to know that a number of years ago an anonymous blogger using the name Tony Parrish caused a similar stir in Liverpool. Liverpool City Council's attempt to identify and take action against the blogger ended up triggering a number of additional 'I am Tony Parrish' blogs which rather defeated the object of the exercise.

Read the full story from the source  The Telegraph

You can read more about the background here.

Read all articles about South Tyneside Council on this blog


  1. I'm sure much will emerge on this in the coming days but on first appraisal this seems deliberate and expensive casemaking and one would have to question the motivation.

    It seems a perverse way of dealing any actual problem

    Mrmonkey seems to be a wordpress blog and I seem to remember WP capitulating immediately to legal threats from Liverpool University regarding Vice-Chancellor Howard Newby's reputation from before he took office.


    NELC tried to take m website down becasue of the picture of monkeys i had on there