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Libel lawsuit between Countdown’s Rachel Riley and blogger reaches High Court

A libel row between Countdown co-presenter Rachel Riley and a political blogger over a post alleging she engaged in a ‘campaign of online abuse and harassment’ against a teenager has reached the High Court.

Riley is suing Michael Sivier, who posted an article on his Vox Political website on January 26, 2019 with the headline “Serial abuser Rachel Riley to be given ‘extra protection’ – on grounds she is facing abuse.”

The article dealt with tweets posted as part of an online debate about anti-Semitism in the Labor Party, some of which had been exchanged between Riley and a user, who identified herself as a 16-year-old named Rose , in December 2018 and January 2019. .

Riley, left, is co-presenter of Countdown (Rachel Joseph/Channel 4/PA)

(PA Media)

A judge had previously ruled that Mr Sivier’s article would read as claiming that Ms Riley ‘engaged, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl’, allegations denied by Riley.

The blogger defends the allegation, arguing that he had a “reasonable belief” that it was in the public interest to publish the claims in the article.

At the High Court in London on Monday, Riley said the number of abuses she had suffered had increased significantly since January 9, 2019.

She said, “That’s when the floodgates opened. I changed my Twitter settings after this week because it was so awful.

She continued: “It was a whole slew of abuse that I was getting, that Channel 4 was getting.”

David Mitchell, for Mr. Sivier, later accused Riley of having a double standard.

He said: “When it comes to your political opponents… You can accuse them of anti-Semitism or whatever you see fit, but those standards don’t apply to you or anyone you consider your allies. policies.

A judge previously ruled that Mr Sivier’s article would read as claiming that Ms Riley “engaged in, supported and encouraged a campaign of online abuse and harassment of a 16-year-old girl”, allegations denied by Riley (PA)

(PA Archive)

Riley said the claim was “absurd”, adding: “When someone is not anti-Semitic, it is not a double standard to say that they are not anti-Semitic”.

Mr Mitchell also argued that Riley had provided no evidence to show that she had suffered serious harm related to the article.

The lawyer said in written submissions: ‘The plaintiff has a reputation for being very controversial and offensive.

“It is denied that the defendant’s publication could have caused or tended to seriously damage this reputation.”

However, John Stables, for Riley, said the allegations released by Mr Sivier caused serious harm to Ms Riley.

“Given the seriousness of the allegations against the plaintiff and the extent of their publication, the objectively ascertainable harm caused by the defendant’s publication is so great that it easily exceeds the threshold of serious harm,” he said. he stated in written submissions.

A decision is expected at a later date (PA)

(PA Archive)

Mr. Sivier initially defended the defamation action on the basis of truth and honest opinion as well as public interest.

In January 2021, Judge Collins Rice struck out Mr. Sivier’s three defenses, saying they had “no prospect” of succeeding at a full trial.

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

The trial before Judge Steyn is due to conclude later this week, with a decision expected at a later date.