Court awards £70,000 to head teacher for injury to feelings following an internet attack on her reputation

11 August 2015

In the recent case of (1) CALLIOPE TARDIOS (2) ST JOHN'S PREPARATORY & SENIOR SCHOOL LTD v PAMELA LINTON (AKA PATRICIA CARPENTER) (2015), the High Court of Justice assessed damages in a defamation claim brought by the first claimant head teacher and second claimant independent junior school against the defendant parent.

Following a dispute with the school the defendant had published an online petition under a false name and address calling for the resignation of the first claimant as head of the school. The petition wrongly accused the first claimant, amongst other things, of the unacceptable treatment and bullying of the children in her care, of being ethically and morally offensive and of causing the children in her care psychological and mental harm. The claimants brought a claim for damages for libel and produced evidence to show that the defendant was the same person who had published the libel and joined her to the case under her real name.

The court found that the words complained of were plainly defamatory. It was self-evident that the allegations had a high level of seriousness and the effect of the words was that no decent parent who had heard the allegations would consider the first claimant fit to be a head teacher or send their child to the school. The number of readers was substantial and consisted of people who would either have a connection to the school or were interested in sending their children there. In relation to the claim for injury to the feelings of the first claimant, the petition was seriously critical, especially in its allegations of bullying, and had caused the first claimant significant distress.

Any award made should be compensatory rather than punitive. The libel was of great seriousness but was not a case of the utmost severity. However, it was severe, and there were extraordinary aggravating factors due to the defendant's continuing refusal to admit her identity. An award of £70,000 was made for injury to feelings.

Unlike a human being, a company had no feelings and could only claim for injury to reputation. The second claimant had suffered serious damage to its reputation and some loss of business. The damages awarded for damage to its business should be a large enough vindicatory award to serve as a future rebuttal of the allegations and should be £25,000.

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