Woman loses appeal over Facebook posts about businessman ex-husband

A woman who posted about her ex-husband on Facebook is facing a hefty legal bill after she lost an appeal against a libel judge's ruling.

Nicola Stocker said businessman Ronald Stocker had tried to kill her, during an online exchange with his new partner Deborah Bligh in December 2012.

Mr Stocker, 67, won a libel case against his ex-wife at London's High Court in 2016 after Mr Justice Mitting ruled the comments wrongly painted him as a "dangerous and thoroughly disreputable man".

Ronald Stocker (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Ronald Stocker (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The judge said the libel was "not trivial", and assessed the appropriate compensation at £5,000 - though Mr Stocker did not want a penny.

Mrs Stocker, 50, of Longwick, Buckinghamshire, challenged the judge's ruling at the Appeal Court.

But, after her case was rejected by three senior judges, she will now have to pay a costs bill of about £200,000 from the earlier libel trial, plus any further costs from the appeal.

In a ruling on Monday, Lady Justice Sharp said: "It is unfortunate to say the least that attempts to resolve this litigation, including by mediation, have proved to be unsuccessful."

During the trial, the court heard the allegations about Mr Stocker, of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, were published to 21 individuals who had authorised access to the page.

They were also visible to 110 of Ms Bligh's "friends" and to their Facebook "friends".

Ruling in favour of Mr Stocker, Mr Justice Mitting said a comment on Facebook was the same as a comment posted on an office noticeboard and Mrs Stocker had no right to assume it was private.

The judge found Mr Stocker did "in temper" attempt to silence his ex-wife, but was not satisfied he had threatened to kill her and therefore her comments had a defamatory meaning.

Challenging his decision, Mrs Stocker argued the judge's conclusion on the meaning of her posts was wrong.

She also said he had not applied the correct legal test when deciding whether she had "published" the comments.

But, dismissing her appeal, Lady Justice Sharp said the judge's "made no error" in reaching his decision.

Sitting with Lord Justice McFarlane and Sir John Laws, the judge added: "It seems to me that the various arguments raised for Mrs Stocker tend to divert attention away from some basic points.

"She was the originator of the libel, she was aware that the particular Facebook platform concerned was a semi-public one and she deliberately posted on that platform without thinking about who else might see what she posted."