Rachel Riley and Tracy Ann Oberman drop libel case against barrister
Countdown presenter Rachel Riley and actress Tracy Ann Oberman have withdrawn a High Court libel action against a barrister who shared an article on Twitter which accused them of harassing a teenage Labour supporter.
The pair sued Jane Heybroek after she retweeted a link to a January 2019 blog by Shaun Lawson titled “Beneath Contempt: How Tracy Ann Oberman and Rachel Riley harassed, dogpiled and slandered a 16-year-old child and her father”.
Ms Heybroek, who raised £45,000 through crowdfunding to defend Ms Riley and Ms Oberman’s claim, said in a statement on Wednesday: “I am now able to report that the claim against me has been withdrawn and that Ms Riley and Ms Oberman have agreed to make contributions towards my legal costs.
“I wish to thank everyone who has helped me in the last 18 months – it will not be forgotten.”
She said Mr Lawson’s article had been retweeted or shared by “hundreds of people”, adding: “Some of those people were threatened with legal action like me, others were not.
“Ultimately, despite press reports which suggested as many as 70 people might face legal action, I was the only person who was sued. This was despite the fact that I had deleted my retweet before I had even received letters of claim.
“I am making this statement for the benefit of those who have supported me emotionally and financially, and to address one other issue.
“Ms Riley and Ms Oberman’s vocal stance against anti-Semitism, and perceived anti-Semitism, has been widely documented, as has their involvement in other legal cases.
“This claim, however, did not actually involve any allegations of anti-Semitism against me or indeed Mr Lawson … for my part, I abhor all forms of racism.”
The case came before the High Court earlier this year, when Mr Justice Jay was asked to determine the “natural and ordinary meaning” of the article Ms Heybroek retweeted and whether the article was defamatory of Ms Riley and Ms Oberman.
The judge ruled in May that the meaning of the article – which was that Ms Riley and Ms Oberman “acted outrageously by subjecting a vulnerable 16-year-old girl to repeated harassment and abuse” and had “encouraged others” to do so – was defamatory at common law.
Ms Riley and Ms Oberman’s solicitor Mark Lewis, of Patron Law, said in a statement that his clients “chose not to proceed further after the judge had determined that the opinion expressed was capable of being defamatory, in circumstances where Jane Heybroek claimed that she had promptly deleted her tweet”.
He said: “Their libel insurers each did not see any advantage in pursuing a case over the liability of a retweet that was deleted so quickly.
“There are bigger fish to fry in the pursuit of those who choose to maintain a serious libel.”