Supreme Court to rule on woman’s libel battle over Facebook posts
The UK’s highest court is set to rule on the case of a woman who lost a libel battle over Facebook posts about her ex-husband.
Nicola Stocker said businessman Ronald Stocker had “tried to strangle” her, during an online exchange with his new partner, Deborah Bligh, in December 2012.
Mr Stocker, 68, won a court battle against his ex-wife at London’s High Court after Mr Justice Mitting found that those reading the comments would think she meant he had “tried to kill” her.
After the Court of Appeal upheld that ruling, Mrs Stocker, 51, of Longwick, Buckinghamshire, took her case to the Supreme Court – where a panel of five judges will give their ruling on Wednesday.
Outlining Mrs Stocker’s case at a hearing in January, her barrister David Price QC said the appeal raises issues of general importance for defamation claims.
He told the Supreme Court: “The appellant is an individual with no interest in the law of defamation other than the ultimate outcome of this claim and the hope that it might assist others who find themselves in a similar position.”
Mr Price added: “The phrase ‘tried to strangle’ is a common way of describing an assault involving a constriction of the neck or throat where the victim is alive.
“The phrase does not convey an intent to kill in ordinary language or in relevant criminal offences.”
Lawyers for Mr Stocker, of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, argued that Mr Justice Mitting reached the right conclusion and urged the judges to dismiss the appeal.
During the High Court trial in 2016, the court heard that the allegations 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 had 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 that 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.
He said the libel was “not trivial”, and assessed the appropriate compensation at £5,000 – though Mr Stocker did not want any money.
Mrs Stocker previously challenged the judge’s ruling at the Court of Appeal.
But she was left facing a hefty legal bill after her case was rejected by three senior judges in February last year.