Jury retires in defamation case between British caver and Elon Musk

The jury has retired to consider its verdict in the defamation case involving Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and a British cave explorer.

Vernon Unsworth, 64, is suing the billionaire tech entrepreneur after he called him “pedo guy” and “sus” (suspicious) on Twitter.

The two men were involved in a spat over the Thai cave rescue in July 2018.

Judge Stephen Wilson sent the jury inside a federal court in California to consider their verdict on Friday afternoon.

Vernon Unsworth
Vernon Unsworth

Earlier, the court heard the closing arguments from lawyers representing both men.

Mr Unsworth was seated opposite Mr Musk, 48, while his lawyer told the court the billionaire’s tweet dropped a “nuclear bomb” on his life.

Lin Wood said the “fallout” from the spat would affect Mr Unsworth for the rest of his life.

His relationships, his friendships and his jobs would all be coloured by Mr Musk’s tweet, Mr Wood said.

Mr Wood, at times standing within touching distance of Mr Musk, described the billionaire as a “liar” who was attempting to deceive the jury.

Mr Wood also suggested to the jury they should award Mr Unsworth punitive damages of 150 million US dollars (£114 million), assumed damages of 35 million US dollars (£26.6 million) and actual damages of five million US dollars (£3.8 million) should they find Mr Musk guilty of defamation.

Mr Unsworth’s reaction to Mr Musk’s offer of help during the July 2018 Thai cave rescue sparked the spat between the two men.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, second from righ
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, second from righ

In an interview with CNN, Mr Unsworth, 64, said Mr Musk, 48, could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

During his closing statement, Mr Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro accused Mr Unsworth of having “harsh contempt” for Mr Musk and using “violent language”.

He said: “They should stop trying to monetise the kids in that cave.”

Mr Spiro described Mr Wood’s “nuclear bomb” analogy as “hyperbole”.

He said: “There is no bomb. No bomb went off. There is no lifetime sentence without parole.”

Mr Spiro added: “He’s always wanted to be the highest paid guy in the rescue.”

Mr Musk’s defence argue “pedo guy” was a playground insult and not an allegation of being a paedophile.

Mr Spiro said if people had received “pedo guy” as an allegation, he would have been shunned by society, instead of meeting politicians, invited to speak at events and awarded an MBE.

Instead, there has been “not one” person to say they interpreted Mr Musk’s tweet as an allegation, Mr Spiro said.

“This was obviously an opinion, an insult, not a statement accusing you of a crime. No responsible reader would conclude you were accused of a sexual act of a child.”

“It was a jape,” Mr Spiro added.