Friday 19 July 2019

Woman who claimed husband tried to strangle her in Facebook post takes libel appeal to UK's Supreme Court

File photo of Nicola Stocker, who is appealing a libel case she lost to the Supreme Court over posts she made about her ex-husband on Facebook. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
File photo of Nicola Stocker, who is appealing a libel case she lost to the Supreme Court over posts she made about her ex-husband on Facebook. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Sian Harrison

The UK's highest court is set to hear an appeal by a woman who lost a libel case over posts she made about her ex-husband on Facebook.

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

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

Mrs Stocker (51) of Longwick, Buckinghamshire, 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.

File photo of Ronald Stocker, whose ex-wife is appealing a libel case she lost to the Supreme Court over posts she made about her him on Facebook. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
File photo of Ronald Stocker, whose ex-wife is appealing a libel case she lost to the Supreme Court over posts she made about her him on Facebook. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

She is now bringing a legal challenge at the Supreme Court, where her case was being heard by a panel of five justices on Thursday.

Her lawyers will argue the High Court judge was wrong to find Mrs Stocker's comments bore the meaning that her ex-husband had tried to kill her.

They will also contend that the Court of Appeal judges "erred in their approach" to the case.

During the High Court 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.

Dismissing her appeal, Lady Justice Sharp said the judge "made no error" in reaching his decision.

She said: "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."

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