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Chris Packham is ‘Marmite’, libel trial told

Chris Packham has been described as “Marmite” by a blog editor he is suing for libel.

The TV presenter is suing three men over nine articles that included claims he defrauded and “manipulated” people into donating to a charity to rescue five tigers while knowing the animals were well looked after.

The strongly denied allegations, repeated in several tweets and videos, relate to Mr Packham’s involvement with the Wildheart Trust, which runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.

Dominic Wightman, editor of Country Squire Magazine, is defending the libel claim along with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read.

Lawyers for Mr Wightman and Mr Bean have said the articles in the claim could be defended as true, while Mr Read said he was not responsible for the publications as he was a “mere proofreader”.

On Tuesday, Mr Wightman, who works in asset management, gave evidence at the High Court in London.

In his written evidence, he said Mr Packham “dishonestly raised funds from the public by stating that tigers had been rescued from a circus where they had been mistreated, whereas in fact, as the claimant knew, the tigers had been well-treated and had been donated by the circus”.

Mr Wightman continued: “I knew this before posting the articles.

“The claimant knew what he was saying in the crowdfunding videos was untruthful as he was an acting trustee of the Wildheart Trust, to where the tigers were going, when he made these claims in articles, verbally and in front of a camera.”

Giving evidence earlier in the trial, Mr Packham said the five tigers, which had been used in a Spanish circus, had been left in a holding facility before they came into the care of animal welfare group AAP.

They were then moved to the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary as their “forever home”.

Mr Packham said the sanctuary – which he and his partner are trustees of – was part of a “chain of rescue”.

However, on Tuesday, Mr Wightman said: “You’re not rescuing, there’s a loan agreement between Wildheart Trust and AAP.”

In his written evidence, Mr Wightman alleged that Mr Packham “often lies”.

He continued: “I also had it confirmed for me by asking around that the claimant is Marmite.

“Many, especially traditional countrysiders, see him as a dangerous activist who plays to feelings not facts in an attempt to eco chug and threatens their industries and ways of life by twisting the truth.

“Others, including one of my five sisters, thought the claimant was a really nice bloke who saves cuddly animals.”

Mr Packham had previously been accused by Mr Wightman and Mr Bean of forging a death threat he received in a handwritten letter.

However, this allegation was withdrawn during the trial.

In his 10-page witness statement, Mr Wightman also said the libel claim is “at least in part, a fear-derived Slapp”, the acronym for a strategic lawsuit against public participation.

Slapps usually involve wealthy individuals using legal action to try to stop journalists or campaigners from exposing wrongdoing under defamation and privacy laws.

Discussing one of the articles in the claim, Mr Wightman told the court: “This was a public interest story based on hypocrisy.”

He added in his written evidence: “Here was a BBC presenter I saw as being on the public teat who was using his public profile, built to a great extent on the back of our public broadcaster the BBC.

“With his words, tweets and films he was clearly duping Brits, some of whom were no doubt licence fee payers, into paying into a crowdfunder to bring big cats to a zoo from whose financial success his partner monetarily benefitted.”

Mr Wightman denied having an “agenda” or “malice” towards the presenter, calling the suggestion “upsetting”.

During his time in the witness box, Mr Wightman, who has represented himself at earlier stages, described the process of the legal case as “like trying to play football on an ice rink”.