Who is Chris Packham? Presenter wins libel case over ‘tiger fraud’ allegations

·4-min read
Chris Packham at the Royal Courts of Justice  (Jonathan Brady / PA)
Chris Packham at the Royal Courts of Justice (Jonathan Brady / PA)

After being accused of misleading the public about donations to a wildlife organisation, TV naturalist Chris Packham has won a libel action.

The BBC Springwatch broadcaster filed a lawsuit against three men in response to charges made in nine stories, including that he "manipulated" donors into giving money to save five tigers when he knew the animals were well cared for.

The 62-year-old testified in court that the allegations had made him the "victim of a campaign of vile and relentless intimidation."

In addition, he said that "random dead animals and human faeces" had been brought to him on a regular basis, fueling "a vocal and violent conspiratorial fringe who increasingly post threatening and vile material about me and my family".

He won his case against two of the three men. Both men were ordered to pay £90,000 in damages to the TV presenter.

Who is Chris Packham?

Chris Packham is a BBC Springwatch presenter and TV environmentalist.

He is best known for his conservation work, and is one of the founders of Wild Justice, a not-for-profit group purely funded by donations that takes legal challenges against the Government and its agencies.

He is outspoken in campaigning against HS2, and protested during COP26.

Packham did an undergraduate degree at Southhampton University, where he read zoology.

In 2013, he was made an honorary Doctor of Science by Southhampton University.

He has presented the BAFTA-winning children’s series The Really Wild Show, and has previously talked about his experiences of living with Aspergers Syndrome.

Why was he in court?

He had taken three men to court in a libel claim regarding nine articles.

Allegedly they said he defrauded and “manipulated” people into donating to a charity to rescue tigers, as well as knowing the animals were well looked after.

In addition, Packham was accused of raising money for the charity dishonestly at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, knowing that it was going to receive £500,000 benefit from its insurance.

He went on to deny fraudulently raising money for the charity, saying: “We weren’t hopeful that we would be insured against Covid-19 closures.

“The insurance payments… ultimately saved the sanctuary in what was a time of dire need. But, to be very clear, if we had not launched the fundraising appeal as rapidly as we did, then these payments may have arrived too late to make a difference,” he said.

In videos and tweets, the strongly worded allegations were repeated, focusing on his involvement with the Wildheart Trust, which runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.

On the second day of the trial at the high court in London on Wednesday, he said he was a “victim of a campaign of vile and relentless intimidation”.

In a 50-page witness statement, he said he had received criticism from people who shoot and foxhunt, and has received many threats.

The BBC presenter’s post has been repeatedly stolen, with “random dead animals and human faeces” posted to him, he says.

He said: “I have been accustomed to the plethora of dead animals people leave at my home”.

In October 2021, he claimed “masked attackers” set fire to a car and burned down the gate to his home, with police believing arson was undertaken by paid professionals.

He said he believed the “defendants’ unsubstantiated claims have misled, agitated, and fuelled a vocal and violent conspiratorial fringe who increasingly post threatening and vile material about me and my family”.

The 61-year-old also feared for his and his family’s safety and security.

“I do go to walk my dogs in the woods and wonder: is today the day that a psychopath fuelled by all this hate turns up and kills me? I genuinely no longer expect to live a long life free from violence and intimidation. Because it may only take the one wrong person to read Country Squire Magazine for things to go horribly wrong.”

Packham said the men had “repeatedly picked on and mocked my Asperger’s syndrome” as well as comparing him to Jimmy Savile.

The presenter said these allegations were “totally unconscionable”, adding: “They are ridiculous, utterly unfounded, and plainly designed to be as upsetting, threatening, and reputationally damaging as possible.”

The libel claim was defended by Dominic Wightman, the editor of the online site Country Squire Magazine, as well as Nigel Bean, a writer, and a third man, Paul Read.

Lawyers for Mr Wightman and Mr Bean 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 the site, the magazine has put the case: “To imply publicly that the articles complained of are not factual and in any way represent ‘online abuse or hatred’ is outrageous when the Truth of the articles complained of shall be decided in trial next week.”

Although the judge dismissed his case against Mr Read, he prevailed against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean.