Chris Packham wins libel claim over ‘tiger fraud’ allegations
Chris Packham has won his High Court libel claim over denied allegations he misled the public into donating to a wildlife charity to rescue “broken” tigers from a circus.
The TV naturalist sued three men for libel over nine articles which included claims he “manipulated” people into donating to rescue five tigers while knowing the animals were well looked after.
The strongly denied allegations, repeated in several tweets and videos, related to Mr Packham’s involvement with the Wildheart Trust, which runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.
Dominic Wightman, editor of the online site Country Squire Magazine, defended the libel claim along with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read.
In a judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Saini ruled in Mr Packham’s favour against against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, but dismissed his claim against Mr Read.
He said: “Mr Packham did not commit any acts of fraud or dishonesty.”
Mr Wightman and Mr Bean were ordered to pay £90,000 in damages to the TV presenter.
While the environmentalist’s total costs bill is yet to be finalised, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean were also ordered to pay £400,000 towards Mr Packham’s legal fees within 28 days.
During the trial earlier this month, lawyers for Mr Wightman and Mr Bean had 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”.
Mr Justice Saini said that Mr Wightman and Mr Bean “fail to come even close to establishing the substantial truth” of the allegation Mr Packham defrauded anyone.
“The approach revealed by the evidence is that rather than approaching the task with an investigative mind, these defendants targeted Mr Packham as a person against whom they had an agenda.”
Mr Packham was also accused of dishonestly raising money for the charity at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic while knowing it was due to receive a £500,000 benefit from its insurance.
Mr Justice Saini said the allegation was “gratuitously thrown in” as part of “increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing” of the presenter.
Mr Packham’s barrister Jonathan Price – who once described the allegations as “tiger fraud” – previously told the High Court in London that some of the articles accused the presenter of having an “obvious nastiness” and playing the “Asperger’s victim card”.
In his written evidence, the 62-year-old presenter said he fears for his and his family’s security.
He added: “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.”
In his ruling, Mr Justice Saini said that Mr Wightman and Mr Bean had “used this litigation as a device to introduce offensive material to smear Mr Packham”.
He added: “As is clear on the face of the articles that followed the letter of claim, the tone descended into sinister threats and outright vitriol, including offensive references to Mr Packham’s neurodiversity, and abuse of (solicitors) Leigh Day.
“These were not the product of any acts of responsible journalism.”
Dismissing Mr Packham’s third claim, the judge found that Mr Read “had no editorial or equivalent responsibility for the statements complained of or the decision to publish them”.
Mr Justice Saini also said that Mr Read’s retweeting of the articles did not cause Mr Packham “serious harm”.