Scottish nationalist MP Joanna Cherry sent a letter to River City actor David Paisley demanding he pay £2,500 after he posted tweets questioning her views on trans issues.
The ‘gender critical’ Cherry had come under scrutiny from Paisley in November after she made a donation to a crowdfunder backed by anti-trans pressure group Fair Cop, seeking to challenge the enforcement of hate crime laws.
Paisley had asked: “Why is [Joanna Cherry] funding a self confessed hate group that says #SayYesToHate?”
The MP did not respond to his question. However, on Sunday (21 February), Herald Scotland reported that Cherry had sent a legal letter to Paisley over the tweet, demanding he retract the message and pay her £500 in damages and £2,000 in legal costs.
Legal threats caused ‘stress and anxiety’ for David Paisley
Paisley, a vocal supporter of trans rights, said in a statement: “Receiving threats of legal action had a really profound impact on me, especially when it comes from someone in a position of influence and power. Financially I wouldn’t have been able to defend myself and would risk bankruptcy and losing my home.
“That’s quite terrifying when you work in an insecure profession like the arts, especially given complaints were made to my employer and I now worry about future employment.
“My mental health was quite badly impacted, and I’ve had to reach out for support – the stress and anxiety caused by the threat to my livelihood left me struggling to cope.”
The charity Scottish PEN has supported Paisley, adding: “[We hold] that reasonable questions should be asked of elected representatives when in the public interest, without fear of legal action.
“We find these threats to be disproportionate and deeply troubling. While defamation law serves to protect against unjust harm to reputation, it should be not be used by those in positions of power as a means of silencing fair comment or criticism. This approach risks creating a chilling effect on broader attempts to hold power to account.”
Letter published after Joanna Cherry claims story is inaccurate
Following the Herald‘s initial report, Cherry proceeded to claim that suggestions she had taken “legal action” were inaccurate, tweeting: “Disappointing journalism from Herald Scotland. I have not lodged a defamation action against anyone.
“However like anyone else I am entitled to call out lies about me particularly when they endanger my personal safety and that of my loved ones.”
After the denial, Paisley published a letter from Cherry’s lawyers demanding a monetary settlement, adding: “I have no option but to share these legal threats in the public interest. Elected representatives should not issue legal threats to silence those asking legitimate questions.”
Joanna Cherry QC has claimed that "there is no legal action".This is dishonest, I have no option but to share these legal threats in the public interest.Elected representatives should not mislead the public, or issue legal threats to silence those asking legitimate questions. pic.twitter.com/LzddqnJa34— David Paisley (@DavidPaisley) February 21, 2021
The letter argues that Paisley unfairly “conflated” Cherry’s backing for the campaign, set up by Fair Cop activist Sarah Phillimore and enthusiastically promoted by the group, with support for Fair Cop itself.
It says: “Our client requires you to remove the tweet, to publicly apologise to Ms Cherry QC MP, and to make a donation of £500 to a charity of our client’s choice.
“Our client has additionally incurred legal fees of £2,000 (excl. VAT), which have necessarily been incurred in responding to your defamatory tweet. Our client requires you to pay these costs.
“If this action is taken, our client does not consider it necessary to take further action regarding your defamatory tweet.”
Cherry’s supporters have since continued to argue that that the letter does not technically constitute “legal action” because her lawyers have not lodged a claim in court.
The MP insisted: “Individuals including MPs are entitled to take steps to protect their rights and reputations when people tell lies about them.
“Defamatory claims about my position on trans rights by the likes of the actor in question and others have effectively put a target on my back and led to online abuse and threats of sexual violence which are now the subject of criminal charges.
“In the circumstances I am wholly within my rights to take steps to protect my reputation and my personal safety. My partner and I have been through hell with all of this and we would appreciate being left in peace for a while.”
Cherry has engaged in multiple spats over trans issues, and has previously threatened legal action against a former partner of a fellow SNP MP, according to the Herald.
She also demanded internal action against her own party’s LGBT+ wing earlier this month over what she claimed was a “grossly defamatory” tweet challenging her views on trans issues.
The MP was sacked from the SNP’s front bench earlier this month, just days after Nicola Sturgeon vowed to adopt a zero-tolerance stance for transphobia within the party.
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