The writer and food blogger Jack Monroe has won a libel action against the Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins and been awarded £24,000 damages, in a row over tweets suggesting Monroe approved of defacing a war memorial during an anti-austerity demonstration in Whitehall.
“I’m going to get horribly drunk,” Monroe said after the victory in the high court, promising to burn the black suit they had worn in court.
“It’s been a horrible, stressful experience and I’m so relieved it’s over. There are six ringbinders full of hateful poisonous messages I received, and I’ve had to read and reread them in the course of all this. I’m so glad I’ll never have to read them again.”
“I just felt I started something and I will have to see it through. It’s taken nearly two years of my life, and I’m just glad it’s over.”
Monroe was not awarded full costs, but, since both legal teams were on a no-win-no-fee basis, Monroe will not have to pay. Hopkins’ side has been ordered to make an interim payment of £107,000 within 28 days. The final costs figure has yet to be assessed.
The judge, Mr Justice Warby, found that Hopkins’ tweets were defamatory and that there had been damage to Monroe’s reputation, “albeit not very serious or grave”.
The case centred on a Twitter exchange in May 2015, in which Hopkins confused two well-known anti-austerity commentators: Monroe and Laurie Penny, a columnist for the New Statesman. Penny had tweeted about a memorial to the women of the second world war in Whitehall having been vandalised with the words “Fuck Tory scum” during an anti-austerity demonstration.
Commenting on the graffiti, Penny tweeted from her account @PennyRed that she “[didn’t] have a problem” with the vandalism as a form of protest, as “the bravery of past generations does not oblige us to be cowed today”.
Hopkins attributed the opinion to Monroe and tweeted to her then account @MsJackMonroe: “Scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?”
When Monroe, who is from an armed forces family, responded furiously and demanded £5,000 for a migrants’ charity on threat of a libel action, Hopkins deleted the original tweet but followed it up with one asking what the difference was between “irritant Penny and social anthrax Monroe”.
Shortly after Hopkins’ original message, Monroe, a contributor to the Guardian, tweeted in response: “I have NEVER ‘scrawled on a memorial’. Brother in the RAF. Dad was a Para in the Falklands. You’re a piece of shit.”
Monroe later sent a second message asking Hopkins to apologise: “Dear @KTHopkins, public apology + £5K to migrant rescue and I won’t sue. It’ll be cheaper for you and v satisfying for me.”
Hopkins deleted the first tweet but shortly afterwards tweeted: “Can someone explain to me – in 10 words or less – the difference between irritant @PennyRed and social anthrax @MsJackMonroe.”
Monroe’s lawyers argued that the second tweet carried an innuendo that Monroe approved or condoned the vandalism, which would cause lasting damage to her reputation. Monroe told the court the exchange had led to abuse from others on Twitter including death threats, and that the affair had been “an 18-month unproductive, devastating nightmare”.
Hopkins did not appear in court, but her lawyers argued that it was “a relatively trivial dispute” that was over in a few hours, and that “no lasting harm, and certainly no serious harm” had been caused to Monroe.
Monroe’s lawyer, Mark Lewis, said after the judgement that Hopkins had obstinately refused to apologise throughout, and had conducted her defence by “slinging as much mud as possible” to hide the false allegation.
“The price of not saying sorry has been very high,” Lewis said. “Hopkins has had to pay out of her own pocket a six-figure sum in damages and costs for a tweet that should have been deleted within minutes as soon as she was told it was wrong. On this occasion, the cost of renting that gob was particularly high.”
Predictably the judgment was rapidly trending on Twitter. Monroe tweeted: “I’ll be writing a longer statement shortly, but for now, to everyone who told me I couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t – I could, I would, I did.”
Monroe originally made an impact with a blog, A Girl Called Jack, sharing recipes created as a single mother caring for a young child on a tiny budget. This led to regular columns in the Guardian, the Huffington Post, and several books.