Chris Packham’s lawyer Leigh Day has contacted us to say he plans to sue us over a Facebook post and an article on FieldsportsChannel.tv. Below is a timeline of the correspondence between us and Leigh Day, which we will keep updated as it happens.
Email, Friday 20 January 2023, 12.35pm
To: the directors of Fielsports Channel Ltd
Dear Mr Jacoby, Mr Westbrook and Mr Wright,
Please find attached a letter before action of today’s date.
You may wish to take independent legal advice on the contents of this letter.
We note that the publications that are the subject of this letter contain a broken hyperlink to what is said to be the “full story” at Fcha.nl/packhamdeaththreat. Please confirm what was published at that link
We look forward to your response within 14 days.
Peter Higham, Trainee Solicitor to Tessa Gregory
Document attached to email
Charlie Jacoby rang them immediately. Apparently, the Leigh Day solicitor was ‘out’ that Friday. Following an email reminder to Rachael Kirk, Charlie Jacoby was able to speak to Tessa Gregory at Leigh Day on the Monday. He explained what he planned to email her, and expressed surprise at Chris Packham resorting to solicitors before asking Fieldsports Channel to take down the two posts he doesn’t like. In a spirit of cooperation, and until the matter is resolved or sooner, Fieldsports Channel switches off public access to those two posts.
Email, Monday 23 January 2023, 3.03pm
To: Tessa Gregory, Leigh Day
Thanks for the chat. To run through what we talked about, sadly we can’t afford a lawyer so will do what you ask to the best of our ability.
You asked for:
- Cash. That’s really up to you and a court.
- Us to take down the two URLs. We have done that, and we can decide whether or not to keep them down once you are happy.
- An apology. That’s fine – if we can come up with some wording. You will have to accept that we are a media organisation, so we can’t lie because our audience won’t believe us. The best way to achieve ‘sufficient prominence’ – and what might work for Chris – is for him to record a piece with us where he buries these allegations (such as the ones in The Times newspaper etc). Would you or he like to come up with a format for that? i.e. an interview with me where he writes out something and the audience can see the handwriting is different, leading to me apologising? And maybe he would like to use the piece to go further and talk about attacks on people around him. I know he has posted about that in the past.
- We both agree to obey the law. That’s fine – happy with that.
- More cash. See point one. I should add that up to now, everyone who doesn’t like something we have published about them has asked us to take it down. As I said in my call to you, running up legal costs by asking a solicitor to send a letter is unnecessary – but I suppose that’s Chris’s decision not yours. Perhaps you could remember it as advice for clients in the future.
Let me know what you would like to do. I am in London on Weds and possibly Thurs, if you would like me to pop in and talk about this.
I have copied James and David. I also copied Ben because I think you have been in contact with him, too. Please let me know if there is anyone else whom you have contacted about this.
Email, Wednesday 25 January 2023, 4.59pm
Dear Mr Jacoby, Mr Westbrook and Mr Wright
Please find attached a letter of today’s date, a statement for Fieldsports Channel Ltd to publish and our client account details.
The pdf of our client account details is password protected in the interest of security. We would be grateful if you could provide a phone number to call in order to give you the password.
We look forward to your response.
Peter Higham, Trainee Solicitor to Tessa Gregory
Documents attached to email
There then followed a short correspondence about whether or not Leigh Day were able to supply the password to a third document it had sent Fieldsports Channel. Leigh Day insisted it had to telephone the password to Charlie. By the end of that weekend, trainee solicitor Peter Higham had not done that. It arrived by text on 30 January 2023 at 3.37pm.
Email, Sunday 29 January 2023, 11pm
This is your legal action and what I say here need have no effect on what you will do, but I think the first thing I should beg you to do is to try to keep it out of the courts. Your timing for this case is terrible, with Sir Bob Seely MP speaking in parliament about how celebrities and their law firms are using the courts to silence free speech. I am sure you know this, and all of the timings for the process in this case are in your gift, but it seems to me that Sir Bob’s initiative may have a bearing on the outcome. You are a lawyer so will know the court system better than I do. Maybe a judge will feel that a matter such as the one we are discussing, which may or may not revolve around the burden of proof on who wrote what to whom, is trivial and not worth a court’s attention. Maybe a judge will not wish to be treated as a kind of judicatory ATM. I will talk about how we could solve that later in this interim response.
Thanks for your emails and documents. Please excuse the brevity of this email. As I set out, with your deadlines so tight, I have not had time to find a lawyer, even if I had wanted one, or do much more than try to work out what it is you want us to do. Please forgive this interim response for consisting mainly of questions about the court case you say you want and short explanations of where I think you may be in danger of misunderstanding the workings of modern media.
Firstly, please let me discuss your timings. You have given us two deadlines to respond so far. Your first letter gave us a deadline of 4 February 2023 (possibly 9 February 2023 – it is not clear when you said ‘14 days’ whether you meant 14 working days) and your second letter a deadline of an earlier date of 1 February 2023. Your colleague Peter Higham said he would ring me up to give me the password I need to read one of the documents. I suggested he use text or WhatsApp instead. I note he has not texted, WhatsApped or rung me up yet. I expect he will be back in work on Monday. If he has time to do it then, that will give us two days to respond to your second letter and documents, which is fine by media standards but I know that lawyers are used to working on cases over months or years, so you may agree that it is unusually tight.
The document we are missing – that is, we have it but we cannot access it – is the one you refer to as a ‘password protected [sic] pdf’ which includes ‘account details’, by which I expect you mean bank account details, though I will not know what else it contains until I am able to open it. As soon as I get it, I will be able to respond to your letters and documents. That makes this an interim response only.
I am surprised that a document containing bank account details needs to be password-protected. Knowledge of a bank account number and sort code does not lead directly to bank fraud. Companies, including lawyers, publish their bank account details freely as a way of easing the payment process from their debtors. Unless you are suggesting that I am an especially high risk for committing bank fraud, I think you should consider not bothering to protect these details with a password you then do not issue.
It is something I notice that lawyers, accountants and branches of government like to do these days, and that is ask for a number they know, but the person they are asking does not. Sometimes they have previously issued that number by letter, sometimes by text, WhatsApp or phone call. The process of finding that number provides, I imagine, entertainment for the professional who issues it and welcome exercise for the person looking for it, but it serves to slow the process that the professional has instigated. My favourite one so far is HMRC, which asked our company to provide it with the name of the toddler group I attended in 1969 in twelve characters or fewer, lower case and all closed-up. I hope you at least sympathise.
I did have time to put the bones of your argument in front of our backers. Please do not get excited about the word ‘backers’. It is no guarantee of future backing. They are mostly people who have put £10 into Fieldsports Channel, and you are welcome to track them down and sue them individually, but I do not believe it will be worth Chris’s money for you to go down that route.
You may be upset that I talked about the content of a letter you had marked ‘Private and confidential – not for publication’. It is worth discussing here one of the precepts of contracts, and it seems to me to be a problem at the heart of your approach to this case. This surprises me, because the notion of the contract is one of the glories of the British legal system. I hope you accept that, just because you say something in a letter, does not mean it is true. For a letter to be confidential or private requires the agreement of both parties. As a result, we need not respect your words if we do not agree with them, nor do you need to respect our words. I know that the culture of law firms usually includes secrecy, due to the wealth and insecurity of their clients. That is not necessarily true of small media companies. Therefore, I am happy to talk about this case to our audience. Please feel free to let me know your views on this.
I say that this is a problem at the heart of your case because it exposes the difference between new media, such as our channels, versus the legal world plus the more old-fashioned media. On the UK’s terrestrial TV and radio networks, where Chris runs his broadcasting career, pronouncements are made to be believed. When a lawyer writes ‘private and confidential’, it is inherent in those words that the lawyer expects the recipient to respect their wish for privacy and confidentiality. It is the same when the man on the Air Ministry roof explains what the weather will be, and many traditional broadcasters express surprise when he gets it wrong. We belong to a new media that is more consensual. While your and Chris’s world become a kind of voluntary societal tinnitus, YouTube channels such as ours depend on viewer engagement. The motto of our viewers is, ‘I’ll be the judge of that’, which means we have to be more in tune with them than, say, a BBC channel has to be with its audience. I expect that that is not only an advantage to us in this case, but a signpost pointing the direction that society is taking. I am putting this to you, because I think it will help you understand the context of social media including our area, social TV.
The upshot of my discussion with the Fieldsports Nation, our group of backers and hinterland of wider viewers, is that they broadly agree with my approach to you in this letter. They have many individual thoughts on the matter, which they have made clear to me in WhatsApps, emails, texts and phone calls in the last couple of days.
One thing they would like me to do is consult a lawyer, something I have already told you we cannot afford to do. It looks like we may have to. The Fieldsports Nation are significant stakeholders in what we do and I do not like to move without their say-so. It may be that one of them is a lawyer and prepared to work for free. I can ask.
You may feel that the two days you have given us to respond to your email will not be enough time to do this. As I mentioned: as – so far – the plaintiff in this case, you are in control of timings. I cannot demand more time. Depending on when or if you reply to this interim response, it is up to you to decide whether or not 48 hours is enough time (that is, if Peter has a moment to make that phone call by 5pm on Monday 30 January 2023) for us to book a lawyer, produce a response that pleases that lawyer, and for that lawyer to turn it around and send it to you in a form that pleases us. It is arguable that you took eight months to contact us about the posts you don’t like. So far, I can see that you are trying or at least believe you must be seen to be trying to be fair, so I will leave that one with you.
Thanks for limiting your costs to £2,000 in the period between sending your first letter, following the work you must have done to find the two posts you want taken down, and your second deadline of 1 February 2023. We find at Fieldsports Channel that the system usually adopted by lawyers of charging on an hourly rate provides the best combination of transparency and value to our clients, and I am pleased that £2,000 reflects the amount of work you are putting into this case up until 1 February 2023.
I may have got that wrong. Unlike other lawyers, your charging structure may be a percentage of the final amount you make for your clients in court, in this case 16.66%. If that is the case, I fear you are working for Chris pro bono, as you would put it. I have long been impressed how lawyers are able to confuse the word ‘good’ with ‘free’.
Please accept that a lawyer working for us is likely to advise us to re-post the two posts you do not like, in order to make it clear that we believe we have done nothing wrong. I think if we do that, we should add a note to each of them pointing out that this is the subject of litigation by Chris and Leigh Day. As you know, we have taken them down temporarily in a spirit of speedy resolution with you and Chris.
Next, I would like to delve into what you want in your two letters, and the documents we have been able to read so far, before 1 February 2023.
For the sake of clarity, reviewing our interim response and our final response falls into the £2,000 costs area for Chris. It is up to you and Chris of course but, if you are on a hourly rate, I would support him if he were to refuse to pay you more than £2,000 for going through it. Perhaps you could pass that on to him.
In your first letter, you ask for five things: two of which are demands for money, one is an agreement to obey the law, one a retraction of the posts you do not like and one an apology. On the face of it, it seems that you are keener on money than Chris’s reputation. There may be a legal nicety hidden within the form of the five demands that explains this and which I do not understand. I am sure you will accept that money allows you the luxury of being able to engage a court and a judge to deal with matters you may come across in your life that others sort out with a phone call. I was surprised to see on Instagram this morning that Chris offers the same advice. Complaining to the Daily Mail about an article, he wrote: ‘Why didn’t you ring me , or my sister , to get your facts right ?’ [his grammar]. I think we would reach a speedier resolution were he to follow his own advice.
Our response to your first letter points out that we have no money for a lawyer, so we would be forced to fall in with your demands. In your second letter, you come up with a figure of £12,000, and a manner and process for an apology. That is an interesting reaction to a definition of ‘no money’. It suggests that the lawyer you expect us to hire for a win would cost more than £12,000. Is that likely? I will leave that with you to ponder.
What should we do next? Many members of the Fieldsports Nation agree that, rather than insult the overloaded courts system with this case, mediation is the most sensible first step. I agree with them. What do you think?
As part of mediation, it may mean we will have to argue the point over whether or not we were ‘impugning [Chris’s] honesty and integrity’ with our two posts, but it will probably avoid the expensive idea of wheeling prosperous handwriting experts in and out of court or courts in order to prove our respective points, when the point could be proven one way or another in a matter of minutes, without a court case, by our original offer: Chris makes a video with us writing down something and we show what he has written alongside a visual of the ‘death threat’ he claims he was sent. That would play well with a modern social TV audience. It would achieve the audience that I expect you would like to achieve.
Please can I make a point about the syntax you use on your letters and documents? Sub-editing is stock-in-trade for media people, and perhaps not so much for people in the legal industry, so please forgive me if I come across as snooty or picky. You use the phrase ‘extraordinary seriousness’. Please can I ask you to re-examine your use of emphatics? In conversation, they can work. In text, they do not. Imagine the written English sentence as coloured paint on a brush. You can create your painting by using different brush strokes, each a different colour. The whole effect may be pleasing. Using an emphatic puts the meaning beyond your control. It is like trying to paint with several colours on your brush, something I suggest you should leave to a professional, partly because it invites derision if you get it wrong. Here is an example. There used to be a sign in the toilets on trains that read ‘Do not flush in any station’. In this case, ‘any’ is an emphatic, as ‘extraordinary’ is in the way that you use it. After people started writing ‘…except Yeovil’, the train operators changed the sign to read ‘Do not flush in station’. Do you see what I mean? ‘Seriousness’ is only barely a binary situation. You may describe something as ‘serious’ or ‘not serious’ and I may still not understand what you mean. Adding ‘extraordinary’ makes the word ‘serious’ less serious.
Ironically, you have at your disposal, in Chris, a good-quality author. Maybe it is his editor who did the hard work but his book Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, if you have not read it, is well worth it. I understand from his recent interview in The Times that he is planning to spend more time as a sculptor. I hope the rumours that the BBC dropped him from BBC Springwatch are not true. You are only his legal adviser, but you should urge him to write more.
Let me know if you would like to go to mediation, or if you would like to fast-forward to an expensive court case, or if you have another less costly idea than a £12,000 payout to you and Chris that I fear our bank will be disinclined to lend to us. Whether at mediation or court, and if we were to agree that we would make a statement, we are likely to argue about the relative benefits of various means of speaking to a wide audience. For example, you want us to read an apology to Chris that goes out on our main Fieldsports Channel Facebook page (currently 200,000 followers), yet the original post you do not like went out on our Fieldsports News Facebook page (currently 10,000 followers) and was seen by a fraction of that audience. Do you consider that a proportionate response? You want us to put an apology to Chris in a prominent position on the front page of our WordPress site where it is likely to be seen by around 15,000 people, yet the original WordPress post was seen by a few 100s. We are mildly insulted that you do not ask us to put an apology on our YouTube channel (currently 330,000 subscribers and 10 million individual logged-in viewers, i.e. rather more than BBC Winterwatch) but we forgive you. In previous correspondence, I have mentioned making Chris part of the media we agree to put out. He, too, has Twitter and Facebook pages with 500,000+ followers each, though I note his YouTube channel only has 13,000 subscribers.
I should warn you that if, as part of this process, we have to put back up the posts you do not like, the publicity surrounding this case will mean they get more views than they have had. I have bookmarked that figure and, if we reach a point where you force us to go to court and you demand disclosure, I will let you know what it is. I will then bookmark the figure that the posts receive thanks to the publicity your court case will provide. I expect the disparity between the two numbers to be significantly larger than the original viewcount. Let us wait and see but please be prepared to shoulder some of the blame for this from Chris due to your handling of this case.
In this question of how to promote a statement we agree to make, I worry that you will take the oldfashioned legal/media view that an audience is fixed, like a flock of sheep that cannot escape its field. I agree that an audience is finite (only Sepp Blatter was able to announce that his last FIFA World Cup enjoyed a TV audience of more people than there are) but it is not fixed. When judging the power of whatever statement we make, you have to take into account the relative power of the statement itself, not the audience currently available to the platform on which it is promoted. We have seen that it is possible to become president of the United States of America with little more than a single Twitter account. We all have Twitter accounts these days. I cannot speak for you but none of our Twitter followers are president of anywhere. Think to yourself how that could be, and that gives you a basis for how we can work out how we would say what you would like us to say, if we agree to make a statement.
It is worth adding, as I made clear in our initial response, that we are happy to have Chris on our show. I can go further and say we are always happy to host Chris, whether we are apologising to him or attacking him. You may be aware that after my attempts to invite him to the Game Fair Theatre in 2019 were foiled by some of the UK’s shooting organisations, he generously invited me to take part in a chat at his theatre at the Bird Fair.
Whether at mediation or in court, I suspect we will have to discuss the timing of your action. Did it take eight months for you to find the courage or the evidence to approach us? Was that because you or Chris were keen for our alleged impugning to reach a peak? I am not sure how to measure impugning, or whether a cleverer person than both of us has established a kind of impugnograph which produces an optimum moment of impugnment to launch a court case. As a result, I am left with the impression that the amount of time the post stays up is not important to you. Is this true?
Whichever the reason, eight months seems a lot. And to land it in the middle of the SLAPPs debate is doubly brave of you, in my opinion.
Sir Bob Seely, who is MP for the Isle of Wight which includes Chris’s girlfriend’s family’s zoo, brought ‘SLAPPs’ to Parliament this month. These are ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’, which Sir Bob describes as “effectively legal gangsterism”. Is that a kind of libel against the legal profession you could consider suing for? You can read about it in The Guardian.
Whatever your view of the inelegance of the acronym, it is the subject of his private member’s bill to penalise what The Guardian calls ‘wealthy public figures’. The newspaper says that Sir Bob claims these people “exploit the court system” for “legalised intimidation” of “investigative journalists, campaigners and watchdogs”. As a private member’s bill, it is unlikely to become law, but you can imagine it as a bellwether of public opinion on the issue. You are a legal adviser not a media adviser, but you may consider asking yourself and Chris which of the parties in the matter we are discussing most easily fits the definition ‘wealthy public figure’? Us, the freelance writer Ben O’Rourke, whom you plan to sue, you or Chris? I am not suggesting that Chris should accept libels or even, as in this case, alleged libels as collateral damage on his rise to BBC prominence but, in common with the bulk of the British public, we don’t have access to the courts to sue for it while he does.
Thank you for confirming that you are planning to sue Ben O’Rourke separately over this matter. I have lost track and I think you have, too, over whether we are copying Ben into our email correspondence. For safety’s sake, I am copying him into this. Do you have a view on this? Feel free to copy him into future emails, if you wish. Does this mean you plan to amalgamate your proposed action against us with any proposed action, which you mentioned in a recent email, that you may take against Ben?
I would be interested to know if you are planning to sue the Scottish Gamekeepers Association or The Times website, which carried similar stories to ours in their output.
- Packham did not forge death threat, say police on The Times website
- Chris Packham faces new claim of faking death threat on The Times website
- Chris Packham Sunday Times Story: Full Statement on the SGA website
Because of its paywall, I do not know anyone who regularly reads The Times. With no audience, I can see there would be little point suing them, but the SGA’s posts are public. Please can you let me know?
It is worth me pointing out that, of the four entities you could have sued, Fieldsports Channel and Ben have the least money. This observation has left more than one of our supporters to point out that you may be looking for what they call an ‘easy win’ in order to help you with your court case with the publishers, writers and others on Country Squire magazine. I understand that your and Chris’s case against those people is ongoing. The argument goes that you want to be able to point to people who have agreed to fall in with your demands as a kind of ‘I told you so’ to a judge in another case. If this turns out to be so, please be aware that we are not happy at being used as pawns in a game of legal chess between you and another publisher’s lawyers.
Finally, some of the Fieldsports Nation are concerned that you will treat the outcome of a court case with us as a kind of shopping trip that you may choose to make more regularly. Having established a price for mentioning Chris in articles and videos, they fear you will use this as evidence of a trading relationship with us that allows you to ask for the same cash every time. As I explained in my response to your first letter, we cannot afford an outlay to you, so I have to ask: is your threatened legal action an attempt to drive us to liquidation? You may choose that you do not wish to answer that question but I should warn you that, because sentiment towards celebrity court actions is at such a low point, that will lead to people making up their own minds.
With all this now in your mind, perhaps it is worth you rewriting your various letters and documents to us. If it speeds up the process, we are happy for you to do this in just one go. If you would like to add a new deadline to the process, that is of course up to you to decide.
I am glad I have had your attention for a maximum outlay of £2,000 and, as we bring this matter to an end, I regret for your sake that you will not make money from this case.
One more note on process: you mention in your correspondence to us that you plan to copy your emails to us as letters in the post. At Fieldsports Channel, we are delighted to run a paperless office. Every Christmas, I take around 20kg of unopened mail to our local recycling centre, mainly unsolicited brochures and magazines. We started doing this several years ago. To begin with it meant we missed an occasional cheque, but all of our transactions are now paperless. For this reason, please do not send us hard copies of your letters in the post if you would like us to read them. Please continue to use email. Please can you acknowledge this?
I hope this email brightens up your Monday morning and I look forward to helping resolve your and Chris’s woes wherever it is in my power so to do.
Email, 30 January 2023, 1.56pm
Defamation – Chris Packham v Fieldsports Channel
Dear Mr Jacoby, Mr Westbrook and Mr Wright,
We refer to your email of 11:02pm yesterday.
We confirm that the deadline for Fieldsports Channel Ltd’s and Mr O’Rourke’s response to the letters of claim is close of business on Friday 3rd February. Fourteen days is the standard period of time offered for a response to a letter of claim of this nature.
We confirm that Mr Higham will be in touch today regarding the password protected bank account details. We do not consider that not having access to these bank account details has prevented you from being able to respond to our letter of 25th January 2023. Nonetheless, we confirm that our client is prepared to extend the time for acceptance of his offer to 5pm on Friday 3rd February.
Please be advised that our letter of claim was not marked “private and confidential”, and we did not seek to prevent you from publishing it (though we suggested that you may wish to take legal advice on its contents). Our letter of 25th January was marked as such, as it contained details of a settlement offer made on a “without prejudice save as to costs” basis. It is therefore regrettable that you have proceeded to publish details of the offer terms in breach of the confidentiality that attaches to such offers. We reiterate our suggestion that you may wish to seek independent legal advice before taking further such steps.
We have explained in our letter of claim that you have published a serious (and specific) allegation that our client dishonestly faked a death threat letter to himself. We have also pointed out that you did so in reliance on a handwriting comparison report that uses samples of handwriting that is not our client’s. You made no discernible attempt to assess the reliability of the report, this being a basic tenet of good journalistic practice. Had you done so, you would surely have queried why one of the forms relied on as a sample of our client’s handwriting is a Companies House form from 23 years ago, appointing Michael Sedley Killingley as a director of the Marwell Preservation Trust Ltd. The suggestion that our client filled out this form is self-evidently absurd; it has nothing to do with him.
In all the circumstances, we do not propose to respond to the numerous arguments contained in your email. This claim and the issues it raises are straightforward and we are not prepared to generate further costs that our client will ultimately seek to recover from you in the event that he is forced to issue a claim. We consider that the offer in respect of the claim against Fieldsports Channel Ltd, contained in our letter of 25th January, is more than reasonable. However, if you do not propose to accept it, we await your response to our letter of claim (in which we expect you to provide details of all platforms on which the video complained of was published). We are also awaiting a response from Mr O’Rourke to our letter of claim.
We confirm that we will send further correspondence in this matter by email only. We look forward to hearing from you.
Email, 1 February 2023, 3.50pm
Thank you for answering some of our questions. We acknowledge your request for more time and are content to respond by the revised time of ‘close of play’, which we take to mean 5pm, on Friday 3 February 2023.
Email, 3 February 2023, 4.50pm
We regretfully decline your offer and would like to move forward with mediation.
Email, 8 February 2023, 4.50pm
Dear Mr Jacoby, Mr Westbrook and Mr Wright,
Defamation – Chris Packham v Fieldsports Channel
We refer to Mr Jacoby’s email of 3rd February 2023, on behalf of Fieldsports Channel Limited.
You have waited until the last day of the deadline for acceptance of our client’s offer and a response to the pre-action letter (which deadline our client agreed to extend) to send a one-line response that neither substantively responds to the claim (as you are required to do under the Pre-Action Protocol), nor engages with our client’s reasonable settlement proposals. This is unsatisfactory, particularly in view of the seriousness of the allegation you have published and your failure to point to any remotely plausible material supporting it.
In light of your lack of response, we are now instructed to prepare and issue a claim against Fieldsports Channel Limited. We intend to do so by close of business on Wednesday 15th February and will serve it upon you once issued. If you now wish to put forward any constructive proposals for settlement in the meantime, we will take instructions on them.
For the avoidance of doubt, our client’s claim will rely upon your correspondence and conduct to date, including publishing the details of our client’s confidential settlement offer, as a matter that aggravates any damages to which he is held to be entitled. We strongly suggest you take independent legal advice from a properly qualified lawyer before taking any further steps.
Email, 14 February 2023, 10.24am
Email, 15 February 2023, 10.21am
Dear Mr Wright,
Many thanks for your email dated 14 February 2023.
You have not set out clearly why our client’s case is misconceived. For example, we have no idea what you say are the meanings of the statements complained of, nor how you might possibly seek to defend them (and for the avoidance of any doubt, pointing to the 8 month period since publication does not assist you: the statutory limitation period for defamation claims is 12 months from the date of first publication). In particular you have not responded to our confirmation that Ms East did not analyse samples of our client’s handwriting. We remind you that you needed to do all these things under paragraphs 3.6 and 3.7 of the Pre-Action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims (to which we have already drawn your attention).
At the same time you have made no meaningful proposals for how you might vindicate our client’s rights, repair the significant damage to his reputation, and compensate him accordingly. Simply suggesting that he be given a chance to engage with an expert who [sic] he has never met and who has based her opinion on a completely false comparison comes nowhere close to proper engagement with his complaint.
Your publications were not “very much in line” with articles such as The Times. You will be aware for example that The Sunday Times commissioned its own expert who concluded that our client did not write the death threat letter himself, and properly included that highly important detail in its 2021 article (whereas your article did not). Unlike The Sunday Times, which approached our client for comment ahead of its articles in May 2021 and April 2022, you did not do so (which, along with your failure to undertake even cursory verification of Ms East’s report, is another basic tenet of responsible journalism with which you have failed to comply).
In these circumstances you can hardly be surprised that our client intends to issue proceedings. He has been caused considerable additional distress by your prevaricating responses to a claim in respect of seriously defamatory publications. Mediation is not an acceptable proposal when you have failed to engage with the substance of his claim at all. We will write further once the claim has been issued.
Carol Day, Associate Solicitor
Email, 17 February 2023, 3.01pm... Friday afternoon. Accidental use of 'reply all'
From Carol Day at Leigh Day to her colleagues Peter Higham and Tessa Gregory
Thanks so much Pete – and I see Aisha has confirmed the JES1 has been filed at court too!
Will you send the JES to the Ds2 too – and send copies of both to counsel and Chris?3 I probably don’t need to WhatsApp him as it’s just for his info, but good to copy Cate4 in so he doesn’t miss it.
Thanks so much to you and Danni5 for doing all this today.
What’s the betting the CF6 comes back from court later this afternoon too. Would give FSTV7 and BOR8 something to think about over the weekend too.9
- joint explanatory statement
- probably Chris Packham
- probably Cate Crocker, Chris Packham’s secretary
- probably a Leigh Day staff member, too lowly to copy
- claim form
- Fieldsports Channel
- Ben O’Rourke, freelance writer, who wrote the article that is the subject of the Leigh Day libel claim
- it didn’t
Tweet, Saturday 18 February 2023, 6.58am
Friday afternoon – Carol Day at @LeighDay_Law accidentally hits reply-all, showing the spite that fuels celebrity #SLAPPs lawyers. CF = 'claim form' from her client @ChrisGPackham, FSTV = us, BOR = our writer Ben O’Rourke. Full story at t.co/WvpvQmWrEL pic.twitter.com/IcIwNySUst— Fieldsports Channel (@fieldsportstv) February 18, 2023
Email, 23 February 2023, 11.20am
In the High Court of Justice King’s Bench Division
Media & communications list
Claim no. KB-2023-000965
The Claimant: Chris Packham CBE and
The Parties: (1) Fieldsports Channel Ltd (2) Andrew O’Rourke
Particulars of claim
1. The claimant is a naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author. He is very well known as a presenter of BBC’s BAFTA award-winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch television series, and many other natural history titles. He is, or has been, president, patron, ambassador or supporter of numerous charitable or conservation organisations (including the Bat Conservation Trust, the Hampshire Ornithological Society, the Hawk Conservancy Trust, the Southampton Natural History Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Butterfly Conservation, the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, AfriCat, the World Land Trust, Population Matters, Compassion in World Farming, the Humane Research Trust, the Nature Watch Foundation, Raptor Rescue, the Fleet Pond Society, Birding for All, the Seahorse Trust and the Fox Project). He was appointed CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours List for his services to nature conservation.
2. The first defendant is a registered limited company (no 11381705). It owns, operates and/or is otherwise responsible for Fieldsports Channel, an online platform that publishes articles and videos on topics related to field sports. Fieldsports Channel publishes such material via its website (the “Fieldsports Website”) at www.fieldsportschannel.tv/, its YouTube channel (the “Fieldsports YouTube Channel”) at www.youtube.com/@fieldsportstv and its “Fieldsports News” Facebook page (the “Fieldsports News Facebook Page”) at www.facebook.com/fieldsportschannel/.
3. The second defendant, also known as Ben O’Rourke, is a regular contributor to Fieldsports Channel. He uses an email address with the suffix “@fieldsportschannel.tv”, which is listed as the contact email address in the “About” section of the Fieldsports News Facebook Page. He also operates a blog at aborourke.substack.com/ (the “second defendant’s blog”).
4. The following publications (the “publications”) were published by the defendants (as more particularly set out in paragraphs 8 and 9 below) to a substantial but as yet unquantified number of readers and viewers in the jurisdiction.
5. A video (the “video”), published:
5.1. On the Fieldsports website at www.fieldsportschannel.tv/packhamdeaththreat/?fbclid=IwAR39 qdeirdD1FHHTalqDw4BlsoFM-VZcn69L-sdlscIAm1kphQdkuc69_ww from 1st June 2022 to on or around 20th January 2023;
5.2. On the Fieldsports News Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fieldsportsnews/videos/353042036932216/ from 1st June 2022 to on or around 20th January 2023;
5.3. On the Fieldsports website at www.fieldsportschannel.tv/fieldsportsbritain653/ (time codes 19:05-21:48) from on or around 1st June 2022, which remains available to view at the date of these particulars of claim; and
5.4. On the Fieldsports YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2naa2zoVNs&t=1315s (time codes 19:05-21:48) from 1st June 2022, which remains available to view at the date of these particulars of claim [we have since switched this to private, pending the outcome of the case].
6. An article (the “article”), published on the Fieldsports website at www.fieldsportschannel.tv/packhamdeaththreat/?fbclid=IwAR39qdeird D1FHHTalqDw4BlsoFM-VZcn69L-sdlscIAm1kphQdkuc69_ww From 1st June 2022 to on or around 20th January 2023.
7. A transcript of the video is appended to these particulars of claim as appendix one [not published below in case a judge rules that that would be repeating a libel], and the article is appended as appendix two. The claimant reserves the right to amend these particulars of claim to add any further instances of publication of the publications of which he becomes aware.
Responsibility for publication
8. The first defendant, as owner and/or operator and/or being otherwise responsible for Fieldsports Channel and its platforms set out at paragraph 2 above, is responsible as editor and/or publisher of each of the publications listed at paragraphs 5 and 6 above; and
9. The second defendant, as bylined author of the article, is responsible as its author and/or editor.
10. The video and the article both refer to, and are seriously defamatory of, the claimant in the meanings set out below:
Chris Packham has written a fake death threat letter to himself and has dishonestly claimed that it was sent to his home by an anonymous member of the shooting and farming community.
Chris Packham has written a fake death threat letter to himself and has dishonestly claimed that it was sent to him by an anonymous third party in April 2019.
Extent of publication
11. Whilst the precise extent of publication of each of the publications is not yet known (pending disclosure), the claimant will rely upon the following facts and matters in support of the inference that the extent of publication of each of them was substantial:
11.1. The first defendant purports to have an enormous readership, over which it claims to exert significant influence. It claims on the advertising page of the Fieldsports website (at www.fieldsportschannel.tv/advertise/) that “We put advertisers including Blaser, Browning, Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski and Aimpoint in front of more than 20 million viewers in 2020” and “We can reach around 9.5 million logged-in Google users who have watched a film on our channel in 2019 and 2020. We find that they are prepared to listen to us when we recommend a product or service.”
11.2. As at 20th January 2023, being on or around the date on which the video was removed from the Fieldsports website and the Fieldsports News Facebook page:
11.2.1. The video published on the Fieldsports website (see paragraph 5.1 above) had received 49 “likes”, 5 comments and 87 shares; and
11.2.2. The video published on the Fieldsports News Facebook page (see paragraph 5.2 above) had approximately 8400 views, 64 “reactions” and 20 comments.
11.3. At the date of these particulars of claim, the video published on the Fieldsports YouTube channel (see paragraph 5.4 above) has 42,414 views and 50 comments.
Serious harm and damage
12.The publication of each of the publications as set out at paragraph 5 and 6 above has caused serious harm to the claimant’s reputation, and (in the case of the publications that remain available to view as at the date of these particulars of claim) their continuing publication is likely to do so:
Particulars of serious harm
12.1. The imputation conveyed by the publications is extremely grave, accusing the claimant of dishonesty and striking at the heart of his personal and professional integrity.
12.2. The extent of publication of each of the publications (as set out at paragraph 11 above) is very considerable.
12.3. In relation to each of the publications, having regard to the severity of the imputation and the extent of publication, it is to be inferred that serious harm has been (or is likely to be) caused to the claimant’s reputation by their publication.
12.4. If necessary, the claimant will in addition rely upon the considerable degree of animosity towards him demonstrated by comments from viewers of the video.
13.The publication by the defendants of each of the publications has caused the claimant very considerable hurt, distress, anxiety and embarrassment. The claimant has been caused particular distress by the implications of the allegations at paragraph 10 above that he: (i) had lied to his family about the provenance of the death threat letter, knowing that it would cause them considerable anxiety; and (ii) had also lied to, and knowingly wasted the time of, Hampshire Police, who investigated the death threat letter and on whom the claimant heavily relies for his and his family’s safety.
14.The claimant is entitled to and seeks damages including aggravated damages for libel.
Particulars of aggravation
14.1. In addition to making the seriously defamatory allegation at paragraph 10 above, the article also gives a tendentious and misleading account of another defamation claim that the claimant is currently pursuing as at the date of these particulars of claim (claim no. QB-2021-001227). In the case of the video, it screenshots (and thereby republishes) parts of three of the publications complained of in that other claim.
14.2. In response to the claimant’s letter of claim and subsequent pre-action correspondence, the first defendant:
14.2.1. On 27th January 2023, published a video on the Fieldsports YouTube channel (accessible at www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=- D1BIuKzdz4&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR31bSS7uIliIf4s- DuWkhQEHhgMdkx0m5JSa_RS_WCwlNS1CS0_3uF1WRA) in which its director, Charlie Jacoby, derided the claimant’s claim, and revealed the details of without prejudice save as to costs (“WPSATC”) correspondence sent on his behalf; and
14.2.2. On 30th January 2023, published on the Fieldsports website an article, “Packham to sue YouTube channel over Facebook post” (accessible at: www.fieldsportschannel.tv/packhamcase/), in which it published the parties’ pre-action correspondence, including WPSATC correspondence sent on the claimant’s behalf.
14.3. In response to the claimant’s letter of claim and subsequent pre-action correspondence, on 3rd February 2023 the second defendant published, on the second defendant’s blog, a post under the heading “Is Chris Packham getting dumped by the BBC? Could it be because he’s suing so many journalists – including me?” (accessible at: aborourke.substack.com/p/is-the-bbc-dumping-chris-packham) in which he mounts a vicious attack on the claimant and his legal representatives.
14.4. The claimant will also rely on the tone and content of the pre-action correspondence sent by each of the defendants, which: (i) is derisory of the claimant’s claim; (ii) fails entirely to acknowledge (let alone engage with) the claimant’s express statement that the handwriting report of Ms Beverley East relied upon in the publications has analysed samples of handwriting that are not his; and (iii) makes gratuitously unpleasant comments about the claimant and his legal representatives.
14.5. The claimant reserves the right to amend these particulars of claim to add further particulars of aggravation if and insofar as necessary to do so.
15. Unless restrained by this honourable court, the defendants and each of them will continue to publish, or will further publish, the same or similar defamatory allegations concerning the claimant. The claimant will rely in this regard on indications from Mr Jacoby, in pre-action correspondence and in the video at paragraph 14.2.1 above, that the first defendant’s removal of the publications at paragraphs 5.1, 5.2 and 6 above is only a temporary measure.
16. The claimant will seek an order under section 12(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 that the defendants and each of them must publish a summary of any final judgment favourable to the claimant, in such manner and form and for such duration as the Court shall determine.
17. If and insofar as necessary, the claimant will also seek an order under section 13(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 for the removal by third parties of the publications at paragraphs 5.3 and 5.4 above (and any other publication reinstated by the defendants).
And the claimant claims:
(1) Damages including aggravated damages for libel;
(2) An injunction to restrain the defendants, whether themselves or by instructing or encouraging any other person, from continuing to publish or from further publishing the statements complained of or any similar statements defamatory of the claimant;
(3) An order under section 12(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 that the defendants and each of them must publish a summary of any final judgment favourable to the claimant, in such manner and form and for such duration as the court shall determine; and
(4) An order under section 13(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 for the removal of the statements complained of by third parties.
Statement of truth
I believe that the facts stated in these particulars of claim are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.
[Signed and dated by Chris Packham]