South Tyneside Council has given up its search for the notorious Mr Monkey blogger, after five years and £214,000 of taxpayers’ money.
The local authority today confirmed that it will not take any further legal action in tracing the person or persons responsible for making malicious accusations in a defamatory blog.
Employees and councillors were targeted in the anonymous blog which published vile and defamatory statements about them, their families, friends and business associates.
A spokesman for the authority said: “The council took legal action because it has a duty of care to protect its staff and officials from the kind of harassment and intimidation caused by this malicious and libellous blog, which, if left unchallenged, would have seriously damaged the reputations of innocent people.
“Since the council initiated the action in 2009, the libellous comments have stopped, and there have been no new postings on the blog.”
The issue of anonymous blogs, internet ‘trolls’ and people hiding behind anonymity online has grown over recent years following a number of high-profile cases in the media.
The spokesman added: “Taking legal action attracted some criticism, but as a council we felt it was our duty to mount this challenge in order to protect people from cyber-bullying and harassment. We stand by this principle.”
An application was made by the plaintiffs to the Superior Court of California (County of San Mateo), on June 17 for the dismissal of the case.
The court gave its consent on June 19, and the case was dismissed.
The dismissal was made expressly without prejudice to any existing right or claim.
This allows the enforcement of the order for $97,475 costs made against former councillor Ahmed Khan, who chose to intervene and tried to have the legal action dismissed.
This challenge was rejected by San Mateo County Court in California, with the judge describing it as ‘frivolous.’
Costs were awarded in favour of the council, which is still trying to recover them from Mr Khan.
South Tyneside Council today said the cost of the Mr Monkey legal case was £214,000.
Source – Shields Gazette, 02 July 2014
Town Hall bosses today faced a renewed call to stop using taxpayers’ money in their pursuit of the notorious ‘Mr Monkey’ internet blogger.
The website first appeared in 2008, making malicious claims about certain political figures in the borough.
South Tyneside Council backed a bid to discover the identity of those behind the Mr Monkey blogs on behalf of four plaintiffs who came under attack – South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm, Coun Anne Walsh, the late councillor David Potts and council regeneration boss Rick O’Farrell.
It instructed Washington DC lawyers McDermott, Will & Emery to find who was responsible for the website, with the firm producing a dossier which said Mr Monkey was most likely a two-person operation and that a libel action would be “highly successful” if pursued through UK or US courts.
But to this date – and at a cost of about £150,000 – Mr Monkey has yet to be unmasked, some six years after the site first appeared.
That has infuriated George Smith CBE, president of South Shields Conservative Association, who has called for immediate action to prevent “further misuse of council taxpayer’s money.”
Mr Smith believes the four the plaintiffs in the case – not the public – should have funded the legal action.
Town Hall officials say the legal action was taken because the council has a “duty of care” to protect employees.
But Mr Smith has written to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is to conduct South Tyneside Council’s annual audit, demanding it steps in.
He says: “Although any authority may indemnify individuals in ‘defending himself against legal proceedings brought by a third party’ they are ‘prohibited from indemnifying members or officers for the cost of taking legal action for slander or libel.’
“I will be objecting to these payments at the audit but you may wish to take immediate action to prevent any further waste of council taxpayers money.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “This legal action was taken because the council has a duty of care to protect its employees from the kind of intimidation and harassment caused by the wilfully false and defamatory statements published on the blog.
“South Tyneside Council is satisfied that Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 gives the power to take the action that has been taken.”
June Elsom, who stood as an independent for Cleadon Park in last week’s Local Elections, asked Northumbria Police to investigate the matter, but a force spokesman said there was no cause for a criminal investigation.
The spokesman said: “We have received correspondence raising concerns around legal costs incurred by South Tyneside Council in relation to the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog.
“Advice has been given that as it stands, this is not a matter involving criminality and there is therefore nothing to indicate a criminal investigation should be launched at this stage.
“Should another body looking into the matter decide a referral to the police is appropriate then an investigation would be carried out.”
As part of the council’s courtroom pursuit of ‘Mr Monkey’ a former South Tyneside councillor was hit with a whopping £40,000 legal bill last year.
Mr Khan had launched an American courtroom bid to halt the search for the controversial blogger, which he said was a waste of public money.
But San Mateo County Court dismissed his anti-SLAPP motion (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation), describing it as “frivolous”.
The council is chasing Mr Khan – who has always denied being behind the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog – for the extra legal costs it incurred as a result of his unsuccessful challenge.
A council spokesman said the authority was continuing to pursue that demand – although it is not known how much, if any, of the amount owed had so far been paid.
> As far as I was aware, Mr Monkey stopped publishing in 2009. Still online, though, at: http://mrmonkeysblog.wordpress.com
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2014