March 20, 2007

Beware the Ides of March

A former British National Party election candidate has been left nearly £30,000 out of pocket after a court struck out his libel claim against Searchlight.

Sidney Chaney, a serial litigant from Basildon, Essex, brought his action against Searchlight Information Services, Gerry Gable and Sonia Gable over a leaflet that Searchlight published during the 2004 European election campaign. The leaflet referred to Chaney's correspondence with Frank Beck while Beck was serving five life sentences for sexual offences against children.

In February last year the court struck out the claim against Ms Gable and awarded costs of over £18,000 against Chaney. He failed to pay up. On 15 March this year the High Court in London agreed an application by Searchlight and Mr Gable to strike out Chaney's claim against both of them because of his failure to pay the costs and because he had circulated one of the defence witness statements without permission – an abuse of the court's process.

The court also took into account that Chaney had made "contradictory statements" about whether he had the means to pay the legal costs and had threatened a defence witness.

Delivering his decision, Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed Chaney's claim that his primary objective in bringing the action was to clear his name. By circulating the witness statement, which contained details that reflected badly on both the witness and Chaney himself, Chaney had shown that he was prepared to blacken his own name to discredit the witness. Chaney had written to the witness threatening to circulate the statement, but had in fact already done so before the date of his letter.

Annoyed at the outcome, Chaney could not resist a bit of gratuitous racism. He complained to the judge that he was not getting legal aid, saying would have got it if he had been a "newcomer" but not as an "Englishman". Mr Justice Tugendhat pointed out curtly that no one gets legal aid for a libel action.

Further costs were awarded against Chaney and the judge refused him permission to appeal.

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