A woman who expressed her anger at the response of an anti-social behaviour coordinator working for Slough Council found herself on the Council’s ‘violent persons register’.
Jane Clift had seen a toddler, who was with a group of adults drinking in public, pulling up plants in a flowerbed. When she remonstrated with them, she was threatened. After telephoning the Council, she wrote a letter of complaint in which she admitted to being ‘filled with anger’, unwisely adding that she would have ‘physically attacked’ the Council employee if she had been close to her.
The result was that her name was emailed to more than 60 Council workers and community wardens as someone on the ‘violent persons register’. The same email was sent to another hundred people working in council-related organisations.
Ms Clift sued the Council for libel and claimed that the person circulating the email had acted maliciously. The Council argued that the email warning it had circulated was ‘substantially true’. The jury did not accept the Council’s argument as regards the libel, but accepted that the circulation of the email was not done maliciously. The Council’s argument that the email was covered by ‘qualified privilege’ (a defence which can apply when a person has a public or private legal, social or moral duty to circulate information to another individual with a duty to receive it) was also rejected – the email had been too widely circulated for this to apply.
Ms Clift was awarded £12,000 in damages.