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Chris Packham awarded £90,000 damages in libel case against website

Chris Packham has been awarded £90,000 in libel damages from a website that alleged he lied in order to persuade people to donate money to a wildlife sanctuary.

The prominent naturalist successfully sued over nine articles, published on the Country Squire Magazine website, including those relating to his involvement with the Wildheart Trust, which runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight. The losing defendants were also ordered to make an interim payment of £500,000 towards Packham’s costs.

In a written judgment, handed down on Thursday, Mr Justice Saini said: “The defendants’ overriding aim was to pursue an agenda or campaign against Mr Packham and those who share his views. That agenda was focused on alleging fraud and dishonesty without any proper evidential basis.”

In an allegation that the judge said went to “the heart of [Packham’s] professional and personal life”, the website alleged he defrauded and “manipulated” people in an attempt to raise funds for the charity by claiming tigers had been rescued from a circus despite knowing they had been donated by the circus and well looked after.

Packham was also accused by the site of dishonestly raising money for the Wildheart Trust at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic while knowing it was due to receive a £500,000 insurance payout.

It also alleged Packham he lied when he said that gamekeepers on two Scottish estates were burning peat during the 2021 UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.

The court heard that articles on the website described Packham as a fraud, a “notorious liar” and as having an “obvious nastiness”, and accused him of playing the “Asperger’s victim card”.

Packham’s claim was successful against two defendants, Dominic Wightman, an asset manager, who is the editor of Country Squire Magazine, and the writer Nigel Bean.

His claim against another contributor, Paul Read, who described himself as a “mere proofreader”, was dismissed.

Saini was critical of all three defendants, who he said had “used this litigation as a device to introduce offensive material to smear Mr Packham”. He said Wightman and Bean “maintained into the third day of trial the extraordinarily serious allegation that Mr Packham had forged his own death threat letter, when there was plainly no proper basis for doing so”.

The judge also said that, in correspondence, the defendants had indicated they intended to put on the record in the litigation allegations that Packham was a “rapist, a bully, and a pervert”. Saini said: “There is not a shred of evidence in support of the offensive allegations. I find they were made in order to scare off Mr Packham from seeking recourse in a public hearing for the libels.”

He said this conduct was reflected in the damages awarded against Wightman and Bean and they would also pay a higher proportion of Packham’s costs than is usual (“indemnity costs”).

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