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Chris Packham fears hate-fuelled psychopath could kill him in woods, libel trial hears | UK News

Chris Packham has told a court he fears for his and his family’s security – and that he does not “expect to live a long life free from violence and intimidation”.

On the second day of a libel case which he initiated, the TV star said he was a “victim of a campaign of vile and relentless intimation”, adding: “I do go to walk my dogs in the woods and wonder: is today the day that a psychopath fuelled by all this hate turns up and kills me?”

The BBC Springwatch presenter, 61, is suing three men over allegations in nine articles relating to his involvement in Wildheart Trust, a charity that runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.

Mr Packham told the High Court trial he believed the “defendants’ unsubstantiated claims have misled, agitated and fuelled a vocal and violent conspiratorial fringe who increasingly post threatening and vile material about me and my family”.

Chris Packham at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, for his libel trial over alleged tiger-related fraud to begin. The environmentalist is bringing a High Court libel claim over articles which he says falsely alleged he misled the public into donating to a wildlife charity to rescue "broken" tigers from circuses. Mr Packham is suing the editor and two contributors of the website Country Squire Magazine. Picture date: Tuesday May 2, 2023.

The environmentalist said his post had often been stolen and “random dead animals and human faeces are regularly posted to me”.

“I have become accustomed to the plethora of dead animals people leave at my home,” Mr Packham went on.

The TV naturalist is suing Dominic Wightman, editor of the online site Country Squire Magazine, along with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read.

Mr Packham has been accused of defrauding and manipulating people into making donations to the charity to rescue tigers while knowing they were well cared for.

Mr Packham denies the allegations

It is also alleged he dishonestly raised money for the charity at the beginning of COVID while knowing it was due to receive a £500,000 benefit from its insurance. Mr Packham has strongly denied the claims.

Mr Wightman and Mr Bean’s lawyers said the articles in the claim could be defended as true, while Mr Read said he was not responsible for the publications as he was a “mere proofreader”.

In a 50-page witness statement, Mr Packham said: “I genuinely no longer expect to live a long life free from violence and intimidation.

“Because it may only take the one wrong person to read Country Squire Magazine for things to go horribly wrong.”

Mr Packham said his “deeply held views” had attracted criticism from people who shoot and fox hunt – while revealing details of the threats he gets.

Read more: Chris Packham defiant after arsonists target his home

BBC presenter Chris Packham's front gate. It was burnt after someone set a Land Rover alight.
Chris Packham’s front gate was burnt after arsonists set a vehicle alight

‘Masked attackers burned down gate to his home’

He also said that “masked attackers” in October 2021 set fire to a car and burned down the gate to his home, with police said to believe the arson was carried out by paid professionals.

Nicholas O’Brien, a lawyer for Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, said the allegations in the articles in the claim were true and could also be defended as under the public interest.

The barrister said: “It is clear that the tigers had not been rescued from a circus, were not then in need of rescue, and were not rescued by Mr Packham.”

But Mr Packham said it was correct to use the word “rescue” when talking about the tigers and a move to the sanctuary.

He has called the allegations against him “ridiculous, utterly unfounded, and plainly designed to be as upsetting, threatening and reputationally damaging as possible”.

Mr Packham denied fraudulently raising money for the charity, adding that “we weren’t hopeful that we would be insured against COVID-19 closures”.

The trial before Mr Justice Saini is due to end on 12 May, and a decision is expected at a later date.

Wagatha Christie case: Rebekah Vardy loses libel trial against Coleen Rooney | Ents & Arts News

Rebekah Vardy has lost her Wagatha Christie case against Coleen Rooney.

Vardy attempted to sue her fellow WAG for defamation, but a High Court judge has ruled that Rooney’s Instagram post outing Vardy for leaking stories to The Sun newspaper was true.

Judge Justice Steyn described Vardy’s evidence in the libel trial as “manifestly inconsistent… evasive or implausible” – while Rooney’s evidence was “honest and reliable”.

The court found that the essence of Rooney’s social media post was “substantially true” – that’s to say Vardy was responsible for leaking Rooney’s private information to the press.

In her conclusion, the judge said: “I have found that Ms Vardy was party to the disclosure to The Sun… Ms Vardy knew of and condoned this behaviour, actively engaging in it by directing Ms Watt to the private Instagram account, sending her screenshots of Ms Rooney’s posts, drawing attention to items of potential interest to the press, and answering additional queries raised by the press via Ms Watt.”

Caroline Watt was Vardy’s agent and friend, and had been implicated in the leaking of the private posts during evidence heard in court. She did not give evidence during the hearing.

Coleen Rooney / Rebekah Vardy libel trial documents
Some of Rooney’s fake posts, shown during the trial

Speaking after the judgment, Rooney said she was “pleased” the judge had found in her favour, adding: “It was not a case I ever sought or wanted”.

Alluding to what she called a “difficult and stressful time” throughout the trial, she concluded: “Although I bear Mrs Vardy no ill-will, today’s judgment makes clear that I was right in what I said in my posts of October 2019”.

Although the judge labelled the information within Rooney’s leaked posts as “trivial”, she said the content “does not need to be confidential or important to meet the sting of the libel.”

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Cundy tried to help Vardy and Rooney

Despite the court finding that Rooney’s reveal post “was on a matter of public interest”, the judge ruled that it couldn’t be used as part of her defence because she not take “steps to put the allegation to Ms Vardy and give her an opportunity to respond”.

Addressing what was referred to during the trial as “a series of unfortunate incidents” – which involved a broken laptop, forgotten passwords and lost data – Mrs Justice Steyn said: “In my judgment, it is likely that Ms Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt, and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone in the sea”.

The court praised Rooney’s evidence as “honest and reliable”, but labelled Vardy’s evidence: “manifestly inconsistent… evasive or implausible”.

The judge said: “It was evident that Ms Vardy found the process of giving evidence stressful and, at times, distressing. I bear in mind when assessing her evidence the degree of stress she was naturally feeling, given the high-profile nature of the trial, the abuse that she has suffered since the reveal post was published, and the length of time she was in the witness box.”

She added: “Nevertheless, I find that it is, unfortunately, necessary to treat Ms Vardy’s evidence with very considerable caution.

“There were many occasions when her evidence was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence, e.g. in relation to the World Cup 2018 and the photoshopped pictures, and others where she was evasive.”

Mrs Justice Steyn continued: “Ms Vardy was generally unwilling to make factual concessions, however implausible her evidence.

“This inevitably affects my overall view of her credibility, although I have borne in mind that untruthful evidence may be given to mask guilt or to fortify innocence.”

While the judge found that Vardy had disclosed private information, she said she believed Vardy had felt “genuinely offended” by Rooney’s accusation, employing “a degree of self-deception” to minimise her role in the leak.

Coleen Rooney entertains her kids during the UEFA European Championship 2016; Rebekah Vardy sits behind her. Pic: AP
Vardy and Rooney at Euro 2016. Pic: AP

Rooney’s friend, former WAG, Lizzie Cundy told Sky News she “wasn’t surprised” by the outcome and knew Rooney – who she described as “an honest girl” – would only have made the original reveal post if she was “100% sure it was correct”.

She said when the spat first began she’d even suggested to Rooney and Vardy that they, “Come over and have some prosecco and nuts and sort this out”, adding, “Now Rebekah will be thinking, ‘I should have listened'”.

Cundy went on: “Sadly for Becky, the evidence wasn’t there, it was at the bottom of the North Sea.”

She went on: “It’s sad it’s come this far… But it was Rebekah who wanted it to come to court”.

Vardy had sued Rooney after being publicly accused of leaking “false stories” to the media in 2019, with the high-profile trial taking place at the High Court in London in May.

The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney was dubbed “Wagatha Christie” after claiming that three fake stories posted on her personal Instagram page – which unbeknown to Vardy at the time were shared only with her account – were passed on to The Sun newspaper.

Wayne and Coleen Rooney leave the Royal Courts Of Justice, London, as the high-profile libel battle between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney finally goes to trial. Picture date: Tuesday May 10, 2022.
Rooney and husband Wayne at court in May

Vardy, who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denied leaking the stories and recalled to the court how she thought she might pass out when she first heard about Rooney’s allegations – which came when she was heavily pregnant.

Later in the trial, she became upset several times while answering questions in the witness box about the online trolling she and her family received as a result of the claims.

In her judgment, the judge referred to some of the ” vile abuse” Vardy had received online – which had included a message which someone said her baby should be incinerated – she said there was no “justification or excuse… for such vitriol.”

During the case, the court also heard details of text messages she exchanged with her agent Ms Watt, which appeared to show them discussing leaking stories about other celebrities and footballers to the press.

Wayne Rooney was among the witnesses who gave evidence and supported his wife in the courtroom every day. He told the court that he was asked during Euro 2016 to have a word with Jamie Vardy to ask his wife to “calm down” as publicity grew around the tournament.

Text messages sent between the Vardys during the tournament were also released, along with the fake Instagram posts that sparked the entire trial.

In written submissions to the court, Vardy’s barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC argued that while the case had been trivialised as “WAG Wars” it had had a “very profound” impact on his client’s life, leading to “high intensity abuse and vilification”.

The 40-year-old suffered “immense distress” as a result of Rooney’s allegations and “had no choice” but to take her to court “to establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation”, Mr Tomlinson said.

Undated handout screen grab issued by Kingsley Napley of one of two posts from Coleen Rooney's private instagram made on the day of her viral public post accusing "Rebekah Vardy's account". This content has been shown as evidence at the Royal Courts Of Justice, London, in the libel proceedings between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney. Issue date: Friday May 20, 2022.

However, in the written argument for Rooney, 36, barrister David Sherborne said his client felt “absolutely confident” in the investigation she conducted to find the source of the leaks and that her “authentication was as thorough as many newsrooms”.

Read more:
Coleen Rooney’s evidence
Peter Andre speaks out
Rebekah Vardy denies leaks

Giving evidence, Rooney told the judge she had tried three times “in vain” to avoid the matter going to court.

The fake stories included Rooney travelling to Mexico for a baby “gender selection” procedure, planning a return to TV, and the basement flooding at her home.

“I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them,” Rooney wrote in the internet post that quickly went viral.

“It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

What were the key legal issues in the case?

Rebekah and Jamie Vardy at Leicester City's King Power Stadium
Rebekah and Jamie Vardy pictured at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium in the days after the trial

A libel is a published statement which is defamatory – damaging to a person’s reputation.

Vardy said she had suffered “very serious harm to her reputation” as a result of Rooney’s allegations and therefore brought the case to court to defend herself.

Rooney defended the claim on the basis it was true and in the public interest for her to publish it. Under English defamation law it was Rooney who had to prove her post was “substantially true”.

As this was a civil case, not a criminal one, the standard of proof was “on the balance of probabilities”, or “more likely than not”, rather than “beyond reasonable doubt”.

There is an upper limit of damages in libel actions in the UK of about £300,000, with the amount awarded depending on a number of factors – including the level of reputational damage and the prevalence of the published libel. However, any damages are usually swallowed up by legal costs.

At a hearing in March 2022, it was revealed that Vardy had a costs budget of nearly £900,000, while Rooney’s costs were estimated to be about £400,000.

However, it is believed the case exceeded those budgets.