Countdown star Rachel Riley was left unable to sleep and bombarded with abuse after Jeremy Corbyn’s former aide claimed she said he ‘deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi’, the High Court heard today.
William Bennett QC told Mr Justice Nicklin that the tweet posted by Laura Murray about two years ago caused serious harm to Ms Riley, 35, who appears in the Channel 4 show Countdown.
Ms Murray is disputing the libel claim. Mr Justice Nicklin began overseeing the trial at the High Court in London on Monday and it is due to end later this week.
Ms Riley had initially posted a screen-shot of a January 2019 tweet by Guardian columnist Owen Jones, about an attack on former British National Party leader Nick Griffin, in which Mr Jones had said: ‘I think sound life advice is, if you don’t want eggs thrown at you, don’t be a Nazi.’
She had added, ‘Good advice’, with emojis of a red rose and an egg.
Later, Ms Murray had tweeted: ‘Today Jeremy Corbyn went to his local mosque for Visit My Mosque Day, and was attacked by a Brexiteer. Rachel Riley tweets that Corbyn deserves to be violently attacked because he is a Nazi. This woman is as dangerous as she is stupid. Nobody should engage with her. Ever.’
Rachel Riley arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, for a libel case today
Ms Riley told the court through a statement today: ‘I had not tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn deserved to be violently attacked,’ she wrote in her witness statement.
‘I was really affronted at being called “dangerous and stupid” and that people were being told not to have anything to do with me “ever”.
‘I had made a sarcastic but in my opinion relevant and important comment in relation to Owen Jones and a few hours later the defendant was spreading it round on Twitter that I advocated violence against Jeremy Corbyn because in her words, I had said that he deserved to be attacked because he was a Nazi.
‘I believe that I was targeted by the defendant because I had been critical of the Labour Party’s handling of anti-Semitism.
‘It was an attempt to shut me up or to stop people listening to what I was saying by telling people that I was encouraging people to commit violence against Jeremy Corbyn.
The case is over a tweet from Laura Murray, a former aide to ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is also pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice today
‘The allegations in the Tweet have made me feel vulnerable to physical attack which is naturally very worrying.
‘The volume of abusive and threatening messages was all-consuming.
‘I found it hard to focus on my work and suffered sleepless nights. Even now, the abuse has gone unchecked and my reputation is not vindicated.
‘Every time I have to revisit the abuse I received for this case due to this incident, it is re-traumatising and upsetting and I experience the same physical and mental reactions which affect my sleep and wellbeing.
‘The growth of antisemitism on the left of British politics led me to criticise the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and certain of its supporters and sympathisers.
Ms Murray is a former aide to Jeremy Corbyn. They are pictured together in September 2015
‘My view is that the Corbyn-led Labour Party was fostering antisemitism.
‘I have spoken publicly to condemn this antisemitism in the Labour Party.
‘I started to do so in September 2018. My main vehicle for commenting has been Twitter.
‘This led to me becoming the target of a very great deal of abuse and many damaging falsehoods from people supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and his stewardship of the Labour Party.
‘Many on the far left refused to accept that antisemitism was a problem within the Labour Party and instead chose to promote the narrative that complaints about it were some sort of cynical attempt to stop Jeremy Corbyn being elected as prime minister.
‘The abuse and lies directed at me have been spread across social media, most noticeably to me on Twitter, as I am directly contactable through this medium.’
Countdown presenter Rachel Riley claims she was libelled in a message posted on Twitter
Ms Riley has sued Ms Murray for libel.
She says the tweet contained ‘defamatory statements of fact’ about her.
‘We do say that the tweet complained of did cause serious harm,’ Mr Bennett told the judge.
‘She was accused of risking inciting violence and told she was dangerous.’
He said the tweet had been published to a ‘huge number of people’.
A barrister representing Ms Murray disagreed with the case put forward by Ms Riley.
William McCormick QC told the judge, in a written case outline, that Ms Murray’s tweet was ‘true’.
‘The claimant (Ms Riley) chose to tweet to her 625,000-plus followers about a violent attack in a manner which was both stupid and dangerous,’ he said.
‘It was obvious that her tweet would provoke hostile reactions of the kind that did in fact emerge.
‘What the defendant (Ms Murray) tweeted was true, reflected her honestly-held opinions and was a responsible exercise of her own rights of expression on a matter of real public importance.’
He said it was ‘tolerably clear’ that Ms Riley had ‘wrongly regarded’ the libel claim as part of a long-running dispute over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
Mr McCormick said it was an issue on which she ‘feels strongly’.
But he said the case was not about anti-Semitism but about the ‘need for restraint in public discourse’.
Mr Justice Nicklin had ruled at an earlier hearing that Ms Murray’s tweet was defamatory.
The judge had concluded that the tweet meant that: Ms Riley had ‘publicly stated’ that Mr Corbyn had been attacked when visiting a mosque; that he ‘deserved to be violently attacked’; by doing so, she had shown herself to be a ‘dangerous and stupid person’ who ‘risked inciting unlawful violence’; and, that people should not ‘engage with her’.
Mr Bennett said ‘relevant issues’ at the trial were: whether serious harm had been caused to Ms Riley’s reputation, and, whether Ms Murray had a ‘truth’ defence, an ‘honest opinion’ defence, or a ‘public interest’ defence.
Ms Riley told the judge that she was being ‘sarcastic’ in her tweet.
‘I wasn’t directing it at Owen Jones,’ she said.
‘I was directing it at the left.’
She said Ms Murray ‘must have known’ that ‘I didn’t say those words’.