A UK judge has ordered a football fans' website to hand over details of posters who made potentially defamatory remarks about directors of Sheffield Wednesday. The move, in what's being viewed as a test case, has implications for the owners of, and posters on, other football chat websites.
Sheffield Wednesday club chairman Dave Allen, chief executive Kaven Walker and five other directors successfully sought the order against Neil Hargreaves, who runs the owlstalk.co.uk forum. They claimed Hargreaves offered a forum that allowed 11 as yet unidentified individuals to mount an anonymous and "sustained campaign of vilification" against them, the Metro reports.
Earlier this month, Allan launched a separate libel action seeking to force the BBC into identifying the names of two users of a Radio Five Live football forum, the UK Press Gazette adds.
The owlstalk case focuses on 14 postings made between July and August this year. Among other things one poster suggested the Owl's chief exec spent money on "hookers" and didn't know the difference between a rugby hooker and a football striker.
Deputy Judge Richard Parkes QC said the prostitute claims were unlikely to be taken seriously, but the suggestion that Walker was incapable of spotting a competent football player was more professionally damaging.
Judge Parkes said that some of the postings, although arguably defamatory, bordered on the trivial. The identity of posters who made remarks that were trivial or likely to be understood as jokes ought to remain under wraps.
"The postings which I regard as more serious are those which may reasonably be understood to allege greed, selfishness, untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour on the part of the claimants," Judge Parkes said.
Disclosure orders were made by the judge regarding four postings by three users. In those cases the rights of posters to maintain their anonymity and express their feelings were outweighed by the the plaintiff's rights to protect their reputations, the judge ruled.
The judge ordered the club and directors to pay £9,000 in costs to cover Hargreaves’ reasonable costs of compliance with his order. Hargreaves sought almost £23,000. ®