Man wins libel case over ex-wife's Facebook claims but declines damages
A businessman has won a libel case over his ex-wife's Facebook claim that he tried to kill her - but does not want any damages.
Businessman Ronald Stocker said that the statements posted by former wife Nicola in a December 2012 exchange with his new partner Deborah Bligh wrongly painted him as a "dangerous and thoroughly disreputable" man.
Ruling on Thursday that 65-year-old Mr Stocker had a "meritorious" claim, Mr Justice Mitting said the libel was not trivial and assessed the appropriate compensation at £5,000.
But, he added, he was making no award of damages as Mr Stocker "to his credit" had decided he did not want one.
Mrs Stocker, 48, of Longwick, Buckinghamshire, who denied libel and said what she posted was substantially true, gave an undertaking not to repeat the defamatory words.
She faces a costs bill of about £200,000 and must make an interim payment of £140,000 within 28 days unless she pursues an appeal.
During the trial in London, Mr Stocker, of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, said the posts suggested he tried to kill Mrs Stocker nearly 10 years earlier by strangling her and had also threatened her, breached a non-molestation order and been arrested countless times.
The allegations were published to 21 individuals who had authorised access to the page and were also visible to 110 of Ms Bligh's "friends" and to their Facebook "friends".
Mrs Stocker said that the March 2003 incident was triggered by Mr Stocker being pricked with a pin while he stood on a chair as she shortened the hem of his trousers.
She said her ex, from whom she was acrimoniously divorced in 2012 after 13 years together, became very angry and pinned her down on a sofa with his hands tightly around her throat.
"I was unable to breathe and was frightened that he was going to kill me. I remember thinking 'this is it'."
She managed to push him off and hid in the office where she put a chair in front of the door and rang 999. Her throat had red marks and felt very sore.
Mr Stocker said he knew he did not aim for her neck but put one hand over her mouth to stop her shouting and waking up their son.
He added: "To me this was a very, very small domestic incident where I hadn't done the things suggested."
The judge said that both were generally truthful witnesses and had much to commend them but they brought out the worst in each other.
"Under the stress of a failing marriage, each behaved towards the other in a manner which does no credit to either of them."
He said that the hearing was necessary to "lance the boil" of their grievances.
The judge said that he was satisfied that Mr Stocker and Ms Bligh did not set out to entrap Mrs Stocker.
A comment on Facebook was the same as a comment posted on an office noticeboard. Mrs Stocker had no right to assume it was private and was liable for the consequences if it was not.
He said he did not accept Mr Stocker's account of the incident - but he was not satisfied that he threatened to kill his wife.
"I do not believe he was capable, even in temper, of attempted murder.
"The most likely explanation is that he did in temper attempt to silence her forcibly by placing one hand on her mouth and the other under the chin to hold her head still. His intention to silence - not to kill."
He said that Mrs Stocker had proved that Mr Stocker did commit an offence against her, of at least common assault, and he was arrested three times and had made threats.
"But she has not met the sting of posting that he was a dangerous man. The impression to an ordinary reader was a significant and distorted overstatement of what had in fact occurred."
Painting such a false picture was intended to be and was damaging to Mr Stocker's reputation and his relationship with Ms Bligh, but its circulation was limited and the damage substantially remedied.