Important Update: The Packham 3 Defamation Case

BY THE EDITOR

Dear All,

Our legal team have today summarised the current state of play in the High Court case brought by Chris Packham against me, Nigel Bean and Paul Read (brought against us as individuals, not against the magazine). The summary can be read on the Crowd Justice site here or below the separator on this page.

In short, despite the generosity of direct donations to our lawyers and the Crowd Justice appeal, there is still a shortfall to make up to pay the expected costs of our brilliant legal team and get this case to the final trial which we are so keen to take place later in the year. We have time but the sooner the better.

We want to win this convincingly in court. Every pound helps our mission. Every donation we thank You for wholeheartedly and with the promise of our continuing hard work alongside our legal team, the volunteer research team, the volunteer fundraising team, the volunteer investigation team and the security expertise we have now brought on board to handle the threats from associated lowlife sabs, trolls and antis.

We are in it to win it. We could have taken the chance offered by Packham’s dreadful tank-chasing Leftwaffe lawyers to ‘apologise’, remove the articles or pay thousands of pounds to settle. Instead at every juncture we made our position as clear as day:

Get lost. We shall not be silenced. See you in court.

Let’s build up a massive great war chest and take Packham on, on a level playing field. Then use the machine we have built to take on Countryside pests and nuisances.

Please read the summary below. If you want to read up about the case, this is your chance to follow the links at the end of the summary and to read our defence documents, Packham’s ‘response’, as well as related documents which will help get you acquainted with the case.

What we need is cash. Piles of it. Let’s step up and win this.

The Crowdfunding Links for the Packham 3 can be found here:

Crowd Justice Link

Kofi + PayPal Link

I will be speaking about the case at the Game Fair in July where You can meet us and learn more.

Cheers,

CSM Editor Dom Wightman

(On behalf of the ‘Packham 3‘)

CASE SUMMARY UPDATE:

The “Packham Three” are the defendants in the High Court case of Packham v. Wightman and others (QB-2021-001227). The three individual defendants are Dominic Wightman, Nigel Bean and Paul Read. The Claimant is the well-known BBC presenter and activist Chris Packham CBE.

The defendants published a series of articles online in Country Squire Magazine about Mr Packham’s fundraising activities for the purposes of re-homing tigers in a zoo run by his girlfriend. The articles alleged that Mr Packham was dishonest in a number of ways, including about the circumstances in which he obtained the tigers, in failing to mention that the zoo benefited from a Covid insurance policy, and in his statements about peat burning by gamekeepers during COP26.

The defendants have been sued personally for defamation by Mr Packham and his solicitors, Leigh Day, over a total of 19 separate publications on the Country Squire website and on social media, under what they believe is a “no win, no fee” agreement. Mr Packham is seeking damages of up to £100,000 and asking the Court to approve legal costs, for which all three defendants may be liable, of over £500,000.

The Packham Three ask for your help to fight their legal battle against Mr Packham to a full trial in the High Court, which will determine whether the defendants were entitled to publish what they did about Mr Packham, and whether he should be awarded costs and damages.

What is the case about? 

Mr Packham is widely known for his appearances on the BBC, as well as for campaigning for animal rights and environmental issues. He has a large social media following, where he promotes his non-BBC campaigns and his partner’s zoo on the Isle of Wight (the Wildheart Trust). His campaigning, including through the organisation “Wild Justice”, has brought him into conflict with farmers, field sports participants, and many of those who live and work in the countryside.

In 2018, Mr Packham made a number of statements in support of a fundraising campaign for a group of ex-circus tigers destined for the Wildheart Trust. These statements amounted to claims that tigers had been mistreated by their former owners in a circus and were being “rescued” by the Wildheart Trust. Very significant funds were raised from the public as a result.

Nigel Bean set out to investigate these claims but did not find the evidence to support them. In a series of articles – written by Nigel Bean and edited by Dominic Wightman – Country Squire identified the gap between Mr Packham’s account of his “rescue” of the tigers and the reality. In fact, Mr Packham was re-homing the tigers after their previous owners worked with an animal rights lawyer to donate them to a renowned international animal welfare organisation, which had taken them to live at Primadomus, its site in Spain, where they enjoyed excellent facilities and specialised care.

Mr Packham’s case is that during the course of the two year process of arranging for the tigers to be re-homed by the Wildheart Trust and after visiting them at the sanctuary where they lived in Spain: he learned nothing about the detailed circumstances of the donation by the circus; he and his partner did not watch a video featuring the tigers available on YouTube about the background to the donation or the motivations of the circus family; and that it was correct to describe taking the animals from their comfortable lives at Primadomus to the Isle of Wight as a “rescue”.  He says that keeping wild animals in circuses is “inherently detrimental to their welfare”.

As far as the £500,000 business interruption insurance pay-out is concerned, he says that it was not “open to” him to mention this when fundraising because he did not know whether it would pay out, how much the pay-out would be, or whether it would cover the Wildheart Trust’s losses.

Mr Packham linked on his Twitter account to an article which referred to a film by activists which showed two Muirburns in Cairngorms National Park, saying “grouse moors  burn  peat  during  @COP26  &  their  apologists  pedal  the  same old lies” (sic). The film showed two lawful and controlled Muirburns. Mr Packham says he does not remember watching the film before posting and that it in fact showed peat being burned on grouse moors because, according to him, “any burning of moorland is in fact likely to burn peat”.

The Packham Three are defending their statements on two grounds: first that they were true and second that it, in the circumstances, it was reasonable for them to believe that it was in the public interest to publish them. The defendants are absolutely confident that their allegations were both true and justified.

The case so far 

There has been one hearing so far, at which Mr Justice Johnson determined the meaning of the defendants’ publications (“the meaning hearing”). The defendants represented themselves at that hearing, which did not consider evidence, but decided what the single meaning of the defendants’ publications was for the purposes of the dispute over whether the defendants were entitled to publish them.

What happens next?

There is a further procedural hearing coming up at the end of June, at which Mr Packham will seek the Court’s approval for his costs budget of £502,113.85.

The case will then progress towards a trial at some point in 2023, via disclosure and the exchange of witness statements. During the trial, it is likely that all of the parties, including Mr Packham, will give evidence.

What is the money for? 

No expense has been spared by Leigh Day, who specialise in no win, no fee agreements, most prominently in respect of their pursuit of compensation claims against the Ministry of Defence over the actions of British soldiers in the Iraq War. They have also represented Wild Justice, including in their challenges to the system of licences for killing wild birds.

Leigh Day previously asked the Court to approve a budget for the meaning hearing at a cost of 100% more than the usual costs cap which is applied (the Court refused this request). Leigh Day claim to have already incurred costs of £167,264.06, and claim that it will cost a further £334,849.78 to get to trial. Despite the Court at the meaning hearing finding that there was an “overlap” between the publications, Mr Packham has included 19 separate publications and taken no steps to focus the dispute to control costs. The Defendants have been sued personally, Mr Read continuing to be included despite having no meaningful role in the articles, and each one is liable for the full sum of costs and damages.

The Defendants have argued that because of the difference between their public profiles, Mr Packham’s exorbitant costs, the unnecessary scale of the litigation, and the fact that they have been sued personally, the case is a “SLAPP” (a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), which is intended to intimidate them into silence. Mr Packham has not responded to this point.  

Without support the defendants cannot afford to pay their own specialist defamation lawyers – a firm of solicitors and a barrister – to defend their journalism and take the case to trial, or protect themselves against Mr Packham’s costs.

Why does this case matter? 

Country Squire Editor Dominic Wightman said:

“Having to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to have the light shone on the facts seems ridiculous but that is the reality we are facing because the Claimant, Packham, has sued us as individuals. Add to that personal cost the daily bombardment from Packham-supporting trolls and we have had to dig deep. We are strong. Bring on the main trial. The sooner the better. We cannot wait to get the facts out there. We now have a superb legal and research team in place and we have refused to buckle before demands that we should apologise and remove the articles. The support from the Countryside has been amazing both through Crowd Justice and direct to our lawyers. Thanks to all of you for giving us the chance to defend ourselves and our articles against Packham.”

The case focuses on the specific allegations about the tigers, the zoo, and the Muirburns. These might be considered obscure issues, of little interest to the wider countryside in the UK. But this is to miss the bigger point about Mr Packham’s high profile campaigning and fund-raising activities. If he wins this case, his activities and influence will continue unabated. If he loses, or even if his evidence is rejected in part, his credibility as an honest campaigner will be seriously diminished.

If you ride a horse (whether or not to hounds), farm livestock, show your livestock in agricultural shows, keep pigs or poultry, shoot in any capacity, go fly fishing, coarse or sea fishing, are dependent upon the wider rural community for your business or recreation, if you build drystone walls or lay hedgerows or plant trees, in fact if you undertake just about any form of management of the countryside, then this case is not just about tigers. It is about you too.

The defendants are confident of winning this case on the basis of truth.

But they need your generous help.

Thank You very much indeed.

June 2022

Further Information

For those wishing to plunge into legal detail:

For those wishing to read the original articles in CSM:

For an excellent and rapid review of the story, containing almost exactly the same information as the early CSM articles, The Daily Mail article* is here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9069615/Did-Chris-Packhams-claims-tiger-cruelty-people-thousands.html

*The Daily Mail was not sued.