From Dave's Part
Statement: libel action brought by Johanna Kaschke
AS IS being reported widely across the leftwing blogosphere, I am currently being sued for libel by Johanna Kaschke, a Conservative Party activist based in Tower Hamlets. In light of the considerable publicity, let me state the following for the record.
This case centres on whether or not Ms Kaschke - filmed in May in the company of London mayor Boris Johnson - can fairly be said to have been ‘linked’ to the ultraleftist Baader Meinhof terrorist gang in her youth in seventies Germany.
Ms Kaschke admits arrest on suspicion of terrorism in 1975, and spending two months or so thereafter in custody. As I made clear in the article complained of, she was in 1977 paid compensation for false imprisonment, and has consistently denied any wrongdoing. Despite her contention otherwise, I have at no time accused her of being a ‘hardline terrorist’, or indeed a terrorist of any stripe.
As recently as last year, Ms Kaschke put herself forward for the Labour nomination for the winnable seat of Bethnal Green & Bow. After receiving just one vote, she defected to the Respect party of George Galloway, quickly left to join one of Britain’s multiple Communist Parties, adhered again to Labour and then switched to the Tories; she now overtly advocates political positions that place her on the hard right of the legitimate Conservative spectrum. Rarely can ideological peregrinations have been so comprehensive in such a short space of time.
In addition to her action against me, I know for sure that Ms Kaschke is also suing Labourhome founder Alex Hilton, Labour-supporting blogger John Grey,and leading German news magazine Der Spiegel. She has settled out of court with Private Eye, and I also reliably understand that she earlier this year lost a substantial sum in costs in a failed action against the Labour Party. In addition, she is seeking judicial review against a decision on her right to legal aid made by the Legal Services Commission.
Being a journalist, I have had sufficient professional training to put forward a defence of justification and/or fair comment, and I furthermore contend that the doctrine of ‘bane and antidote’ applies, in that her side of the story was properly set out. I admit to breach of copyright in using a photograph from her website, and will shortly make an offer of settlement, based on National Union of Journalists rates for photographers.
Novel points of law raised by the claimant include the issue of whether her inability to carry out decorative work in her abode can legitimately form part of an action for aggravated damages in defmation, and whether accurately listing her past affiliations is tantamount to denial of her right to freedom of association under the European Human Rights Act. Both interpretations seem to me frankly quixotic, although that is naturally for the court to decide.
Evidence includes a copy of Ms Kaschke’s arrest warrant, stating that she had access to a storage area in which were kept imitation firearms, gas masks and car number plates, and a letter written by a lawyer on her behalf, admitting that she put on a benefit concert for Rote Hilfe, an entirely lawful organisation that raised money to fund legal fees for Baader Meinhof defendants accused in the German courts. Ms Kaschke contests the claims contained in her arrest warrant.
I am happy to make copies of these documents - and ample other supporting material, most of which attracts qualified privilege and is thus immune from action for defamation - available to journalists who may wish to cover this story. Incidentally, application under Germany’s Freedom of Information legislation for further details concerning Ms Kaschke’s arrest will shortly be made.
Comments left on the original post form part of the action, something that in itself raises important issues for freedom of speech on the internet. One of the grounds on which this action is being brought is a remark in this blog’s comments box that describes Ms Kaschke as ‘one cherry short of a Schwarzwalderkirschtorte’. The merit of this designation is now entirely a matter for the court; however, such deliberations can scarcely be considered the optimal use of judicial time.
As most blogging aficionados will realise, such a lighthearted and jocular insult is nothing compared to the anarchic mêlée of a controversial thread in full flight. Everyone - regardless of political affiliation - who values the right to express an opinion online in vernacular English should support all of the bloggers involved in this blizzard of writs.
Congratulations are due to top Tory blogger Iain Dale, who has come down against his fellow Conservative Ms Kaschke in support of Alex Hilton. Heartfelt thanks also go to another prominent Tory, who has offered me concrete support in all this on principled libertarian grounds. All will be revealed if push comes to shove, but it is already clear that this woman does not have the backing of the better elements of her own party.
The next directions hearing is on January 27th next year, at which point I will apply to have the action joined with the action against Alex and John. If this matter comes to court, it is likely to prove one of the more colourful defamation claims of 2009. In the meantime, feel free to publicise this matter, on the basis of the uncontested facts set out in this post