Laurence Fox loses High Court libel battle over 'paedophiles' social media row

Laurence Fox has lost his High Court libel battle after calling two people "paedophiles" in a social media row.

The actor-turned-politician was sued by former Stonewall trustee Simon Blake and drag artist Crystal over an exchange on Twitter, now known as X, in October 2020.

Mr Fox called Mr Blake and the former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, whose real name is Colin Seymour, “paedophiles” in an exchange about a decision by Sainsbury’s to celebrate Black History Month.

The Lewis star – who founded the Reclaim Party – counter-sued the pair and Coronation Street actress Nicola Thorp over tweets accusing him of racism.

Mr Fox said at the time he would boycott Sainsbury’s, accusing it of promoting “racial segregation and discrimination”.

In a ruling delivered on Monday afternoon, Mrs Justice Collins Rice dismissed Fox's libel counterclaim and ruled in favour of Mr Blake and Mr Seymour.

She found the 'racist' tag was an opinion expressed about Mr Fox and would not be swayed public opinion about him, while the actor-turned-activist had been defamatory with the 'paedophile' slur.

Outside the High Court, Mr Fox vowed to appeal the ruling and suggested £2 million had been spent on the legal battle.

"Today a judge in the High Court has ruled I didn't suffer any serious harm through the allegation of racism made against me, which is strange because at the same time she also declined to define the meaning of the word racist."

Of the appeal, he said: "That's another million quid we are going to have to spend to find out the meaning of a word every single person in this country knows."

On social media, Ms Thorp posted: "For the last three years, Laurence Fox has held us responsible for the downfall of his acting career, his failure to become London Mayor and even the increasing cost of his car insurance. During my cross-examination, his barrister even suggested I was responsible for his arrest in October last year.

"All because on 4th October 2020 we exercised our right to free speech by expressing our honestly held opinions.

"The same man who later told a black man to ‘f*** off back to Jamaica’, posted pride flags in the shape of a swastika and shared blacked up images of himself and his children.

"It’s time that Mr Fox accepted that any damage to his reputation is entirely his own doing."

In her ruling, the judge said: "Mr Fox’s labelling of Mr Blake and Mr Seymour as paedophiles was, on the evidence, probabilities and facts of this case, seriously harmful, defamatory and baseless.

"The law affords few defences to defamation of this sort. Mr Fox did not attempt to show these allegations were true, and he was not able to bring himself on the facts within the terms of any other defence recognised in law.

"This judgment therefore stands as the beginning of the legal vindication to which Mr Blake and Mr Seymour are entitled, as successful defamation claimants."

Turning to the counterclaim, she said: "The law does not regard the particular imputations against Mr Fox that he was a racist, made by Mr Blake, Mr Seymour or Ms Thorp, as defamatory.

"That is because, although to express such an opinion is certainly of inherently defamatory tendency, Mr Fox did not sufficiently discharge the burden the law places on a defamation claimant to establish that their particular tweets – rather than anything else he himself, or others, did or said – as a matter of fact and evidence probably caused or were likely to cause serious harm to his reputation by making readers adversely change their minds about him to that degree."

During a trial in London in November, Mr Fox was described was an alleged “intelligent racist with an agenda”.

Lorna Skinner KC, representing Mr Blake, Mr Seymour and Ms Thorp, said the trio “honestly believed, and continue honestly to believe, that Mr Fox is a racist”.

She said the actor “has made a number of highly controversial statements about race”, adding: “If and to the extent that Mr Fox has been harmed in his reputation, it is his own conduct and not the claimants’ comments on it that caused that harm.”

The barrister highlighted several of Mr Fox’s social media posts, including a June 2022 tweet of four pride flags arranged in the shape of a swastika.

In his written evidence for the case, Mr Seymour, a Canadian artist, said he had faced “overwhelming and distressing” abuse after Mr Fox’s tweet, adding that he felt less safe as a drag performer.

Mr Blake, now chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, said the incorrect suggestion that gay men were paedophiles was “a trope as old as the hills”.

Broadcaster Nicola Thorp claimed that Mr Fox had “outed himself as a racist” with a tweet calling for a boycott of the supermarket.

She said that any reputational harm Mr Fox suffered “was because of what he did, not because of what I said”.

Patrick Green KC, representing Mr Fox, told the court neither Mr Blake nor Mr Seymour “has suffered any actual, real-world consequences” due to the actor’s tweets.

The barrister said the posts did not cause people to think worse of Mr Blake and Mr Seymour, and that people did not believe they were paedophiles.

Instead, Mr Green said readers would have understood that Mr Fox’s posts were a “retort to an allegation of racism” rather than a factual allegation.

Mr Fox told the court he was “horrified” when he saw he had been called a racist, which he later described as “a career-ending word and a reputation-destroying allegation”.

He said his life was “destroyed” by “hurtful” racism allegations and he was left unable to get a mortgage.

The actor said he faced a “significant decline” in the number and quality of roles he was offered after he was accused of being a racist in the social media row.