Claimants awarded £90,000 each for “paedophile” tweets by Laurence Fox

June 13, 2024
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The High Court has awarded Simon Blake and Colin Seymour £90,000 each in damages after a libel trial about a Twitter spat, in which Laurence Fox falsely labelled each of them a “paedophile”.[1] The award was made even though most members of the public may not have taken the slurs at face value, as the aspersions were still capable of creating a “deep reputational stain” and “acute personal distress” – and so capable of sounding in damages. The claimants were also granted an injunction restraining Mr Fox from publishing the same or similar defamatory statements in the future.


On 4 October 2020, Mr Blake and Mr Seymour described Mr Fox as a “racist” on Twitter. Mr Fox responded with tweets labelling each of them a “paedophile”.

The single natural and ordinary meaning of the word “paedophile” was found in both the High Court[2] and the Court of Appeal[3] to be “someone who had a sexual interest in children and who had or was likely to have engaged in sexual acts with or involving children, such acts amounting to serious criminal offences”. Accordingly, Mr Fox’s statements were allegations or imputations of fact.

The High Court determined that it was more likely than not that Mr Fox’s “paedophile” tweets had caused, or were at least likely to cause, serious harm to the claimants’ reputations.[4] So the test in section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 was satisfied. Mr Fox pleaded a defence of a fair “reply to attack” under common-law qualified privilege, but that was unsuccessful as the “paedophile” allegations had no connection with the “racist” allegations and his tweets were “escalatory and disproportionate”.

With liability determined, a remedies hearing took place on 22 March 2024. Both claimants sought:

  1. an award of monetary damages;
  2. an injunction to restrain Mr Fox from publishing the same or similar defamatory statements; and
  3. an order to compel Mr Fox to publish a summary of the judgment on his X (formerly Twitter) account.

Libel damages

In weighing up damages, the High Court noted that, as libel is a tort, the starting point is that an award of damages should, as far as possible, put the injured party in the same position as they would have been had the tort never been committed. The court further noted that, while guidance might be drawn from similar defamation cases, and even personal injury cases, any damages award in a defamation context must be based on the specific facts of the individual case.

In assessing the quantum of damages in this case, Mrs Justice Collins Rice considered the following factors to be of evidential significance:

  • The factual allegation that someone has, or is likely to have, engaged in sexual acts involving children is a “particularly powerful reputational pollutant”, given the inherent repugnance of the crime, and the non-incredible nature of the allegation.
  • This was a mass-publication case, and Mr Fox’s libellous tweets reached a large audience. This was both due to Mr Fox’s substantial Twitter following, as well as the wider attention that the case was afforded in the mainstream press.
  • The claimants were particularly vulnerable to such an allegation, given that both had worked in circumstances where safeguarding matters were engaged.
  • The claimants were very suddenly, and by no fault of their own, part of a national news story of an “exceptionally vehement, exposing and polarised nature”. Mr Fox is a well-known figure with a wide following, and the claimants found themselves in a position of having to prove that they were not paedophiles.
  • Both of the claimants, and their immediate family and friends, experienced bewilderment, fear and distress in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
  • The evidence did not point to quantifiable career damage for either Mr Blake or Mr Seymour, nor did Mr Fox’s libellous allegation itself directly cause a subsequent public controversy around the suitability of drag entertainment for children, in which Mr Seymour was involved.
  • Mr Fox took certain steps to mitigate against the impact of the libellous allegations, including by, within 24 hours: (a) deleting the offending tweets; (b) referring on Twitter to having taken part in a “game” of throwing “baseless insults and accusations” about; and (c) speaking with a degree of regret on Talk TV, and later on LBC.
  • It had taken well over three years for the claimants to establish their right to vindication, and such a delay had caused vindication to be denied to them throughout this time.

In light of the above, Collins Rice J considered that a “substantial award” of damages would be appropriate to vindicate the claimants’ reputational standing. The judge also noted that, had the claimants not had such a powerful support network, and had they not shown themselves to be so resilient, the award of damages could have been a multiple of the figure awarded.

Ultimately, the court awarded each claimant £90,000 in damages. This figure took into account: (a) the substantial victimisation and distress wrongfully inflicted on the claimants; (b) the general reputational harm sustained; and (c) how the vindication process might enable the claimants to put the unpleasant incident behind them.

Injunctive relief

Collins Rice J noted that, while injunctive relief is a discretionary remedy and is not available as of right, it is regularly afforded to successful defamation claimants. Published libel is not protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so it is a remedy that often naturally follows from a finding of liability.

The judge decided to award the claimants injunctive relief in this instance for two reasons:

  1. There was an established pattern whereby Mr Fox generally exercised his rights of public free speech in an impulsive, and sometimes reckless, manner. That pattern might even be recognised as a systematic experimentation with the extreme boundaries of free speech.
  2. Mr Fox had shown a “sustained animus” against all the original claimants. For instance, since the beginning of the proceedings, Mr Fox had quote-tweeted a Daily Mail headline referring to “Crystal” (i.e. Mr Seymour’s stage name), commenting with his own tweet, “Babysitter to (hopefully) none”.

Accordingly, the judge considered that Mr Fox continued to pose a risk to the claimants’ rights, and so granted an injunction to restrain Mr Fox from publishing the same or similar defamatory statements.

Order for publication

Under section 12 of the Defamation Act 2013, a court can order the publication of a summary of its judgment. The judge noted that the remedy should be used sparingly, given that it represents a “distinct incursion” on a defendant’s Article 10 right to freedom of expression.

In this instance, the judge did not consider such a remedy necessary or proportionate, not least because the case had already received extensive public coverage, and so there would be a risk of inaccurate or counterproductive commentary that could subject the claimants to further public humiliation.


In analysing the combined damages of £180,000 that were awarded to the claimants, it is important to consider the wider context. Relatively recent case law stipulates that the upper boundary for damages in libel claims might be something in the region of £350,000. That figure was put forward by Nicklin J in the Lachaux ruling[5] as a proportionate award for a libel claim at the very top level of seriousness (although that figure might now be higher, allowing for inflation). The rationale for that ceiling is, broadly, that defamation is a civil wrong, and so damage to reputation is quantified in largely the same way as personal injury claims.

It is interesting that Collins Rice J awarded damages at a relatively high level, even when concluding that most people probably did not take Mr Fox’s paedophile allegations at face value. As the judge commented, the evidence as a whole fell short of “establishing that the calumny itself was widely accepted as true fact”. Yet the judge was critical of “the pernicious effects of unleashing the beast of paedophile rumour” and concluded that: “Something a long way short of absolute conviction in the minds of third parties is entirely capable of creating deep reputational stain.”

Accordingly, in the judge’s view, a public accusation of paedophilia against an individual could create “acute personal distress” as to what others might be believing, conjecturing or even speculating about, even if most members of the general public do not believe the allegation to be true – which, for the judge, was “capable of sounding in damages”. This sort of “pollution” on the reputation of a defamed individual is something that no amount of monetary compensation can ever fix. So a significant damages award can be expected in this sort of context, even if the slurs are not meant to be sincere.

Article written for Entertainment Law Review.

[1] Blake v Fox [2024] EWHC 956 (KB).

[2] Blake v Fox [2022] EWHC 3542 (KB).

[3] Blake v Fox [2023] EWCA Civ 1000.

[4] Blake v Fox [2024] EWHC 146 (KB).

[5] Lachaux v Independent Print Limited [2021] EWHC 1797.

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