Chris Packham wins High Court libel claim over rescued tigers allegation

Chris Packham is to receive £90,000 in damages after he successfully won his High Court libel claim over denied allegations he misled the public into donating to a wildlife charity to rescue “broken” tigers from circuses.

The TV naturalist sued three men for libel over nine articles which included claims he “manipulated” people into donating to rescue five tigers while knowing the animals were well looked after.

The strongly denied allegations, repeated in several tweets and videos, related to Mr Packham’s involvement with the Wildheart Trust, which runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.

Dominic Wightman, editor of the online site Country Squire Magazine, defended the libel claim along with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read.

In a judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Saini ruled in Mr Packham’s favour against against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, but dismissed his claim against Mr Read.

He said: “Mr Packham did not commit any acts of fraud or dishonesty.”

Mr Wightman and Mr Bean were ordered to pay £90,000 in damages to the TV presenter.

Mr Justice Saini said that Dominic Wightman and Nigel Bean “fail to come even close to establishing the substantial truth” of the allegation Chris Packham defrauded anyone in relation to the tigers.

He said: “They did not merely allege in the publications that there was some lack of care or negligence on the part of Mr Packham when he made statements about where the tigers had come from or as to their earlier lives.

“Nor did they suggest merely a careless lack of precision by Mr Packham in which he stated or implied the tigers were being kept in cramped conditions… (they) went straight for the most serious allegations of actual fraud and dishonesty.”

Mr Justice Saini said that Mr Wightman and Mr Bean’s public interest defence also failed.

He said in his judgment: “The approach revealed by the evidence is that rather than approaching the task with an investigative mind, these defendants targeted Mr Packham as a person against whom they had an agenda.

“I underline that having an agenda does not, in and of itself, disqualify a person including citizen journalists… from being able to benefit from a public interest defence.

“Indeed, in general terms many publications and professional journalists approach stories with what might be called an agenda.

“However, the agenda adopted by D1 and D2 (Mr Wightman and Mr Bean) meant that they approached what might be facts suggesting, at the very highest, that questions might be asked about the accuracy of the fundraising statements, as proving fraud and dishonesty on the part of Mr Packham.”

The judge added: “Any investigative journalism quickly gave way, in the fifth and following articles, to increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing of Mr Packham, with further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and the trust’s insurance gratuitously thrown in.”

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