Everest Skydive Libel: Postscript

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

In January, I blogged about the case of Stephen Slater, a young cameraman facing a libel suit after he posted a short film on YouTube. This detailed the failings of an expedition to sky-dive in the Everest region led by Nigel Gifford. Almost immediately I had an email from Jason Gale, then acting as Gifford's publicity agent. He described Slater's film to me as 'propaganda'.

Later, Gale managed to get Gifford's version of events onto a BBC London radio programme that accused Slater of cyberstalking, without mentioning him by name but making him clearly identifiable – and without offering him a right to reply. The show was swiftly pulled from iPlayer and the BBC admitted their own guidelines had been broken.

Several people have asked me what happened to the libel case Nigel Gifford brought. Before it could get to court, but after substantial costs – around £30,000 – were incurred by his legal team, Gifford withdrew and later paid Slater's costs. (Quite how he managed this after going bust is anybody's guess.) A few days ago, BBC South West's Inside Out programme ran a long item investigating Gifford which, it seems to me, settles the issue for good. Catch it while you can.

Most of us think of libel as an issue that largely affects journalists, particuarly those working on scuzzy tabloids on Fleet Street. Who cares? But the way our libel laws stand, it's relatively straight forward to shut ordinary people up by threatening them with horrendous legal costs if they dare to speak out. The irony in this case is that Gifford picked on someone who had nothing to lose – and wasn't going to be intimidated. As the BBC film makes clear, Slater's allegations were pretty much wholly substantiated.

As Cyndi Lauper said, money changes everything, even adventure. I'd encourage you to consider the petition for libel reform in the UK.

Posted by Ed Douglas at 9.57 PM