Following successfully established that he was not the unnamed figure at the center of child sexual abuse allegations following a particularly damning case of mistaken identity by the accuser, a British politician is now seeking to further redeem his reputation by suing twenty high-profile Twitter users for the role they played during his initial accusation.
Lord Alistair McAlpine had been falsely identified on social media in the United Kingdom as being the “senior Conservative” implicated in allegations of child abuse first shared on the BBC’s high-profile Newsnight current-affairs show, before one of the victims of abuse confirmed publicly that he did not believe Lord McAlpine had been involved in any way (The resulting fall-out led to the BBC’s chief executive, the Director General, resigning over mismanagement of the story and its impact). With the initial accusations successfully rebuffed, now McAlpine has turned his attentions on those who spread them.
A spokesperson representing the former politician has confirmed that “high-profile” twenty Twitter users who posted comments about the allegations are being considered for legal action, including well-respected British journalist George Monbiot and the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons (“High-profile” in this case, according to the spokesperson, translates into “has more than 500 followers). According to the spokesperson, that number could increase as investigations into the Twitter and social media commentary continues, but could not confirm whether any legal action had yet been taken.
Earlier this week, McAlpine had met with the London Metropolitan Police to discuss whether criminal charges could be brought over the offending Tweets, with Scotland Yard issuing a statement that the organization had “not received an allegation of crime at this time, however, [it] can confirm we will be meeting with interested parties to start the process of scoping whether any offense has taken place,” adding that it was “far too early to say whether any criminal investigation will follow.”
At the time, lawyers working for McAlpine said that they had identified 10,000 defamatory Tweets that might be legally actionable. Andrew Reid, one of the lawyers representing McAlpine, has said that his client will be seeking damages that suggest appropriate levels of apology, telling ITV News that “most importantly we get an apology and an undertaking not to repeat and once we’ve examined the extent of the damage they’ve done, we’ll agree suitable damages.” He said that “some of [the Tweeters] we’re aware of, some of them have come forward and some have been very apologetic. You know all of this will be borne in mind, in the same way that ITV were apologetic, as were the BBC.” To put that in some understandable context, the BBC agreed to £185,000 in damages earlier this month, with ITV offering £125,000.