Arron Banks almost crushed me in court. Instead, my quest for the facts was vindicated | Carole Cadwalladr


LLast week, after almost six months of waiting, I learned that I had won the libel action brought against me by Arron Banks, the main funder of the Leave.EU campaign. It has been a long and brutal journey and the stress in the three years since the start has been extreme. I’m not so much relieved as completely numb.

I had been prepared to lose and I knew exactly what would happen if I had. The headlines I would face, the accusation that I was – what my detractors have always claimed – a “conspirator”, the social media crap that would ensue. I had no doubt how devastating it would be because every step of this litigation felt like it was aimed at crushing me. In large part, it is successful.

The lawsuit targeted 24 words I used in a Ted Talk in 2019, but my history with Banks goes back much further. The entire investigation that was to reveal the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal began in 2016 with a series of denials from the firm about its relationship with Leave.EU.

That investigation led not only to record fines against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg being dragged before Congress, but to findings that Banks’ Leave.EU campaign had violated both election laws and data laws. But it was our revelations in this article about his relationship with the Russian government that struck a chord. Banks reported me to the police. He accused me of hacking and then of blackmail.

And then a year later, he filed a complaint.

With these words I told the audience at Ted’s keynote in Vancouver: “…and I’m not even going to get into the lies that Arron Banks told about his secret relationship with the Russian government”.

I thought the meaning of those words was blindingly obvious. That he had told lies about his secret relationship with the Russian government! I was wrong. In November 2019, as part of the hearing to determine the “legal” meaning of the words I had used, Judge Saini offered his wording, not what I thought the words meant; not even the one Banks had advanced. He maintained that I had said that he had “a secret relationship with the Russian government regarding the acceptance of foreign funding for election campaigns in violation of the law”.

I felt like I had entered the pages of a Kafka novel. The judge’s decision meant that I was going to be tried for defending the truth of a statement that I had never actually said or intended.

When the news broke that I had withdrawn the defense of truth and would only defend it in the public interest, it caused the collapse of the right-wing media system. A tsunami of abusive articles, tweets, statements from commentators and MPs, culminating in when Prize Chairman Orwell phoned me to say that of course they wouldn’t claim my prize as Spectator was demanding, but they took it seriously enough to seek legal advice.

I don’t know if it’s because these slanders against me have stuck or if our entire press has been silenced by Banks’ legal threats, but the near-total silence around this case has been one of its aspects. the most extraordinary. A month before Russia invaded Ukraine, as part of the legal action, leaked documents by me and Banks have provided new information about the relationship between the biggest backer of the Brexit campaign and the Kremlin in a multi-million pound lawsuit against a journalist who 19 press freedom organizations said they believed was an abuse of the law. Much of this has gone unreported. Save for the Guardiannot a single mainstream media outlet has covered any of it.

I am writing this today because the law needs to change. We cannot and must not allow another journalist to experience this. Not for their sanity, but for the health of our democracy. Because it’s not democracy. It’s oligarchy. And Banks v Cadwalladr has to be the last time these lewd laws are used against a journalist in this way.

What this case proves is that no journalist is immune. The judge, Mrs. Justice Steyn, said that Banks’ case against me was not a “Slapp” lawsuit, meaning a strategic lawsuit against public participation. She said her attempt to seek redress through the proceedings against me was legitimate. She is right because it is not possible. There is no definition of a Slapp trial in UK law, so none of what I believe to be the abusive aspects of this case have been put into evidence. They weren’t part of my defense, one of the things I found most upsetting after the trial.

However, the judge clearly indicates in her judgment that the Observer had previously published a report containing “essentially the same allegations, and a very similar meaning”. But Banks did not pursue the Observer and he didn’t chase Ted, he chased me. He probably thought I was the weakest link. He was wrong. But only because an incredible sea of ​​people stood up to support me. I was able to count on the generosity of my legal team and the kindness of strangers: 28,887 people who donated an astonishing sum of £819,835 to my two crowdfunders. Even the writing that makes me cry.

It would have been completely impossible for me to defend myself without this support. It was barely possible even with that. But if I hadn’t, some key facts about the political moment that changed our country forever – Brexit – might have been rewritten. The file could have been changed.

Indeed, what last week’s coverage of the case missed, and what lay readers of the judgment probably won’t understand, is what an extraordinary document it is. Not just for what it means for all of Britain’s media in terms of successful public interest advocacy, but for a forensic examination of the facts of Banks’ relationship with the Russian government that is on the record forever.

I was blown away reading it. Judge Steyn painstakingly undertook her own examination of the accuracy of Banks’ claim that his “only involvement with the Russians was a six-hour boozy lunch”. He claimed this after the Electoral Commission announced it would investigate the ‘real source’ of his £8million donation to the Brexit campaign. And that’s what she found. That statement was, she said, “totally inaccurate.”

She reviewed all of the underlying documentation, including newly revealed evidence in the case, and concluded “he had at least four meetings, including three lunches.” She added: “It would be wrong to expect a journalist to refrain from identifying such an inaccurate statement… as a lie.

But it does not stop there. She noted, “The four meetings of November 6, 2015, November 17, 2015, August 19, 2016 and November 18, 2016 were probably not the full extent [of] Mr. Banks’ meetings with Russian officials. There were reasonable grounds to believe that numerous other meetings had taken place. She considers Banks’ words in a Jan. 19, 2016 email that he intended to “pop over and see the ambassador as well” as “suggestive of a relationship he could easily visit. to the Russian Ambassador.

She said the statement from Andy Wigmore, spokesperson for the Leave.EU campaign and Banks’ business partner, explained why he had retracted his claim that Banks was in Moscow in early 2016 as “not credible”. Nor Banks’ claim that he received a document titled “Russian Gold Sector Consolidation Game” from a British associate, not a Russian oligarch.

Boris Johnson’s government came to power in the wake of Brexit. He refused to investigate Russia’s ongoing attacks on Western democracy and our information systems. Johnson personally intervened to delay the release of the Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russia. He continues to refuse his request for an investigation.

The only information we have about Russia’s efforts comes from American investigators and a handful of journalists. And now this judgment.

The personal, physical, psychological and professional toll of the fight against this case has been profound. But this is not my victory, it belongs to the legal team and the 28,887 people who stood by my side. The banks could still decide to appeal against Madam Justice Steyn’s interpretation of the law. But not the facts.

Whatever happens next, we have them now. We held the line. There have been at least four meetings between the main backer of the Brexit campaign and the Russian government. There are reasonable grounds to believe that there were many more. Do.

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