The long running case of Tardios & St John’s Preparatory and Senior School –v- Pammela Linton (aka Patricia Carpenter) raised a number of interesting issues both from an education and defamation perspective.
The case concerned the publication of an online petition containing certain defamatory comments about St John’s school and its headmistress Calliope Tardios. The petition was said to published by ‘Patricia Carpenter’. The Claimants obtained permission to issue defamation proceedings via the email address provided with the online petition and ‘Patricia Carpenter’ subsequently acknowledged the proceedings, giving an address for service in Zimbabwe. The Claimants undertook various investigations which appeared to confirm their suspicions that Patricia Carpenter was in fact Pammela Linton, a parent of a pupil at the school and with whom the school was in dispute over unpaid fees and allegations of bullying.
At various stages in the proceedings the Claimants obtained a Norwich Pharmacal Order against the online petition host, Change.org, to help identify the author of the petition and an order for third party disclosure against Google, the host of the Patricia Carpenter email account. This disclosure proved that Patricia Carpenter could not have been from Zimbabwe. The Claimants produced other evidence to the Court showing that Patricia Carpenter had access to information and documents only available to Mrs Linton and vice versa. The Court also heard evidence that the postal order used to pay Patricia Carpenter’s Court fee was purchased from a post office close to Mrs Linton’s home.
Taking all of these matters into account the Court concluded in May this year that Mrs Linton’s defence that she was not Patricia Carpenter (and therefore the author of the defamatory petition) had no prospect of success. The Claimants had previously obtained judgment against “Patricia Carpenter”. The Court upheld its decision to substitute Mrs Linton as the correct Defendant to the proceedings.
The matter came back before the Court in July to consider damages. Mrs Linton did not attend this hearing.
The Court heard that the defamatory comments had been read by a substantial number of people with either a connection to the school or with an interest of sending their children there. The personal allegations against the head teacher were serious and she had greatly suffered as a result of them.
The Court took into account the absence of any mitigating factors for the Defendant and the aggravating factor of her continuing refusal to admit her identity. The Court awarded the head teacher £70,000 for injury to feelings. The school could only be awarded damages for injury to reputation, which were assessed at £25,000. The Court also granted an injunction to guard against the risk that otherwise the libel would be repeated.