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F E Smith
F E Smith, Advocate
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 9335
Experience:  I have been practising for 30 years.
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Can you be sued if you give an opinion to a person who has

Customer Question

Can you be sued for libel if you give an opinion to a person who has contacted you under the guise of another person. This was done via a private message on a parenting website
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  F E Smith replied 1 year ago.

Could you explain what’s happened here in detail please? Are you being threatened with a defamation application?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Ok, I posted some an annoymous posting on mumsnet when my son was excluded from a private school due to speech and language delay on the lines of exercising caution on enrolling your children with SEN in private schools and having a moan about what happened. I had previously complimented the school under a different username and using this the headmaster contacted me via private message under the guise of a prospective parent asking about the school and I told of my own personal experience and gave what is now my own opinion of the school and why I dont rate it. I was asked for other local school recommendations and gave a potted opinion of other schools. I was specifically asked about the head and gave what is my opinion. In a nutshell I said the school was great for seniors but not good for younger children with not enough support staff and young inexperienced teachers. I have not been threatened with anything yet but it may go that way
Expert:  F E Smith replied 1 year ago.

Slander is spoken. Libel is written which includes the Internet. It must be a defamatory statement made to a third party. It’s not defamatory if it’s made to the person themselves who are the subject of whatever you have said or written or published.

If however you have simply posted your experience and that was a bad experience, then even though it may be defamatory, there is no cause of action if it is true.

What you can’t do is hide behind an opinion. So you can’t say that your opinion this school is absolutely abysmal no parent in their right mind would go there and expect to defend a defamation claim purely because that your honest opinion.

If you think it’s going to go that way, then take the post down before it does. If the school overhead decides to bring a defamation claim against you need to bear in mind that they are very expensive and only dealt with by a very limited number of solicitors and although many people threaten defamation claims, only a tiny percentage ever go anywhere.

Because the headteacher posed as a pupil in order for you to be as frank as you could, any comments obviously made to the headteacher are not defamatory because they are made face-to-face. They may be defamatory regarding the school but not the headteacher. The comments put online were put online regardless and the fact that the headteacher may have posed as a potential pupils parent, although misleading, is not actually relevant. It is the posting of the potentially defamatory comments on the Internet to 3rd parties which is potentially defamatory nothing to do with the conversation with the teacher.

Whilst it seems unlikely that by telling the truth what you have done is made a defamatory statement, the chances of this going anywhere are slim and even slimmer if you have already removed the post.

Can I clarify anything for you?

Please don’t forget to rate the service positive. It’s an important part of the process by which experts get paid.

Best wishes.

FES.

F E Smith and other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you very much and just to clarify the published post was annonymous and generic cautionary tale about private schools for children with sen and my story with no mention of the school or even the area. Where it got personal was through the private message under the guise of a parent so it would have been between us via mumsnet and no third parties involved. I get the impression they trawl through mumsnet and put 2 and 2 together with the timing of my story (just after little one got excluded and his reception place offer withdrawn) smelt a rat and looked for other users talking about the school which was me a few months age praising the school. I have closed the mumsnet account and by doing that automatically blocked the head sending me any more messages. He is trying to frighten me and sent me a copy of the generic posts yesterday. I responded by saying they are generic and could have been written by anyone and there is not mention of the school. I have not yet had a respnse as he says he is taking advice as the posts could be damaging to the school. Will rate excellent, thank you
Expert:  F E Smith replied 1 year ago.

I’m glad to help. It was anonymous but you did it and now, the headteacher knows that you did it albeit that the headteacher discovered that in a rather underhand way.

If there is no mention of the school or the area, that changes things because the average person reading the post would have to know or strongly suspect that it applied to a particular school. If the post was anonymous and the identity of the school was anonymous, then it cannot be defamatory if the school was completely unidentifiable from it and it could be anyone of hundreds or thousands of schools in the country. Because they recognise themselves from it doesn’t necessarily mean that the average man in the street who knows about school, including this school, would necessarily put the two together.

If they put two and two together because of the reference to your child being excluded, and they assumed it must refer to them, then anyone who doesn’t know about that would certainly not identify the school from this.

Although you may possibly get a letter or even a letter from a solicitor, I would be very surprised if it went any further or went any further than something threatening proceedings if the post wasn’t removed (you have already done) and telling you not to do it again.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
What would be the best course of action should I get a letter, thank you
Expert:  F E Smith replied 1 year ago.

You get a letter, acknowledge it and tell them that you will get back to them within the next 14 days. Then, let me have a copy of the letter and I will tell you how to respond.