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Luke Turner successfully defends libel action in key freedom of expression case

Posted on 10 November 2023

The British artist, Luke Turner, has successfully defended a libel claim brought against him by Daniel “DC” Miller and Nina Power. Mr Turner's counterclaim in harassment against Mr Miller and Ms Power was dismissed. 

Libel claim 

Mr Miller and Ms Power sued in libel in respect of sixteen tweets and the content warning on an archive published by Mr Turner. They complained of factual allegations, including that:  

  • Mr Miller published, under a pseudonym, a blogpost titled ‘Towards a Hitlerian Disability Politics’. In this, he called for state-mandated euthanasia of disabled people (it was acknowledged by Mr Turner and the Judge that Mr Miller was not the author);  
  • Mr Miller made threats of violence, and death threats, to Mr Turner and as a result was investigated by the police;  
  • Mr Miller instigated a campaign of harassment and abuse against Mr Turner and  
  • Ms Power was complicit in that campaign and was engaged in it alongside Mr Miller.  

They also complained of a number of statements of opinion, including that:  

  • Ms Power is an antisemitic art world figure; and  
  • Mr Miller and Ms Power's campaign against Mr Turner included antisemitic propaganda, and was sinister and antisemitic.  

In a judgment handed down on 8 November 2023, Mrs Justice Collins Rice found that Ms Power and Mr Miller had failed to demonstrate “that the imputations of which they complain, in the publications of which they complain, caused or were likely to cause serious harm to their reputations”. It followed that they failed to establish that they suffered serious harm to their reputations for the purposes of section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013.  

The Judge found that it is not more inherently probable that damage to their reputations could be attributed to someone reading Mr Turner’s tweets and being influenced by them than that, for example, they read someone else’s opinions, or Mr Miller’s and Ms Power’s own opinions, or that they formed their views independently by judging the Claimants based on their real-world activities in controversial contexts. She said that Mr Turner’s tweets drew attention to, and were comments on, Mr Miller’s and Ms Power’s own comments, actions, and associations. In doing so, Mr Turner lawfully exercised his right to freedom of expression. 

Having found that Mr Miller and Ms Power had failed to establish serious harm, Mrs Justice Collins Rice did not consider Mr Turner's defences of truth (in respect of all meanings save for the meaning concerning the Hitlerian Disability Politics blogpost which Mr Turner and the Judge acknowledged Mr Miller was not the author), honest opinion, public interest and "reply to attack" qualified privilege. 

Counterclaim in harassment 

Mr Turner's counterclaim in harassment, which he believed included elements of antisemitism, was dismissed. The Judge found that Ms Power and Mr Miller targeted Mr Turner with the “full lexicon of Twitter trolling" and that their conduct amounted to “bullying” and was “aggressive, in register, language and imagery".  

In respect of the elements of antisemitism of which Mr Turner complained, the Judge identified a course of conduct that “might fairly be called a casualness, or perhaps (put at its highest) a knowingness or artfulness, around antisemitic tropes.” She found that “it is hard not to conclude that the risk of creating an experience of antisemitism was one which they were especially well placed to understand and which they were not equivalently scrupulous to avoid. This was not a thought experiment. It was a ‘dabbling in the soul’ of a real-life Jewish man who had been subjected to antisemitic outrage on account of an artwork.”  

She found “perhaps most insidiously” that Mr Miller and Ms Power's conduct included “a theme of Mr Turner’s paranoia and solipsism on the subject of antisemitism itself: his declared experiences and diagnoses of antisemitism are said to be false, deluded and malicious". She concluded, however, that their course of conduct fell short of a quasi-criminal conduct for the tort of harassment, finding that the ““the whiff of threat and antisemitism which [Mr Miller and Ms Power] themselves can fairly be held to have created is too occasional, intangible, diffuse and unconsolidated to impart those distinctive and characteristic flavours to this course of conduct as a whole.” 

The full judgment is available here. 

Speaking following the judgment, Luke Turner said:  

“I am delighted that I have successfully defended the libel claim brought against me in the High Court by Nina Power and Daniel ‘DC’ Miller, which I have been fighting for over four years. This judgment, and the evidence that emerged during the trial process, represents a vindication of my decision to fight this immensely stressful case, and which has come at huge personal and financial cost. I would like to thank my entire legal team, Catrin Evans KC, Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, and everyone who has worked on the case at Mishcon de Reya, led by Michael Frost, for their dedicated and heartfelt efforts on what has been a hugely emotive case.  

Michael Frost, Partner at Mishcon de Reya, said:  

“I am pleased that Luke's brave decision to stand up and exercise his right to freedom of expression against internet bullies has been vindicated. These lengthy proceedings and the evidence before the court have brought to bear the harrowing and real-world consequences of online trolling. This judgment serves as another reminder to libel claimants that they must establish a causal link between the statements they complained about, and damage suffered to their reputations, particularly when they operate in public and controversial contexts.” 

The Mishcon team was led by Michael Frost, supported by Managing Associate Humam Al-Jibouri and trainees Agatha Hunt, Melissa Gurumurthy and Zoe Albon.  The Counsel team was comprised of Catrin Evans KC (Matrix Chambers), supported by Jonathan Sherbel-Ball (5RB). 

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