TheLast week, after nearly six months of waiting, I learned that I had won a defamation lawsuit brought against me by Arron Banks, the lead funder of the Lea.EU campaign. It has been a long and brutal journey and the pressure of the three years since its inception has been intense. I’m less relieved than completely dazed.
I was willing to lose and I knew exactly what would happen if I did. The headlines I would face, the accusation that I was what my critics had always claimed to be a “conspirator,” the social media storm that would follow. I had no doubts how devastating it was because every step of this litigation felt designed to destroy me. Most of the time I succeeded.
The lawsuit was against 24 words I used in the 2019 Ted Talk, but my history with banks goes back much further than that. The entire investigation designed to expose the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal began in 2016 with a series of denials by the company about its relationship with Leave.EU.
This investigation not only led to the filing of verdicts against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, who were questioned before Congress, but also to the findings that Banks’ ‘Leave.EU’ campaign violated both election and data laws. But what we revealed in that paper about his relationship with the Russian government is what struck a chord. Pankin reported me to the police. He accused me of hacking into my computer and then blackmailing me.
A year later, he sued.
About these words I told the audience at the main TED Conference in Vancouver: “…and I won’t even touch upon the lies that Aaron Banks told about his secret relations with the Russian government.”
I thought the meaning of these words would be very clear. He lied about his secret relations with the Russian government! I was wrong. In November 2019, as part of a hearing to determine the “legal” meaning of the words I used, Mr. Saini came up with his wording, not what she thought the words meant; Not even the person provided by the banks. Allegedly I said he had “a secret relationship with the Russian government regarding the illegal acceptance of foreign funding for election campaigns.”
It felt like you had entered the pages of a Kafka novel. The judge’s ruling meant that I would be taken to court to defend the truth of a statement I didn’t really say or mean.
When word spread that I had retracted my defense of the truth and would instead defend it only for the greater good, it led to the collapse of the right-wing media system. A tsunami of offensive articles, tweets and notes from commentators and MPs, it was rock bottom when the President of the Orwell Prize called me to tell me that of course they wouldn’t ask me for my award viewers It was a requirement, but they took it seriously enough to seek legal advice.
I don’t know if it was because of these slanders I was subjected to, or if our entire press has been silent in the face of Banks’ legal threats, but the near-silence surrounding the case was one of its most extraordinary aspects. A month before Russia invaded Ukraine, documents disclosed by the bank and I in the lawsuit provided new insights into the relationship between the biggest donor to the Brexit campaign and the Kremlin in a multi-million pound lawsuit against a journalist that 19 press freedom organizations said believed so. It was a violation of rights. Much of this went unreported. save for it guardianNo major news outlet mentioned it.
I am writing this today because the law needs to change. We cannot and should not allow another journalist to go through this. Not for their sanity, but for the health of our democracy. Because this is not a democracy. It is the rule of the few. Banks v Cadwalladr must be the last time these obscene laws are used against a journalist in this way.
What this case has proven is that no journalist is safe. The judge, Mrs. Justice Stein, said Banks’ case against me was not a “slapping” case, a strategic lawsuit against public participation. She said his attempt to justify himself through my trial was legitimate. She’s right because it couldn’t be. There is no definition of a slapping allegation in UK law, so none of what I consider abusive aspects of this case have been used as evidence. They weren’t part of my defense, which shocked me the most after the trial.
However, the judge clearly stated in her ruling that observer He previously published a report with “essentially the same claims, very similar meaning”. But the banks did not sue observer And he didn’t sue Ted, he sued me. Perhaps he thought I was the weakest link. was wrong. But only because an incredible sea of people has risen to support me. I counted on the generosity of my legal team and the kindness of strangers: 28,887 people contributed a staggering £819,835 to my crowdfunders. Even writing that makes me cry.
Without this support, it would have been completely impossible for me to defend myself. Even then, it was only possible. But if I had not, some basic facts about the political moment that changed our country forever – Brexit could have been rewritten. The record may have been changed.
Because what last week’s coverage of the case missed, and what readers of the ruling are unlikely to understand, is what an exceptional document is. Not only what it means for all of the British media in connection with a successful defense of the public interest, but also for a criminal investigation into the facts of Banks’ relationship with the Russian government that remain on record forever.
I was amazed to read it Mrs. Stein carefully checked Banks’ claim that his “only relationship with the Russians was a raucous six-hour lunch”. He claimed this after the Electoral Commission announced it was investigating the “real source” of his £8m donation to the Brexit campaign. And I found it. She said that statement was “totally inaccurate”.
She examined all key documents, including newly disclosed evidence in the case, and concluded that he “had at least four meetings, including three lunches”. “It would be wrong to expect a journalist not to regard such an inaccurate statement as a lie,” she added.
But it doesn’t end there. It noted: “The four sessions on November 6, 2015, November 17, 2015, August 19, 2016 and November 18, 2016 may not have been full-scale. [of] Mr. Banks’ meetings with Russian officials. “There were reasonable grounds to believe that many more meetings had taken place. It considered Banks’ words in an email dated January 19, 2016 that he intended to “stop at the ambassador to see the ambassador as well” “indicating a relationship in which he could easily visit the Russian ambassador”.
She called Andy Wigmore, a Lea.EU campaign spokesperson and Banks business partner, a statement about why his claim that Banks was in Moscow in early 2016 had been retracted as “unreliable”. Nor was Banks’ claim that he received a document titled “The Game to Consolidate the Russian Gold Sector” from a British partner, not from a Russian oligarch.
Boris Johnson’s government came to power in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union. You have refused to investigate the continuing Russian attacks on Western democracy and our information systems. Johnson personally intervened to delay the release of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s 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 few journalists. And now the ruling.
The personal, physical, psychological, and professional toll of this case was profound. But this is not my victory, it belongs to the legal team and 28,887 people have stood by me. Banks can still choose to appeal Judge Stein’s interpretation of the law. But not the facts.
Whatever happens next, we have these now. We held the line. There have been at least four meetings between the major donors to the Brexit campaign and the Russian government. There are reasonable reasons to believe there is more. Reality.