High Court finds Ed Husain’s tweet about MCB’s Miqdaad Versi was defamatory
In a Judgment handed down by His Honour Justice Lewis in the High Court this afternoon, it has been found that Ed Husain’s tweet about our Client, Miqdaad Versi, was defamatory.
Our Client, Miqdaad Versi is the Media Spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain (“MCB”). The MCB is the UK’s largest and most diverse national Muslim umbrella organisation with over 500 members including mosques, schools, charitable associations, and professional networks.
In addition to being one of the MCB’s most active public representatives, Mr Versi is also engaged with the media in voicing concerns over the misrepresentation of Muslims. The Guardian described him as “the UK’s one-man Islamophobia media monitor.” Mr Versi also occasionally writes opinion pieces for the Guardian, the Independent and New Statesman.
Mohamed Mahbub Husain, better known as Ed Husain, was one of the founding members of the now defunct and widely criticised “counter terrorism think tank”, the Quilliam Foundation. Mr Husain is also a columnist for the conservative weekly publication, The Spectator, and has also written for the Jewish Chronicle.
The Defamatory Tweet
On 21 November 2020, Mr Husain tweeted about Mr Versi:
“Pipe down, you pro Hamas, pro-Iran, pro-gender discrimination, pro-blasphemy laws, pro-sectarian, anti-Western ‘Representative’ of an Islamist outfit”.
He included a quote tweet of Mr Versi’s which said:,
“Why does Fraser Nelson – a man who as editor is accountable for so much anti-Muslim hate propagated in the Spectator – think it is appropriate to explain Islamophobia to a Muslim woman? “And why would citing a pro-Saudi pro-Netanyahu person who works with Richard Kemp, help? 🤷🏽♂️”
This began a thread in which Mr Versi criticised the Spectator’s coverage of Islam and quote tweeted a tweet from the conservative journalist, Fraser Nelson of the Spectator in which Mr Fraser stated that “Macron’s speech was defending, not attacking, Islam” which included a link to an article Mr Husain wrote in the Spectator entitled ‘Macron is preparing for intellectual battle against Islamism’.
At some time thereafter, Mr Husain deleted his Tweet.
Mr Husain invited the Court to read a collection of tweets starting with a tweet by British Muslim MP, Zarah Sultana, on 20 November 2020, which was commenting on President Macron’s policies on Islam. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, is well known and controversial amongst a diverse cross-section of Muslims for his views on Islam and the threat of “Islamist separatism”.
On 19 March 2021, a letter before action was sent to Mr Husain.
Mr Husain’s solicitors, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (“RPC”) responded denying that the Tweet was defamatory. Before issuing proceedings, RPC claimed that they were no longer instructed to represent Mr Husain and that he now resided in the US, that he did not submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts and if Mr Versi wished to pursue his claim, he would need to get permission from the courts to serve on Mr Husain out of the jurisdiction.
Rahman Lowe Solicitors engaged an enquiry agent to locate Mr Husain’s last known residence in the UK and then applied to the Court for permission to serve proceedings. The Court accepted that the UK courts did have jurisdiction to hear the claim, and ordered that proceedings be served by sending the claim to Mr Husain’s last known address here in the UK by post and by hand; to email it to his former solicitors, RPC; and to send it to Mr Husain by direct messaging on Twitter. Proceedings were accordingly served in March 2022.
Mr Husain then re-instructed RPC to defend the claim and they requested a preliminary trial to determine whether the Tweet published by Mr Husain contained a defamatory meaning, or not.
Hearing and Outcome
The preliminary trial took place on 17 November 2022 before His Honour Judge Lewis in the High Court. Mr Versi was represented at the hearing by Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers. At the hearing, those representing Mr Husain sought to argue that the Tweet was not defamatory; that the Court needed to consider the entire thread of exchanges from Ms Sultana MP’s tweet, right through to Mr Husain’s tweet, and that the speech complained of included political speech, which was therefore allegedly relevant.
The Judgment, which was handed down on 03 March 2023 made the following findings:
● Mr Husain’s contention that all the tweets needed to be looked at together was rejected. The Judge stated: “… I do not, however, think it can be inferred that the ordinary reasonable reader would proceed to work through all of the messages in the Thread, and click on any further links…. I do not, therefore, consider the tweet from Ms Sultana MP, or the additional material referred to in the Three Tweets, to form part of the publication, or relevant context, when considering the meaning of the Tweet. I do not think those additional materials assist in determining meaning in any event” [paras 25-26];
● Mr Husain’s assertion that the Tweet contained political speech and therefore, this was necessary in considering any defamatory meaning was also rejected. The Judge found: “The fact that speech is political does not of itself require any special approach to deciding its meaning…” [para 34];
● Mr Husain’s fundamental point that the Tweet was not defamatory, was also rejected. The Judge stated: “In this case I am satisfied that the natural and ordinary meaning conveyed by the Tweet was defamatory by the standards of the common law. Whilst stating that a person holds some of the views identified in the Tweet would not in itself be defamatory, the Tweet needs to be looked at in its entirety. Right thinking members of society generally would deplore those who express views in support of Hamas, as a militant Islamist group with known links to violence. It is also contrary to the common or shared values of our society to express extremist views that are so objectionable as to undermine the legitimacy of the claimant’s own participation in public debate. Attributing such views to the claimant would lower a person in the estimation of “right-thinking people generally”. The imputation is one that would tend to have a substantially adverse effect on the way that people would treat the claimant, and their attitude towards him” [paras 60-61].
Whilst the Court did not accept the meaning presented by us, it rejected Mr Husain’s non-defamatory meaning and found that the Tweet conveyed the following meaning which was defamatory at common law:
“The claimant has expressed views that are supportive of the repressive regime in Iran, gender discrimination, blasphemy laws and sectarianism and which are anti-Western.
The claimant has expressed views that are supportive of Hamas, a militant Islamist group with known links to violence.
The claimant holds extremist, Islamist views. His endorsement of such views is so objectionable that he has no place participating in this public debate” [para 48].
Mr Husain’s attempts at having the claim dismissed have failed and the claim will now proceed to a main hearing. A date is yet to be listed.
The Judgment can be found here.
In response to the ruling in his favour, Miqdaad Versi, speaking in a personal capacity, said:
“For too long, there are some who have smeared with impunity ordinary Muslims. This judgment puts an important stake in the ground. The judge has ruled that Ed Husain’s tweet about me is defamatory at common law. Ed’s claim that the tweet did not contain any defamatory meaning has therefore failed and I am delighted with the result”.
Zillur Rahman, the Solicitor representing Mr Versi added:
“This is a very important finding. At Rahman Lowe, we robustly pursue claims for our clients, and we worked extremely hard in tracing Mr Husain to ensure that he did not escape from justice. Words have consequences and Mr Husain must now face accountability for his”.
Our extensive experience of acting in high profile defamation cases means that we are particularly well placed to advise clients whose case may reach the public eye, and to advise on associated matters such as reputation management. Zillur Rahman was recently featured as The Times Lawyer of the Week for winning substantial damages in another libel claim. We are ranked as a ‘Leading Firm’ in the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners independent guides to the UK Legal Profession.
For further information or to discuss a potential claim, please contact us on 0207 956 8699 or email@example.com.