Jane Heybroek Defeats Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman in Court

In a widely publicised court case, TV presenter Rachel Riley and actress Tracy-Ann Oberman were suing barrister Jane Heybroek for libel. The pair were represented by libel and privacy lawyer Mark Lewis of Patron Law.

The case centred around Jane retweeting a blog post on Twitter which Riley and Oberman claimed contained seriously defamatory content. I understand Riley and Oberman have withdrawn the case and agreed to contribute towards Jane's costs. 

Such are the enormous costs involved in defending libel action, Jane had been raising funds on CrowdJustice and received widespread support on social media, raising an impressive £45,100. I know that Jane was incredibly moved by the support.

I am fortunate enough to know Jane through social media (although not personally) and she comes across as one of the nicest people I have engaged with, so I am thrilled to hear this news. It is just unfortunate the matter went so far and caused distress for all parties involved. Riley had recently been asking her Twitter followers to send her details of actionable libel and I personally hope lessons can be learnt from this unfortunate situation.


For those who want more details about the case, here is a quote from Jane's fundraiser:

"On 14th November 2019 I was served with a High Court defamation claim by television presenter Rachel Riley and actress Tracy-Ann Oberman.

"The Claimants are seeking damages and costs in respect of a retweet containing a link to an article (which I subsequently deleted). The article, by blogger Shaun Lawson (which concerned the Claimants’ alleged behaviour towards a teenage Labour supporter on Twitter in January 2019), was re-tweeted by hundreds of other people, but for reasons best known to the Claimants, I am the only person being sued for a retweet.

"PLEASE NOTE: it is very important that, if you are aware of the subject-matter of the article, you do not comment about it, as it may leave you exposed to legal action yourself."

I must emphasise the last part of this quote. While Jane was successful in court, you could still risk leaving yourself open to court action if you comment on the details of the blog so please show restraint.

Jane Heybroek has issued the following statement. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Statement by Jane Heybroek 

"I am Jane Heybroek, a barrister specialising in immigration work. I was the subject of discourse on Twitter, and reports in the mainstream media, earlier this year, as a result of a libel claim being brought against me by the television presenter Rachel Riley, and the actress Tracy Ann Oberman. I am now able to report that the claim against me has been withdrawn and that Ms Riley and Ms Oberman have agreed to make contributions towards my legal costs. I wish to thank everyone who has helped me in the last 18 months; it will not be forgotten. 

"Ms Riley and Ms Oberman are not personally known to me. Their claim saw them seeking damages and costs in respect of my re-tweet of a tweet by the blogger Shaun Lawson, which contained a link to a blog article he had written about them in January 2019. Mr Lawson’s article, which concerned the celebrities’ alleged behaviour towards a teenage Labour supporter on Twitter in January 2019, had been re-tweeted/shared by hundreds of people. Some of those people were threatened with legal action like me; others were not. Ultimately, despite press reports which suggested as many as 70 people might face legal action, I was the only person who was sued. This was despite the fact that I had deleted my re-tweet before I had even received Letters of Claim. I did not even know how long my re-tweet had been live for. Neither, it seems, did Ms Riley or Ms Oberman. There was no evidence, that I am aware of, to suggest that anyone had read the blog article as a result of clicking the link in my re-tweet. There were also various other ways in which the claim against me could have been (and would have been, had it proceeded) defended. 

"Ms Riley and Ms Oberman were being represented, from the very outset, on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, and had ‘after the event insurance’. This meant that there was almost no risk to them in bringing the claim. Many people would have felt forced to settle for reasons of pragmatism. Whilst I am in a more fortunate position than most, after having spent almost £30,000 by a very early stage, it was clear to me that I would have no prospect of funding my defence to trial without help. I therefore launched a fundraiser on the website CrowdJustice.com, and was overwhelmed by the response which I received. Due to the support of a great many people, I was able to continue to retain leading defamation lawyers, and properly contest the case. 

"I am making this statement for the benefit of those who have supported me emotionally and financially, and to address one other issue. Ms Riley and Ms Oberman’s vocal stance against antisemitism (and perceived antisemitism) has been widely documented, as has their involvement in other legal cases. This claim, however, did not actually involve any allegations of antisemitism against me or indeed Mr Lawson. I understand that Mr Lawson is himself Jewish and that his grandmother was a holocaust survivor. For my part, I abhor all forms of racism. Unfortunately, as a result of the litigation, I was subject of a number of nasty comments from a small minority of people who simply presumed to know what the case was about and what the outcome would be. They were wrong on both counts. 

"Finally, as I have said throughout to those who have supported me, I ask people, for their own sakes, not to discuss the content of Mr Lawson’s article, nor to comment on Ms Riley or Ms Oberman on social media more generally. Notwithstanding the fact that I am a lawyer by profession, this has been a long, and at times, exhausting experience and I would not wish anyone to find themselves on the receiving end of legal action!"

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