In and after Summer of 2021 a “poison pen” letter began circulating in and around Broughton-in-Furness in Cumbria. It bore no signature and did not name Mr Parsons, but it was composed to make it obvious (by reason of certain biographical information) that it was referring to him. Indeed, it was composed to give the mocking impression that Mr Parson was the author and was listing for the reader various reasons why he deserved to be regarded as “Mr Offensive”. This was not the first such communication that had been sent to Mr Parsons or those with whom he worked or his wife or to local residents, but Mr Parsons decided it should be the last. Having unsuccessfully sought to resolve the matter in correspondence, he issued proceedings in libel and harassment against Mrs Garnett and her husband who he believed had been responsible for the campaign of such letters and against one of their daughters (in libel only) for handing a copy of the letter to local persons.
None of the Defendants acknowledged service of the proceedings or served a defence. Mrs Garnett sent an aggressive letter (stated to be on behalf of herself, her husband and daughter) in which they looked forward to their day in court. Mr Parsons issued an application for default judgment and for summary relief. The defendants served evidence denying liability and indicating a desire to defend the claims but shortly before the hearing they expressly disavowed any desire to contest the proceedings. However, notwithstanding their decision not to acknowledge or defend the claims they sought to resist the entry of judgment and the grant of relief.
Collins-Rice J was therefore faced with an unusual (if not unique) position. Having heard argument, she proceeded to reject the objections made on behalf of the defendants and to enter judgment against all the defendants as sought. By way of relief she ordered (on the libel claim) summary relief comprising damages at the statutory maximum of £10,000, injunctions against repetition (against Mrs Garnett and her husband only) and a declarations of falsity, and (on the harassment claim) injunctive relief and damages of £12,000.
William McCormick KC, instructed by Oliver Cox at Carter Ruck, acted for Mr Parsons