A family face a legal bill of £100,000 after a multimillionaire author accused them of subjecting him to a ‘poison pen’ campaign in which he was labelled a ‘tw*t’ and compared to Prince Andrew and Harvey Weinstein.
Former maths teacher turned author and publishing tycoon Richard Alan Parsons was harassed and vilified publicly in his local community in Cumbria.
One such letter, which he was sent anonymously, read: ‘Once upon a time. There was a tw*t. It was you. The end.’
Mr Parsons, who had built up a £115million fortune and was dubbed ‘Mr Revision’ after he published a series of best-selling GCSE study guides, suspected the Garnetts, a local family who ran a farm on his land, were behind the campaign.
He sued Elizabeth, 53, and Allan Garnett, 56, and their daughter Katie Armistead in the High Court.
Initially, the family planned to fight the allegations but later their solicitors said they would not be defending the claim, but simply ‘wished the proceedings be ”brought to an end”’.
Former maths teacher turned author and publishing tycoon Richard Alan Parsons (pictured) was harassed and vilified publicly in his local community of Cumbria
Allan Garnett, 56, and his daughter Katie Armistead (pictured together) were both sued in the High Court
As a result, the family now face a court bill of over £100,000 after being ordered to pay damages for harassment and libel, plus massive legal costs.
In making the order, Mrs Justice Collins Rice said it was accepted that all allegations against Mr Parsons were ‘false and defamatory’, but there could be no finding against the defendants as the Garnett family did not go to trial.
‘They have not acknowledged the claim or conceded the application,’ she said. ‘They are not asking to be allowed to defend the claim… They simply wish the litigation with its attendant stresses to be over.
The judge also noted the implications of the harassment Mr Parsons received, saying: ‘Abusive anonymous communications, which among other things impugn Mr Parsons’ business practices and ethics and their impact on the community, attack his family, and allege him to be an adulterer, sexual exploiter and predatory abuser of a vulnerable woman.
‘The case against Mr and Mrs Garnett relies on a combination of the gravity of the pleaded meanings, the anonymous poison pen format and the village context, calculated to, and likely to, fuel gossip, the salacious and tendentious content, including a reference to a well known public figure to whom rumours of links to a convicted child abuser have persistently attached – also calculated to fuel gossip and specified cases of onward publication, including to a local community Facebook group of around 2,000 members.
Elizabeth Garnett (pictured), 53, was sued alongside her husband and daughter and now faces the enormous legal bill
‘Likely causation of serious reputational harm in the local community based on those facts is not on the face of it unreal. It is classically what anonymous poison pen letters have a propensity to do, in a village context. It is their whole point… anonymous letters are purpose built engines of local gossip.’
Mr Parsons, 56, was brought up in Cumbria and, after studying physics at Oxford University, returned there to work as a teacher.
But he made his fortune after deciding that the GCSE revision guides available at the time were not good enough and that he could do better.
He quit teaching in 1995 and began writing his first manuscript, which was later published through his own company, Coordination Group Publications.
By the end of 2009, his 600 titles had sold over nine million books, grossing over £48 million.
Coordination Group Publications was valued at £120 million in 2019, giving Mr Parsons, who owns 95% of the shares, a net worth of £114 million.
He also owns a petrol station and leisure centre in sleepy Broughton-on-Furness, Cumbria, where he lives with his wife and two children, plus land, including that farmed by the Garnetts.
The court heard the campaign against the author began in August 2018 when he was posted ‘a communication… which comprised a photograph of a notice board bearing the message spelled out in plastic letters: ‘ONCE UPON A TIME.. THERE WAS A TW*T. IT WAS YOU. THE END.’
It was followed by the typed words: ‘Thanks for ruining our holidays with all your noise. We hope you realise just how much people dislike you and how unpopular you are.’
Then, in May 2019, a letter was posted to the then managing director of the publishing company, accusing Mr Parsons of sexually exploiting a vulnerable woman in town and comparing him to Hollywood sex predator Harvey Weinstein.
That was followed up in July 2020 by the circulation of a satirical ‘letter’ purported to be written by Mr Parsons, which began: ‘Hello I ask you a simple question, ”Why am I hated so much?” Is it because I have destroyed the community and the local economy?… Am I sorry? Of course not, just incredibly selfish and greedy!’
The letter had further ‘salacious and tendentious content,’ said Mrs Justice Rice, and went on to compare Mr Parsons to Prince Andrew, which she described as ‘a reference to a well known public figure to whom rumours of links to a convicted child abuser have persistently attached.’
Mr Parsons racked up a £115m fortune and was dubbed ‘Mr Revision’ after he published a series of best-selling GCSE study guides
Lawyers for Mr Parsons this week asked for default judgment to be entered in his favour against all three defendants for libel and Mr and Mrs Garnett only for harassment.
Granting him default judgment and damages, the judge said the case was ‘unusual’ because the Garnetts had submitted no ‘pleaded case’ on the claim or the application for default judgment.
‘Mr Parsons’ case is that someone is behind the circulation of the anonymous material, it is inherently improbable that anyone will own up to it, and he has reason to believe the Garnetts are the likely culprits.
‘The Garnetts were equally entitled to deny them and to put him to that proof at a trial. But they have not done so, and do not seek to do so.
‘Their denial of publication, however vehement, does not substitute for a defence and does not make the case against them unreal.
‘I emphasise again: this is a deliberately undefended case. I am not in the position of reflecting on the merits of an application to defend. It is the defendants’ prerogative not to try to defend, but that decision has consequences.’
Although the judgment does not amount to a finding that they did what was alleged, the judge went on to order Mr and Mrs Garnett to pay £8,000 damages jointly for libel, plus £12,000 for harassment, and Mrs Armistead to pay £2,000 in libel damages.
She also ordered the defendants to pay £45,000 on account of Mr Parsons’ legal costs, which are expected to run to more than £100,000 once fully assessed.
The full costs bill and how it will be apportioned between the Garnett family has yet to be worked out.