An American lawyer has successfully sued over an online review posted by a British man, winning £50,000 damages at the High Court.
Timothy Bussey, a criminal law attorney based in Colorado, found himself the target of a review attached to his firm’s Google Maps profile which claimed he “pays for false reviews” and “loses 80% of his cases”.
Mr Justice Eady said there was never any suggestion that the allegations were true. After commencement of libel proceedings, the posting was “voluntarily removed” after Mr Bussey traced the author, Jason Page, by instructing California lawyers to obtain a subpoena of Google’s records.
Eady J said Mr Page claimed that a third party must have hacked into his internet account to post the offending review.
However, the judge said it would have been “challenging” to do this, given the defendant’s “elaborate security arrangements”.
Eady J went on: “It would require great dedication and skill to circumvent them. Even if they could be overcome there is, as I have noted already, no ready explanation as to why such a hacker would need or wish to take such a difficult route.”
Delivering judgment in The Bussey Law Firm and another v Page  EWHC 563 (QB), Eady J said the claimants established that Mr Page had advertised on Twitter as being willing to post ‘feedback’ or ‘testimonials’ for five dollars via a website.
“This would at least provide a possible motive for his targeting the claimants, of whom he had no personal knowledge or experience. Indeed, it is difficult to know why else he would have done so.
“He says, however, that he was never in fact paid for any such transaction, although his Paypal records disclose substantial dollar payments between November 2011 and March 2012. He put in late supplementary evidence to show the extent of his Fiver.com activity, but after enlargement it emerged that there was an unexplained gap (an apparent deletion) covering the period between 24 January and 10 February 2012 (i.e. the period embracing the date of the relevant posting).”
Eady J went on: “The likelihood is, in the absence of any convincing explanation to the contrary, that the posting from Mr Page’s account was authored or authorised by him.
“It is extremely improbable that anyone successfully hacked into that account on 27 January 2012 with a view to posting the words complained of. There is no evidence that anyone did so on that date and, moreover, no reason why anyone with a grudge against the claimants should attempt to go down that route in any event.
“Why Mr Page should himself choose to attack the claimants is also unclear, but the most likely explanation would appear to be a purely financial one.”
Mr Justice Eady awarded Mr Bussey £45,000 damages for libel and The Bussey Law Firm a further £25,000. However, the judge said that as the damages claim had been capped at £50,000, this must represent the total award.