Why do people take a defamation action?

There is a case being heard in Wellington at the moment over an alleged defamation.

NBR reports [paywalled]:

Just when Truth newspaper bites the dust along comes a case that would have seen the old lady  shunt up her circulation in the days when television was all Phillip Sherry and Ena Sharples.

The Wellington defamation action against author and publisher Ian Wishart, taken by former New Zealand  diplomat Lindsay Smallbone, has it all. Not just sex, either, but voyeurism, threesomes and porn addiction, together with an unhealthy dose of infidelity, drug use, fraud and, well, you can really fill in just about anything and anyone you like.

The case involves a book, The Hunt, by George London and Mr Smallbone’s former wife and model Paulette London, whose tale involves her ultimately successful attempts to locate her abducted children. Mr Wishart represents himself in the proceeding, with Justice Joe Williams acknowledging he appears “well able to defend himself” under vigorous cross-examination from Mr Smallbone’s lawyer, Peter McKnight.  

Mr Wishart has stoutly defended his work, including the attacks on him for not checking the comments about Mr Smallbone, variously described as “sleazy”, “salacious”, “disgusting” and “scurrilous”. Mr Wishart says he is simply someone who has reported the “testimony” of Paulette London, as given to him by various phone interviews and recorded on a digital recorder that he had since wiped.

He explains he regards the comments about Mr Smallbone as necessary for a “warts and all” story and that he accepts her comments as being truthful without requiring him to put them to the plaintiff himself.

Mr Smallbone, now resident in London and providing the court with the appearance of a sophisticated patrician, has expressed the disgust he feels for the contents of the book and its defamatory and untrue stories about him in a relationship that ended 40 years ago.

I struggle to see how Lindsay Smallbone benefits from taking this action. For a start most of us have hardly heard of the book, less have read it…but now all the things he objects to being published are now being published because it is being brought up in an open court.

Surely silence would have been a better option? Now way more people get to hear all about the “salacious” and “sordid” details that he so desperately wants kept quiet.

The other thing is that defamation is very, very difficult to get across the line, even if you do win proving what your damages are (especially if you someone who is a banned director and a former bankrupt) is again exceedingly difficult to get satisfaction from.

The action simply allows the defendant to explore at great length why they wrote what they wrote, and why they believe what they wrote and the reasons for it…airing all those very things that the plaintiff wanted kept quiet in the first place.

I do wonder at the thought processes that go into such actions.


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  • Jman

    I look at it this way. The defendant doesn’t care about whether complete strangers like ourselves hear about the case. So the Streisand effect doesn’t apply. What he cares about are that people in his life believe in his version of the truth. By doing nothing, and allowing for a book out there that espouses a version of the truth different from the one he wants these people to believe, it can be interpreted by them as a tacit acknowledgement that the books version is in fact the real truth. But if he takes this court action and wins, he can rightfully claim to these people that his version of the truth is the real version.

    • Adolf Fiinkensein

      Don’t you mean ‘the plaintif’?

      • Jman

        Yep probably

  • LionKing

    Very very good point. Taking defamation action does little aside from bringing a whole lot of attention to an issue that sometimes is best forgotten.

    Just thinking there was that complete loser Matt Bloomfield who was involved in those Hell Pizza stunts. He was threatening all sorts of people with defamation. Seems that people like him and the likes of Hotchin and Eric Watson have nothing better to do that get a shellacking in the courts and media and end up getting more negative exposure than they would have got in the first place.

    Really just a case of people with big egos thinking they’re more important than they actually are. What sad fuckers.

    • Anonymouse Coward

      Dunno why Hotchin and Watson are suing Shepard. The pair are widely known and it will come as news to no-one their public reputation is mixed.

      The case will simply give Shepard a forum to dish the dirt on them.

      If they succeed against Shepard they will probably find the only assets he has are his push bike and the notorious Viking helmet.

  • peterwn

    Some defamation cases are justified and will often settle before full trial. For example the radio announcer (ZB or ZM) said Rob Muldoon’s son had been busted for drugs. Dad was not having that for one minute. “What can you do but sack the announcer and settle the best you can” a lawyer said about the case. Similarly when Judith Collins taught Trevor Mallard and Andrew a nasty little lesson. Or the honest and hard working harness racing administrator hit with a serious but unfounded allegation by a journo (damages awarded was a record at the time and may still be). Or the picture of a male and female student on a motorscooter illustrating an article in Sunday News headlined “Students Living in Sin” (at that time students who got married lost their boarding allowance). Unfortunately for Sunday News they were married and were awarded $12,000 – a very nice sum in the 1960’s.

    But it has to be for the right motives but not for an ego trip.

  • tspoon

    Dunno. The point of the piece is that he should have laid low. Unfortunately, what you get then is that people are free to say the most unbelievable things about someone, and the more salacious and grubby the detail, the less likely it is to be challenged. Bad trend.
    There actually is a chance this guy didn’t do all that stuff. Who among us has never listened to some disgruntled female telling us about their ex? Do you really think it all went down like that? (I have a bridge to sell you). My personal opinion is that Mr Wishart was ill advised to become involved in this womans hit piece on her former partner.

  • IWantToBeLikeMallardOneDay

    Just the penile equivalent of the Napoleon complex from Mr. Smallbone. Seriously, who wouldn’t have an inferiority complex with a name like that!?