The IW Observer will not be cowed by legal threats from top lawyers

By Carole Dennett Jul 2, 2024
Lady Justice at the Old Bailey in London

Question: What does a parliamentary candidate do when asked a question by his local newspaper?

A: Answer the question?

B: Pretend the newspaper wants to print something else and go running to a top lawyer?

 

Former MP Bob Seely’s first instinct was clearly ‘B’ when we asked him why he does not own property on the Isle of Wight.

We published a reader’s letter on June 21, which pointed out that Mr Seely had been paid more than half a million pounds since becoming an MP in 2017, appeared to have sold a flat in London in 2019 and claimed almost £81,000 in rent for a property here but had “never bothered to buy a property on the Island”. Over the weekend we received a telephone call from a reader who complained that it wasn’t fair that we had not asked Mr Seely why he did not own his home here. We thought that was a fair point, so on Monday (June 24) when sending him an email about something else, we added:

“A reader has requested that we ask you why you have never purchased any property on the Island”.

The following day he responded, commenting:

“I part own a property in London. I do not live there and it is not my main residence. Any claim that I do is false.”

Pointing out that (not unusually) he was answering a question he wasn’t asked, we tried again:

“Thanks Bob – but the question was why have you never purchased a property on the Island. Are you not willing to answer that?”

Mr Seely frequently ignores questions he does not want to answer, so we assumed that was the end of the matter. The following day we were amazed to receive an email from James Roochove, a top-flight lawyer based in Liverpool claiming we had asked Mr Seely questions about his “living arrangements” (we hadn’t) and demanding that we shouldn’t print anything questioning where Mr Seely lives (something we did not intend to do). As Mr Roochove points out, that would amount to suggesting that Mr Seely had lied on his nomination form. The email was marked “Strictly private and confidential”.

He said that Mr Seely had given him copies of posts made by our columnist, David Holmes which made him “assume you wish to publish false and damaging statements in the Isle of Wight Observer questioning where my client lives”. He was completely wrong. We work hard to make sure everything we publish is accurate and have been particularly careful not to publish anything we cannot prove is true about any of the candidates during this election period.

As we knew we had nothing to worry about and the team was busy preparing to attend Armed Forces Day on Sunday, we ignored the letter until Sunday evening, when we responded to Mr Roochove (copied to Mr Seely), telling him we intended to make their threat of legal action public. We pointed out that the IW Observer has no control over anything David Holmes posts on his private social media accounts, also adding that David does not recall posting anything about where Mr Seely lives recently anyway, and outside of an election period there is no law against anybody expressing an opinion about where somebody else lives.

The firm and the individual lawyer that Mr Seely instructed appear in the Legal 500 – the respected guide to the best legal companies and lawyers who provide the most ‘cutting edge and innovative advice’. Mr Roochove specialises in ‘defamation and reputation management’ and has represented ‘numerous Conservative MPs’ and been involved in actions against organisations like Google and Channel 4. We will leave readers to draw their own conclusions why Mr Seely should get him involved in his dealings with an independently owned small business on the Isle of Wight which publishes a free newspaper – and try to keep that a secret. We have told Mr Roochove that we have done nothing wrong and his threats of legal action do not intimidate us.

However even more curiously, after we received Mr Roochove’s letter (so presumably on the advice of his lawyer), Mr Seely decided to answer the question anyway. On Thursday he emailed us saying:

“For several years I have rented a cottage from the National Trust and I enjoy living here. Therefore I am not looking to change my housing arrangements”.

He also clearly doesn’t need his £91,346 salary to pay his £1,235 monthy rent which he has been claiming on expenses, because he then said:

“Regardless of next week’s election, I will continue to live in my home near Brighstone.”

 

 

From: James Roochove
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2024 at 12:00
Subject: Strictly Private & Confidential – Our client: Bob Seely
To: newsdesk@iwobserver.co.uk

Strictly Private & Confidential

Not for publication

FAO Carole Dennett

 

Dear Ms Dennett

I act for Bob Seely.

Mr Seely has provided me with recent questions you have raised regarding his living arrangements. He has also provided me with multiple posts by Mr David Homes publicly making a series of false and damaging statements suggesting my client is a lying about where he lives.  It is clear Mr Homes is persistent and unrelenting in propagating this false impression and seeking to smear my client.

You have asked my client why he has not bought a property on the Isle of Wight. My client has lived on the Isle of Wight for over ten years. For several years he has lived at Manor Cottage, Hoxall Lane, Mottistone, Isle of Wight, PO30 4EE. Prior to this, he lived near Chillerton for a number of years, an area he represented on the Council. This is public knowledge.

His home address has been confirmed in his nomination papers to stand at the upcoming General Election. It is a matter of public record. Mr Seely is registered to vote at this address, his bank accounts are registered to his address, and countless other things that underline that this is his home.

Mr Holmes’ social media posts create the impression that this is not true, that Mr Seely is not local and that his actual home is in London. These publications therefore openly suggest that Mr Seely has flouted s65A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (“the Act”), that Mr Seely has made a false statement on his nomination papers by stating his home address is in Mottistone. Such a suggestion is wrong and highly defamatory. It also threatens to contravene other provisions of election law, namely s106 of the Act in relation to false statements about a candidate.

You have persisted in asking questions about Mr Seely’s living arrangements. Given the involvement of Mr Holmes we can only assume you wish to publish false and damaging statements in the Isle of Wight Observer questioning where my client lives. Please take this email as a formal warning that if any suggestion is made that my client does not live on the Isle of Wight or suggests in any way that he has broken the law, notably in relation to s65A of the Act, my client will immediately take whatever action is necessary to safeguard his reputation including, but not limited to, defamation action and/or referring the matter to the police.

The provisions of s106 of the Act also provide the option for my client to seek an injunction to prevent false statements about his personal conduct or character from being published. Please confirm by 5PM today that you will not be publishing anything that questions the location of his home on the Isle of Wight.

I reserve my client’s rights to refer to this email should any further Court action be necessary in future.

I look forward to hearing from you. I would also advise that you seek specialist legal advice in relation to the content of this email.

Kind regards

James Roochove

Director

www.a-l.law