Prominent lesbian campaigner and journalist, Julie Bindel is suing Pink News and its editor in chief Benjamin Cohen for aggravated damages in a libel claim over an article carried by the online journal on 17th May 2020. The article in question was an interview piece with Amy Dyess framed as a story of a woman escaping from the “gender critical cult”. In the piece extremely serious criminal allegations of sexual abuse, offers to find Dyess a wife in order to keep her in the UK, and allegations that cult members coerced and controlled Dyess were made. The article itself does not name Bindel, but she argues the combination of a Pink News campaign against her, wider information publicly available on Ms. Dyess’ Twitter feed, several individuals identifying Bindel at the time the article was published and the social media reaction at the time (which swiftly identified her) made perfectly clear who the piece referred to.
Given Bindel’s well known work campaigning against trafficking and the criminal treatment of women (such as in her book “The Pimping of Prostitution” to name but one of her many titles on the subjects), she contends the criminal allegations are plainly defamatory and intended to sully her character in as targeted manner as possible. A solicitor for Pink News speaking to the Sunday Times who first reported the story said that the article in question “was not intended to refer” to Bindel going onto to say her client “will be happy to abide by the court’s decision in due course”. The matter is listed for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday 26th May 2021.
The hearing will turn on the question of whether a likely reader of the article would have in fact have identified Bindel as the object of the criminal allegations, (as many did at the time). The case as set out in the publicly available court documents from Bindel’s legal team says this connection is well made out on the evidence for a number of reasons when one compares the text of the article with other publicly available material.
In the original interview a Pink News reporter claims that “one British lesbian even promised to find Amy a wife so she could stay in the UK”. Bindel’s legal team say this can only be understood to be a reference to her because Ms Dyess’ wrote on her Twitter feed on 7th February 2020 “She only abuses us and invites us into her home…promising to find us wives” and later that day “She promised to find me a wife” and again on 19th February 2020 “she had even promised to help me find a UK wife.” In the original interview Ms Dyess is reported as speaking more broadly about coming to the UK thus; “British “gender critical” feminists invited her to come to the UK in February”, in response, Bindel’s legal team point to a 18th October 2019 tweet from Ms. Dyess saying “I’m proud to announce that @blindelj and I are teaming up to collaborate on a few things. I’m coming to the UK in 2020”. Further, the claim argues that the references to cult like behaviour of manipulation and exploitation directly mirror what Ms. Dyess was alleging of Bindel at the time such as on 19th February when she tweeted of her that she “has been horrible to me. She gaslit me and I’m going to put together an official statement on that” it goes onto claim that she “piled-on me around Sep’19”.
While the original interview tends to adopt vague language about the identity of the person responsible for cult like behaviour, one paragraph does speak of a particular person in the following terms “And that’s when she found me on Twitter”, Amy says, referring to the woman who brought her into the GC movement and had, perhaps, the most influence over her”. The interview goes on to say that the person in question (who is accused of maintaining a state of radicalisation in those she abused) “would try to get everyone on the same page about the word choices. Like instead of saying trans activists are anti gay, maybe say extreme trans activists”. Bindel is on record as having used precisely this term in national titles like The Telegraph and Spectator and her tweets appear twice in the top five tweets on a search of that term. Perhaps most seriously, the Pink News piece opens with an allegation that the Gender Critical movement “groomed” Ms Dyess “keeping tabs on her movements and dictating what she could and couldn’t say; a cult that was emotionally and sexually abusive towards her”. Perhaps strangely, no particular allegation of sexual abuse is then made within the article so the abuse alleged is somewhat unclear, but this allegation features three sentences before the words “Lesbian journalists who are household names ‘lovebombed’ her”. Bindel is the only high-profile lesbian journalist who has been labelled a TERF by Pink News and she claims this reference when taken together with the rest of the evidence would lead any typical reader of the publication to conclude it did, in fact, refer to her.
In addition to an analysis of the text Bindel points out in the court documents that she is a frequent target of Pink News pieces and that this matter is a relevant piece of background evidence in understanding the context in which readers of the website would interpret the article. She draws attention to one (of many) articles concerning her published on 6 April 2020 where Pink News said “The acronym TERF is used to describe “gender critical” activists and feminists, like Bindel”. Her case is that Pink News effectively engaged in a campaign against her, and the article in question was a libellous excess of that targeting. She supports that by pointing out both Pink News and the journalist responsible for the story have retweeted the story on numerous occasions, including during the currency of the libel proceedings.
Importantly, the court documents record that many social media users at the time were in no doubt as to whom the article was truly referring to with Dr. Adrian Harrop responding to a thread saying of the behaviour “if these allegations…are even halfway true Julie, your behaviour was entirely inappropriate, & indeed, abuse, furthermore setting up marriages in order to subvert UK immigration law, would definitely need bringing to the attention of the relevant authorities. Ironically, Bindel’s claim is essentially that Harrop understood the article in precisely the way she contends for in court.
The article has remained online for over a year, and has not been marked that it is subject to a legal complaint.
Bindel herself was approached for comment by Lesbian and Gay News but declined to offer a comment in advance of the hearing.
Dennis Kavanagh is a legal commentator and barrister (non-practising).
Dennis blogs about LGBT issues and law here