Zahir Monir v Steve Wood

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeMr Justice Nicklin
Judgment Date19 December 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] EWHC 3525 (QB)
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Docket NumberCase No: HQ16D01543
Date19 December 2018
Zahir Monir
Steve Wood

[2018] EWHC 3525 (QB)


THE HONOURABLE Mr Justice Nicklin

Case No: HQ16D01543




Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Julian Santos (instructed by Penningtons Manches LLP) for the Claimant

David Hirst (instructed by Humphreys & Co) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 16–20 April and 3–5 July 2018

Judgment Approved

Mr Justice Nicklin The Honourable

On 7 May 2015, there was a general election in the United Kingdom. One of the parties fielding candidates for election was the United Kingdom Independence Party (“UKIP”). Like most political parties, UKIP had local branches. One of those branches was Bristol UKIP. It had a Twitter account —@BristolUKIP – which was used for campaigning. At 20.42 on 4 May 2015, a Tweet was posted on the Bristol UKIP Twitter account (“the 4 May Tweet”). It consisted of a photograph of Sarah Champion, the Labour member of Parliament for Rotherham, together with two men. One of those men was Zahir Monir, the Claimant in this action. The text of the 4 May Tweet, obviously referring to the photograph, was:

Sarah champion labour candidate for

Rotherham stood with 2 suspended child grooming taxi drivers DO NOT VOTE LABOUR

(Throughout this judgment, I set out various Tweets exactly as they appeared, so what may appear to be errors of spelling, grammar or punctuation appear in the original text.)


The 4 May Tweet was actually written, and posted on Twitter, by John Langley, the Vice Chairman of Bristol UKIP branch.


Mr Monir is not a taxi driver, and no one suggests that he had been involved in any “child grooming”. The allegation was false. Mr Monir has brought these proceedings against Stephen Wood, the then Chairman of the Bristol UKIP branch, contending that he was libelled in the 4 May Tweet and that Mr Wood is legally responsible for it. When the Claim Form was issued, Mr Langley was named as a defendant. However, Mr Monir chose not to serve the proceedings on Mr Langley. Mr Wood therefore faces the claim on his own. It has become clear during the trial that Mr Wood feels very strongly that it is unjust that he should have been sued rather than Mr Langley, the author of the 4 May Tweet.

The parties


Mr Monir was born in Rotherham in 1979 and has lived there all his life. His father achieved some prominence in the Rotherham area for his charity and community work and was awarded an MBE in June 2001 for his work. Mr Monir has been active in local politics. He is a supporter of the Labour party and campaigned for Ms Champion when she was first elected as an MP in 2012. His support continued after that election and he was considering standing himself in local elections. He had been successful in gaining a place on the Labour Party's ‘Future Candidates Programme’ and had attended a training weekend in November 2013 and a further training course in September 2015.


In terms of employment, Mr Monir has spent his career in various community engagement and training roles. He has also been involved in charity and voluntary community work in Rotherham.


Mr Wood was born, and has lived most of his life, in Bristol. He spent 5 years serving as a police officer with Avon & Somerset Constabulary before leaving to work as a private investigator. In 1995, Mr Wood became a certified bailiff. In 2003, Mr Wood decided to concentrate on enforcement work and he set up his own business, Able Investigations. Able's business grew steadily and now has some 12 full-time and 15 part-time employees. Mr Wood has been a bailiff for over 24 years. Outside of this work, Mr Wood has become a student and affiliate of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and he is working towards his associateship and diploma in law and practice. Mr Wood has also volunteered as a mentor for the charity, MIND.


Mr Wood started to take an interest in politics in 2010 and became a supporter of UKIP. He joined the Bristol UKIP branch in 2011, becoming Chairman of the branch in February 2013.

Bristol UKIP Branch


The Bristol branch of UKIP was staffed entirely by volunteers. It owned no premises. It was an ad hoc group of people who shared a common interest in and support of UKIP. At the end of July 2014, it had a membership of around 115 and over 500 supporters. At one point in his cross-examination, Mr Wood described the Bristol UKIP branch as follows:

“It was a group of volunteers that I ran. We were a group of volunteers. There is no business activity there. We were not an agency. Nobody got paid. Nobody got expenses. If somebody didn't turn up to a meeting, yes, we got a bit narky, but I couldn't sack them for it. We had no contractual agreements and, therefore, I cannot be held responsible for somebody putting something on [Twitter]. With the greatest of respect to John [Langley], who is sat in this court, if John had posted these I didn't know about it. Why am I being held responsible for somebody else's actions?”

That perhaps neatly encapsulates Mr Wood's objection to (and sense of injustice of) being alleged to be responsible for the 4 May Tweet.


The national party had a Constitution and Rules of Procedure. No reference has been made to the Constitution, but it is common ground that the members of the Bristol UKIP branch were bound by the Rules of Procedure. So far as material, the Rules of Procedure provided:

i) branches are responsible for their own actions (B.3.1);

ii) each branch would have a Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer and those three would be members of the branch committee. Additional committee members could be elected by the branch up to a maximum of eight members in total (B.3.2.1);

iii) the Chairman has principal responsibility for the direction of the branch (B.3.8.1);

iv) branch committees should normally meet at least six times per year (B.4.1.1);

v) ordinary meetings of the whole branch could be convened as often as the committee thought appropriate (B.4.4) but an annual general meeting was required to be held each year between 1 October and 31 December (B.4.2.1);

vi) online conduct of members of UKIP was regulated as follows:

J.2.1 a UKIP publication is defined as any publication, whether physical or online, which bears the Party's name and/or logo which purports to represent the UK Independence Party;

J.2.2 apart from the exceptions detailed below, any UKIP publication must be authorised before it can be placed into the public domain…;

J.2.3 the following people may authorise a UKIP publication whose scope is national: the Party Leader, the Party Deputy Leader, the Party Chairman, the General Secretary and the Party Secretary;

J.2.4 in addition to the persons named in J.2.3, the Regional Organiser and the Chairman of the Regional Committee may authorise a UKIP publication whose scope is local or regional. A UKIP branch or constituency association may receive standing authorisation from an above named person to produce local UKIP publications for Council election campaigns…;

J.2.6 any member producing a publication shall be responsible for ensuring that it is compliant with Party policy, electoral law, the publishing requirements of the Electoral Commission, the Advertising Standards code of practice and the law relating to defamation…

J.3.1 for the purpose of these Rules of Procedure, ‘online conduct’ shall refer to any Facebook status or group, Twitter post, forum post, posting on any social media account, website, email, blog, article or other material published on the internet by a UKIP member…; and

J.4.4 any of the following people may require the immediate withdrawal of a member's online content: … the local Branch of Constituency association Chairman. Failure to withdraw content promptly shall be considered grounds for disciplinary action…


Mr Wood was elected Chairman of Bristol UKIP branch in February 2013. He stood as the UKIP candidate for the Bristol South Constituency at the general election on 7 May 2015.


Michael Frost became a member of the Bristol UKIP branch in 2013, joining when Mr Wood was Chairman. He was the first to achieve electoral success for the branch when he was elected as a local councillor for the Hengrove Ward in Bristol on 22 May 2014.


Mr Langley was the Vice-Chairman of the Bristol UKIP branch. He had also assumed the role of unpaid assistant to Mr Frost following his election as a local councillor in May 2014. In that role, he maintained a Twitter account for Mr Frost (@TheFrostReport) (“The Frost Report”) as a means by which Mr Frost could keep in touch with constituents in his Ward.

Bristol UKIP's Website and Social Media Accounts


In his evidence, Mr Wood stated that, when he became Chairman, he made it known that he was keen on developing Bristol UKIP's web and social media presence as a way of increasing the profile of Bristol UKIP. The branch's website was registered in Mr Wood's name because, he said, he had purchased the domain name in 2013 and donated it to the branch. The domain also hosted the branch's email accounts.


The Bristol UKIP Facebook account was set up on 18 March 2013. In his evidence, Mr Wood did not recall whether he personally had set up the account or whether someone else had done so using his email address. He was one of the administrators of the account. The documentary evidence strongly supports the conclusion that Mr Wood did set up the account himself.


The Bristol UKIP Twitter account was set up on 1 April 2013. Mr Wood's email address was registered to the account. Although not the subject of formal evidence, I think I can take judicial notice of the basic operations of a Twitter account. A Twitter account holder can gain access to his/her account via a web browser by visiting www.twitter. com and entering his/her account name (@forexample) and the account password that...

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