Environmentalist Chris Packham’s libel trial over denied allegations that he misled the public into donating to a wildlife charity to rescue “broken” tigers from circuses is set to begin at the High Court.
The TV naturalist is suing three men for libel over nine online articles claiming he defrauded people into donating to the charity to rescue the tigers while knowing they were well looked after.
The strongly denied allegations, repeated in several tweets and videos, relate to Mr Packham’s involvement with the Wildheart Trust charity, which runs a wildlife sanctuary on the Isle of Wight.
One of the articles on the website Country Squire Magazine said Mr Packham and his partner had “clearly not been truthful with the British public”, adding: “Money has been raised on the back of their truth-bending and they now need to come clean and tell the truth.”
The weblog’s editor Dominic Wightman, writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read, are defending the libel claim.
Mr Packham’s barrister Jonathan Price – who once described the allegations as “tiger fraud” – previously told the court some of the articles accused the presenter of having an “obvious nastiness” and playing the “Asperger’s victim card”.
He continued: “Were this to be true investigative journalism that gathers information in the public interest… it would not contain the degree of venom, bitterness and malice.”
Mr Wightman previously said the articles were a “long-term journalistic investigation” and he was “standing on a mountain of facts” about the allegations.
In written arguments, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean also said: “The statements complained of are serious and would convey a defamatory tendency were they not factual and bloody well true.”
In a preliminary ruling in March 2022, Mr Justice Johnson found that the allegations were defamatory and said the men “do not shy away” from their allegation that Mr Packham “misused his role as a BBC presenter to defraud the public into making charitable donations on the false pretext that tigers had been mistreated by a circus and rescued by a zoo”.
The hearing before Mr Justice Saini is due to begin at 10:30am on Tuesday.
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