Northern Ireland: Letting agent awarded £20,000 after being labelled gay online

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A letting agent has been awarded damages by a court, over internet posts which claimed he was gay.

Phillip Swain – of Property Lets NI Ltd – has been awarded a total of £20,000 by the High Court, over a series of Gumtree posts that falsely claimed he was selling his business to move to San Francisco with a gay partner.

According to UTV, defendant Steve Gould was identified as the perpetrator after an internet service provider was ordered to turn over his details.

Mr Swain stressed in court that he is not gay, and is not moving to San Francisco. Mr Gould did not attend the court hearing.

He argued that the posts falsely portrayed him as “homosexual, promiscuous and unfaithful, and seeking to meet men for casual encounters”, as well as uncommitted to his business.

High Court judge Master McCorry found that being gay could not be considered defamatory in itself.

However, he ruled: “I am satisfied that to post false advertisements purportedly by [Mr Swain] on dating sites over a period of approximately a year and to falsely advertise his business for sale on Gumtree, when it was not in fact for sale, never mind for the reasons stated, constitutes harassment such that the second named plaintiff has, on balance or probabilities, proven his cause of action in harassment.

“Whilst no-one made direct contact with him on foot of any posting, they did contain his name and he believes that the fact that the postings appeared near to the top of the lists suggests that they were being accessed.”

Mr Swain was awarded £20,000, including damages, to cover both the libel and harassment claims, while.