Property boss wins £20k for having name falsely featured on gay dating sites

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A letting agency boss in Northern Ireland will receive £20,000 in damages for having his name falsely featured on gay dating sites.

Philip Swain, who runs Property Lets NI Ltd, sued over an alleged year-long campaign of libel, harassment and malicious falsehood.

The BBC reports the payout, ordered by the High Court in Belfast, also covered the posting of a Gumtree advertisement.

It wrongly claimed he was selling up to move to with a gay partner to San Francisco.

Mr Swain said the campaign was intended to portray him as gay, promiscuous and unfaithful, and seeking to meet men for casual encounters.

Steve Gould, the defendant, described as having an address in County Down, was identified after the court ordered an internet provider to disclose his details.

Mr Swain is not gay, has not put his business up for sale, and is not relocating to the US west coast, it was stressed in court.

The lawsuit covered profiles being created in his name on various dating sites from June 2012 to May 2013.

In a ruling last month High Court Master McCorry emphasised that being described as gay cannot by itself be considered defamatory.

But he said that both Mr Swain and Property Lets NI Ltd had been libelled.

The same finding was made on the businessman’s claim to have suffered harassment.

Master McCorry said: “I am satisfied that to post false advertisements purportedly by the second named plaintiff (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.”

Mr Swain was awarded a total of £20,000, including aggravated damages, to cover both his libel and harassment claims.
A separate award of £1,000 was made in favour of the company, Property Lets NI Ltd.

Master McCorry added that the extent of any commercial damage from being wrongly classed as for sale on Gumtree would be “very slight”.