The civil harassment claim originally known as Hofschröer and others -v- Hofschröer and others finally reached its conclusion on 26th July, 2016.
Launched and funded by North Yorkshire Police in January 2015, under the codename Operation Hyson, it originally featured nine claimants and three defendants. One of the defendants, Peter Hofschröer, had judgment entered against him in November, 2015 and another, Timothy Hicks, reached a compromised settlement last month.
The last two remaining protagonists were former police authority Chair, Jane Kenyon-Miller, and well known citizen journalist, Nigel Ward. Mrs Kenyon-Miller who was represented by Simon Myerson QC and junior barrister, Hannah Lynch, sought a declaration from the court that Mr Ward, represented by well known London-based human rights barrister Ian Brownhill, had harassed her – and relief by way of a wide-ranging injunction which will include the removal of articles written about her from two internet news websites to which Mr Ward has contributed.
The trial was heard before HHJ Mark Gosnell, who is the senior civil court judge for both the Leeds and Bradford court centres. It was listed for two full days in Leeds County Court, although there was always doubt as to whether it would go the full distance. There were just three witnesses due to give evidence: Mrs Kenyon-Miller, Mr Ward and NYP Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer.
Mr Myerson in his opening address appeared to confirm the likelihood of an early finish, as he set out a trial timetable. Mrs Wintermeyer was not mentioned in the schedule to appear in the witness box.
HHJ Gosnell responded by saying that he maintained the view underscored at a recent application hearing that this matter really ought to have been settled by amicable resolution and he questioned why a two day trial, to resolve what he described as relatively narrow issues, was actually necessary. His Honour referred, particularly, to arguments advanced by Mr Brownhill in his skeleton which posited the question: if the issue over injunction failed then the remaining harassment claim was entirely disproportionate.
Against this background, Mr Myerson rather surprisingly told the court that ‘the reality is that resolution (from his client’s point of view) is not possible‘.
He was interrupted by the judge who told the court he was quite frustrated by this situation and enquired as to the sticking point between the parties, such that they might be discussed in open court without prejudicing the trial if, in fact, it proceeded. With a smile, he said ‘I’m an experienced judge, with many years on the bench, and in the old days I would have invited counsel into my chambers and banged heads together‘. He did, however, stress the need for transparency in a trial in which so many were interested in its outcome.
Mr Myerson and Mr Brownhill then both agreed that legal privilege could be waived and that it would not, later, affect HHJ Gosnell’s ability to try the matter if negotiations to settle the claim failed.
The judge then asked the question, more generally: ‘Why are we all here?’
He mused that the alleged harassment matters took seed some years ago and he was persuaded that the two factions started off with good intentions. But his overriding view was that a settlement should be possible and that any costs issues shouldn’t stand in the way of that.
Both counsel then accepted the judge’s invitation to ‘spend half an hour kicking ideas around‘ in his chambers. He felt that a little ‘judicial encouragement‘ might be prescriptive in all the circumstances of the case. Court was, accordingly, adjourned at 10.50am.
Following a 66 minute adjournment the court resumed sitting at 11.56am. A draft consent order has been agreed between the parties. Mr Myerson’s tightly drawn assertion that ‘resolution is not possible’ had taken just over an hour to unravel.
The terms, essentially, are that certain articles will be taken down from the North Yorkshire Enquirer website, the Real Whitby website will be approached to take down some others, although there is no guarantee that the Editor of the latter website will agree – and Mr Ward will not write further about Mrs Kenyon-Miller for a period of two years, or unless she returns to public life.
Mr Myerson stated that it was accepted on all sides that Mrs Kenyon-Miller was an Alderman and such status would not affect the undertaking but, oddly, excluded mention of other roles that suggest that she has not, in fact, left public life at all.
For example, it is well known that she is still a leading light in the organisation of Whitby Regatta (see here), an event that has dominated the social and tourist calendar in the seaside town for over a century; a Governor at Caedmon College in Whitby (see here) and a Director of the Whitby Fishing Industry Training School (see here). She is also still the ‘go-to’ spokesperson for the local press on policing matters as this Scarborough News article bears testimony (read here).
Interestingly, the above article in which she is quoted extensively, was published nine months after Mrs Kenyon-Miller issued proceedings against Mr Ward.
There is, most probably, an innocent explanation as to these omissions as Mr Myerson (or his client) would, surely, not wish to deliberately mislead the court?
Mr Ward’s costs in defending the claim are to be paid by Mrs Kenyon-Miller (or, more accurately, North Yorkshire Police), either on an agreed basis between the parties or, failing that, HHJ Gosnell will list a short hearing at which the issue of quantum will be determined by him.
HHJ Gosnell commended both parties for coming to an amicable solution without the matter being tried and the undoubted ordeal of the two witnesses giving witness box evidence.
The hearing closed shortly after 12 noon with some gratuitous remarks from Mr Myerson, directed at the press bench, and concerning the number of lawyers (or aspiring lawyers) appearing for Mrs Kenyon-Miller. Including himself, there appeared to be seven in the courtroom. Mr Myerson claimed they were not all being paid to be there.
Interestingly, no costs schedule for the claimant had been filed with the court, or served on Mr Ward, as is customary practice. This, at least for the time being, concealed the value of public funds allocated to Mrs Kenyon-Miller.
The matter of what has actually been spent on this almost entirely fruitless pursuit of Mr Ward will be subject to further enquiries of both North Yorkshire Police and its Police Commissioner.
Page last updated: Wednesday 27th July, 2016 at 1555hrs
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