STATUS: Concluded – On 26 April 2023, the High Court passed down its judgment in favour of Nina Cresswell. The judge stated that Cresswell’s imputation that Hay had “violently sexually assaulted her” was “substantially true” and that she “established the defence in section 4 of the 2013 Act as she has shown that: the statements complained of were on a matter of public interest; that she believed this to be the case at the time of publishing them; and that her belief was reasonable”.
In 2010, Nina Cresswell was sexually assaulted by tattoo artist Billy Hay walking home from a nightclub in Sunderland. Following the incident, she reported it to the police. According to the Good Law Project, who supported Cresswell: “At 6am the next morning she reported the matter to the police, who interviewed her at home and quickly closed the investigation. They recorded that no crime had been committed.”
In Nina’s own words, “I feel cloaked in guilt at the thought of another woman going through the terror I went through.” As a result, Cresswell decided to post her story to the anonymous blogging platform, Telegra.ph, which she sent to a few friends, as well as Hay’s business partner. Later on, she published the story publicly via the social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Her primary intention in publishing these materials, according to the High Court judgment “was to alert women who could otherwise become victims of sexual assault at the hands of the claimant, in particular in the context of his work as a tattooist.”
A few days later, she received a legal letter from lawyers instructed by Billy Hay threatening to sue her for defamation based on the publication of her story on the online platforms and the contact with Hay’s partner. The letter claimed: “Our client has met you once in his life. You danced and chatted in groups but that was all that happened between you. Your account of what supposedly happened on your way home is neither credible nor true”.
The hearing in the High Court commenced in February 2023, where Nina Cresswell relied on the truth and public interest defences set out in the Defamation Act 2013. The truth defence was a late addition to Cresswell’s defence strategy and was further supported by the changing testimony provided by Billy Hay throughout the process, who eventually confirmed that he had left the club with Nina and had attempted to kiss her. This was a departure from his initial retelling, which labelled Nina as a fantasist and that “nothing happened at all”.
On 26 April 2023, the High Court passed down its judgment in favour of Nina Cresswell. In a landmark ruling for victims of sexual abuse and violence who choose to speak out, the judge stated that Cresswell’s imputation that Hay had “violently sexually assaulted her” was “substantially true” and that she “established the defence in Section 4 of the 2013 Act as she has shown that: the statements complained of were on a matter of public interest; that she believed this to be the case at the time of publishing them; and that her belief was reasonable”. In the words of Tasmin Allen, who represented Nina Cresswell, alongside Jonathan Price, and who has described the case as a SLAPP, “It is a judgment that will give huge strength to others in the same position as Nina.”
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