War of words

Wife cleared of li­bel de­spite say­ing ex-hus­band tried to ‘stran­gle’ her... be­cause the term has two mean­ings!

Daily Mail - - Brexit In Crisis - By Steve Doughty So­cial Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

IT has taken six years, a sev­en­fig­ure le­gal bill and a court­room con­sul­ta­tion of the Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary.

But a woman who ac­cused her ex-hus­band of try­ing to ‘stran­gle’ her fi­nally won her le­gal bat­tle yes­ter­day over the pre­cise mean­ing of her Face­book post.

Ni­cola Stocker, 51, made the al­le­ga­tion dur­ing an on­line row, trig­ger­ing a li­bel case that ended in the coun­try’s high­est court.

She said her then-hus­band Ron­ald Stocker had ‘tried to stran­gle me’ dur­ing an as­sault in March 2003. The lon­grun­ning dis­pute over those four short words ended yes­ter­day, when the Supreme Court ruled she had not meant Mr Stocker had tried to kill her.

The jus­tices ruled in­stead that the phrase sim­ply de­scribed him grab­bing her throat. Mr Stocker, 68, is now likely to face a bill for at least £1mil­lion in le­gal costs, court doc­u­ments show. His exwife’s al­le­ga­tion was lev­elled dur­ing a Face­book row with his new lover, Deb­o­rah Bligh, just be­fore Christ­mas 2012. The cou­ple, who have a son, had gone through an ‘ac­ri­mo­nious’ di­vorce more than two years ear­lier.

Mrs Stocker also claimed on so­cial me­dia that he had been re­moved from their Buck­ing­hamshire home after mak­ing threats and that he had ‘gun is­sues’. Mr Stocker sued her for li­bel, say­ing she had im­plied that he had made an ef­fort to kill her. The case reached the High Court, where Mr Jus­tice Mit­ting called for the dic­tio­nary. It said that ‘to stran­gle’ meant ei­ther killing by ex­ter­nal com­pres­sion of the throat, or to painfully con­strict the throat or neck.

The High Court judge said Mrs Stocker must have meant her hus­band in­tended to kill her and so her Face­book post was li­bel­lous. But yes­ter­day the de­ci­sion was re­versed in a unan­i­mous rul­ing by five jus­tices at the Supreme Court. In the Christ­mas Face­book mes­sages to Miss Bligh, Mrs Stocker said: ‘I hear you have been to­gether 2 years? If so u might like to ask him who he was in bed with the last time he was ar­rested...’

A fur­ther post­ing from Miss Stocker said: ‘Wouldn’t bring it up last time I ac­cused him of cheat­ing he spent a night in the cells, tried to stran­gle me. Po­lice don’t take too kindly to find­ing your wife with your hand­prints round her neck. But don’t worry you will get a nice watch for Christ­mas!’

Jus­tice Lord Kerr said: ‘The fact this was a Face­book post is crit­i­cal and it was necessary for the [High Court] judge to keep in mind the way in which such post­ings are made and read. It is un­wise to search a Face­book post for its the­o­ret­i­cal or log­i­cally de­ducible mean­ing. Peo­ple scroll through Face­book quickly and their re­ac­tion to posts is im­pres­sion­is­tic and fleet­ing.’

The Supreme Court jus­tices ruled Mr Jus­tice Mit­ting’s rea­son­ing in the High Court had been faulty. Lord Kerr said: ‘He failed to con­duct a re­al­is­tic ex­plo­ration of how an or­di­nary reader of the Face­book post would have un­der­stood it.

‘An or­di­nary reader of the post would have in­ter­preted it as mean­ing Mr Stocker had grasped Mrs Stocker by the throat and ap­plied force to her neck.

‘Even if Mrs Stocker’s al­le­ga­tions were con­sid­ered not to have been es­tab­lished to the letter, there is more than enough to demon­strate that that de­fence should not fail by rea­son only that the truth of ev­ery charge was not proved.’

He added that Mr Stocker had bro­ken a non-mo­lesta­tion or­der and had made threats to his for­mer wife. This would make him ‘dan­ger­ous and dis­rep­utable’ in the eyes of many, Lord Kerr said.

‘Hand­prints round your neck’

Left: Ni­cola Stocker at court Above: Ron­ald Stocker with new love Deb­o­rah Bligh

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