Former Leeds United chairman Ken Bates - already ordered to pay damages to an ex-club director who sued him for harassment - must now also pay the ex-director’s wife, appeal judges have ruled.
Melvyn Levi was awarded £10,000 at Leeds County Court after bringing a claim against Bates and United that he had he suffered stress through a campaign of vilification, including announcements on the club radio station that allegedly likened him to “a fugitive”.
He also claimed comments made by Mr Bates in a match day programme amounted to speculation over his marriage.
The county court judge allowed Mr Levi’s claim but rejected a similar one brought by his wife, Carole, on the grounds that Mr Bates’ conduct was not aimed at her.
She appealed and today won a ground-breaking judgment that she was entitled to £6,000 damages even though she was not the actual target of the harassment.
Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Ryder and Lord Justice Briggs unanimously agreed she should receive an award.
Lord Justice Briggs said the case raised the important question whether a person harmed, or who anticipated harm, from harassment aimed at someone else was entitled to compensation under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
The judge ruled that the right to bring a harassment claim “extends beyond the targeted individual”, although only to those “forseeably, and directly, harmed by the course of targeted conduct”.
The judge said Mrs Levi had no right to claim for her “understandable sympathetic distress at Mr Bates’ campaign of vilification against her husband”.
But two articles in match programmes in 2007 constituted harassment of Mrs Levi “not simply because they defamed her husband but because they invited thousands of club supporters to intervene in a hostile manner, at her home, about a business dispute between her husband and Mr Bates”.
The judge said: “It is plainly forseeable that, if any significant number of supporters of the club responded to Mr Bates’ incitement, they would cause Mrs Levy alarm and distress by attending or telephoning her home.”
The judge said it was equally forseeable that “the mere publication of that incitement in the club’s match programmes would, once it came to Mrs Levi’s attention, cause her alarm and distress by an apprehension that this is what would shortly occur, even if, in the event, no supporters took up the cudgels on Mr Bates’ behalf.”
Anyone living in the family home could claim to be a victim of harassment “provided perhaps that they were old enough to pick up the telephone or answer the door-bell”.
Lord Justice Ryder agreed that Mrs Levi was entitled to damages, saying: “She was a forseeable victim. She was fortunate that the supporters had more sense or compassion than the perpetrator (Mr Bates).”
Lord Justice Longmore also agreed and said he could see no reason “why it should only be that (targeted) individual who can sue if the defendant knows or ought to know that his conduct will amount to harassment of another individual”.