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Woman to pay $75,000 for false Facebook claim

Published: 
Thursday, June 21, 2018

A prison officer, who was falsely accused of abandoning her three children on social media, has won over $75,000 in compensation for defamation.

Delivering a 39-page judgment in this country’s second social media defamation case earlier this month, High Court Margaret Mohammed ruled that Ama Charles defamed the prison officer in a Facebook post made on January 24, 2016.

The officer’s name was withheld by this newspaper to protect the identities of her children, who are minors, and to avoid the republication of the defamatory statement made against her.

While Charles admitted to making the offensive post on her private Facebook page, she denied that she was responsible for reposting it on the T&T Prison Service’s Facebook site.

The officer had claimed that the republication led to ridicule from her colleagues, her being questioned by her supervisors and facing the possibility of disciplinary action.

Although Mohammed agreed that there was no evidence that Charles initiated the repost, she ruled that she (Charles) was still liable for unintended republication by third parties, who had access to the post and her page.

Mohammed said: “In my opinion, when Charles published the words on her Facebook page and she “tagged” people whom she knew...she implicitly gave them permission to forward her publication to third parties.”

“In such circumstances, Charles must remain ultimately responsible for the words which she initially published once they remained in the form she originally published,” Mohammed added.

The post stated that Charles was attempting to contact the officer after she allegedly left her three children unattended in front of her (Charles) house.

In her lawsuit, the officer denied the allegation as she claimed that she was on her way to drop the children by her sister when she spotted their father at Charles’ home and decided to leave them with him instead.

She claimed that Charles, who she and her children knew as a friend of their father, sent her several abusive text messages before she eventually made the post.

In analysing whether the statement constituted defamation, Mohammed ruled that an ordinary and reasonable person could conclude that she (the officer) was an irresponsible mother.

Mohammed said that Charles exacerbated the situation by tagging the T&T Police Service (TTPS) television programme Beyond the Tape and Crime Watch host Ian Alleyne in the post.

“In my opinion, these last words in the post would have coloured the opinion of the ordinary, reasonable person into thinking that the action by the claimant with respect to the treatment of her children was of such gravity that it was a criminal act which had been committed,” Mohammed said.

In addition to ordering the compensation for the officer, Mohammed ordered Charles to pay the $19,652.08 in legal fees she incurred in bringing the lawsuit.

The judgment comes four months after High Court Judge Frank Seepersad presided over a landmark case brought by a couple whose neighbour falsely claimed that they molested their children in a series of Facebook posts.

In ruling in favour of the couple Seepersad considered social media cases in Commonwealth jurisdictions as there are currently no laws which directly address the issue.

Although the quantity of compensation to the couple is yet to be calculated by a High Court Master, the case was used as a precedent in the lawsuit before Mohammed.

The prison officer was represented by Kalena Maharajh and Whitney St Clair. Gem Emmanuel and Elena Da Silva represented Charles.

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