Judge finds words about developer defamatory

| 09/05/2022 | 38 Comments
Cayman News Service
Barkers Beach Hotel site in West Bay

(CNS): In the first case of its kind in the Cayman Islands, a judge has found that comments on a Facebook page posted by a Caymanian environmental scientist raising concerns about a proposed oceanfront project were defamatory to the developer.

In a preliminary hearing in a libel case, Acting Justice Alistair Walters found that critical comments by Linda Clark, an administrator of the Cayman Development Watch page, and another posted by a user about Morne Botes, taken together, were defamatory.

In the hearing which took place in March, the judge was asked to consider the narrow point as to whether or not the words used on the social media page in May last year about Barkers Beach Resort, a potential project that has yet to gain planning permission, could be constituted as defamatory, all things considered, and sufficient to support a libel trial after Botes sued Clark.

Although Botes’ original statement of claim against Clark has never been public, it is understood from this judgment that he claimed Clark’s reference to money laundering had defamed him.

Clarke had posted a comment in relation to the Barkers Beach development in West Bay, based on a CNS article about the vulnerability of the local property market to money laundering, which had been raised by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), and the challenge this presented for the authorities.

Clark referenced the red flags that had been noted about the types of property development that could pose a risk.

During the hearing, Acting Justice Walters considered only limited evidence in order to make a decision about the words and the context, although he also referred to the artist’s rendering of the proposed project as a “photograph”, even though the development does not yet exist.

He concluded that the words about the developers of this potential beachfront condo project were defamatory. But at this stage, no submissions have been made on whether or not the words or implications were fair comment, or could be justified or supported in some way.

While Botes was not named in Clark’s original comment, a second comment in the thread and an additional comment by Clark served to clearly identify Botes, the judge found. With Botes identified and given the nature of the allegations, the judge concluded that, taken together and in the context of an exchange, the words were defamatory.

“The Defendant has sought to argue that the First and Second Posts were referring to developers and developments generally and has suggested that the articles to which links were included reinforced that because they, in turn, were dealing with the respective subject matter in general, generic terms,” the judge wrote in his conclusion.

But he said he was struck by the use of words, expressions and speech marks in a way that “seemed to me as a questioning and derogatory way”. Combined with the reference to money laundering, he said that it “left me with the impression that the Defendant was referring to someone who was not legitimate and was engaged in unlawful activity”.

He said that the comments by a person identified in the document only as AM coming immediately after the first post compounded the impression of what Clark was implying and questioned the legitimacy of the plaintiff (Botes) and found that the comments, taken together, served to allege that Botes was someone who “would take advantage of the corrupt behaviour of others”.

Clark, who has been involved in a number of important environmental campaigns in Cayman, from the Cruise Port Referendum to Plastic Free Cayman, is a well-known qualified environmental scientist.

She is continuing to fight the case and, depending on the ultimate outcome, this action could become a landmark case in relation to social media comments and discussions, even on matters of public interest.

Once all the evidence is before the court, if Botes is found to have been defamed, it could severely curtail the creation of pages such as Cayman Development Watch and other activist social media forums where the public has so far been able to voice objections over development and concern over environmental issues.

See the judgment on the judicial administration’s register cause G 0093 OF 2021 here.


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Comments (38)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    #standwithLinda

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    • Anonymous says:

      The developer needs to grow a thicker skin.
      He doesn’t hesitate to dish it out, but squeals when he’s on the receiving end.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    This lawsuit is doing him and COE group more harm than the comments Linda made on facebook.

    I am in the process of searching for my first apartment to purchase. I honestly think his properties are beautiful and well designed. They are within my price range and I was interested.

    But now, I could never feel good about buying an apartment from someone who would take an environmentalist to court for a comment she made about him or his company on social media. Its ridiculous.

    A few months ago, I would have happily bought an apartment developed by Coe group, completely unaware of a facebook argument between the developer and an environmentalist.

    But now Id be totally embarrassed to take a picture with him giving me my key.

    The world and the environment and Cayman needs more people like Linda and less like Morne.

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  3. anon says:

    I’m glad this judgment has been made. It’s about time.
    You can’t just slander someone. Make up stories and lies to support yourown agenda and expect no consequences.
    Just because your on FB or any medium doesn’t exempt any of this behaviour
    It might stop the hate a jealousy spewed across these pages and across these islands
    I bet Sandra Hills “A” is twitching!! with all the hate based on jealousy, untruths, unqualified comments she makes. Hoping she’s next on the list

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    • Anonymous says:

      What about all the locals that are on Truth Social? Are we going to sue them too?

      This was not hate by Linda, she simply took a stand for our environment and not for developers that come here to over-develop our land and destroy our environment. XXX

      #standwithLinda

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      • Anonymous says:

        Ugh…it doesn’t matter if her comments were about the environment. He is using his $$$ to damage and harm an environmentalist. Someone who has done a lot of good for the environment and Cayman will continue to do a lot of good for Cayman and the environment. So it is about the environment. Her lawyers aren’t free. This is a waste of everyones time, energy and money.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Just because you’re an environmentalist, you don’t get a free pass to say whatever you like about people, regardless of whether or not it’s true, or has any grounding at at all in fact.

          The suggestion that this will curtail debate or unduly protect developers is simply wrong. It will curtail people casually publishing statements with no regard for their accuracy. Difficult to see that as a bad thing.

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          • Anonymous says:

            what ?!! more people are aware of what she said now! so this makes no rational sense.

            Only a wealthy person with money to waste could afford to go to court because their feelings were hurt.

            It seems like Morne actually thought this was a good idea and would make him look good. And that plan backfired spectacularly.

            He just looks more suspicious and like a giant crybaby.

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    • Anonymous says:

      My, you seem upset. Maybe if you mind your own business, it won’t bother you s much.

      • Anonymous says:

        yes upset that he is messing with the life of a person that is well-liked and respected in Cayman.
        and rich people who use their money for ridiculous purposes make me angry

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  4. #StandWithLinda says:

    Botes is blocked.
    #StandWithLinda

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  5. Anonymous says:

    How did this come to the argument as to whether or not she was referring to Botes, instead of as to whether the comment made was actually defamatory? I feel like this was a mishandled case on the part of the defense in their pleas, while the judge also erred in his application of the law over what he was actually to decide.

    There was nothing said in the post that wasn’t factual. Anyone involved in AML in real estate would point out the same issues with such development practices.

    This is bad law, that does not bode well for the concept of free speech and making fair comment on matters of the public interest. Now any one can sue anyone else for making comments about dodgy business dealings involved in a said industry, regardless of whether they are referring to or indeed even insinuating that the plaintiff engages in such practices.

    Appeal needed.

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  6. Confused says:

    So, does the judge believe that everyone with a Facebook page is liable for all the comments on thier feed?

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  7. Candid says:

    The judge, with respect, got it wrong. According to the relevant rule, at this stage, the judge was just supposed to determine if the words were “capable” of being defamatory. Then in the next hearing they were supposed to see if, in that context, the words were actually defamatory. The judge fudged it all up and decided everything at once. Also, how can Linda’s words be defamatory when she is not the one who identified the person until the person injected himself into the conversation!??

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  8. SMDH says:

    Now, because of this court case, which this developer instigated, thousands of people who were not previously aware of him are now talking about him, his proposed development and how on-paper developments seeking investor funding can be targeted by money launderers.

    Also: does this judge understand how social media works?

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  9. Anonymous says:

    This just paints botes in a bad light.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Let me get this straight—the defendant is held responsible for defamation due to a comment that someone else wrote? Because she didn’t take the comment down or didn’t repudiate it? The new rule seems to be that it’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say. Free speech has never really taken root among UK judges. It’s also quite strange how the litigation is handled piecemeal. No wonder it’s so long and expensive.

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    • Anonymous says:

      So she identified him in the second comment? Now it’s all over the news, are we all contributing to it now?

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    • Eden Hurlston says:

      This comment by Anonymous at 4:22pm May 9 2022 is false. I am the former co-admin referred to and this comment is an outright lie.

      I challenge you to publicly say who you are, though I’m guessing you’ll just hide behind anonymity. Your comment is a lie, possibly even defamatory?

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  11. Anonymous says:

    lmao sandra did this 432390581308 times over and nothing significant happen to her yet. one day she will mess with the wrong person’s info tho

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    • Anonymous says:

      No – she got successfully sued at least twice. It couldn’t pay the damages and somehow manage to weasel out of that.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Right… so then nothing happened lol

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      • Just sayin says:

        Sandra was found guilty of bullying and defaming someone and could have gone to jail. She was given a suspended sentence and allowed to continue her harassment of others. That’s just one case. There are so many more. Just sayin.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The sad part is that 99% of time Sandra was right..There are so many people that have changed their illicit behaviour and ways because they have been called out by CMR.

      I don’t necessarily agree with her all of the time but without her medium a lot of things would be shoved under the rug. XXX

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