28.01.10 | John Blake
I don't know how the two-tens are going for you so far, but they have got off to a distinctly weird start for me. I am being targeted by no less a monster than the legendary Hillside Strangler, Kenneth Bianchi.
Bianchi is credited with raping and murdering at least seven young women in five months in the late 1970s in Los Angeles. They even made a terrifying film about him, starring Nicholas Turturro. Luckily for me, the real Mr B is incarcerated for life in Washington State Penitentiary.
Unluckily for me, he has become something of a barrack room lawyer, and he has realised that laws impacting on publishing in Britain are now so ludicrously unbalanced in favour of the plaintiff that it is worth his while to threaten to sue us for "multiple egregious legal transgressions". He has kindly offered not to proceed if I pop a cheque for $1.5 million (£930,000) in the post by return. Good of him, but I think I'll decline.
I don't think I should go into too much detail for fear of giving Mr Strangler more help with his case. Suffice to say he has taken exception to some bits and pieces in a book published by us.
I don't want to sound overly dramatic but, to me, all this nonsense seems like some kind of symbolic high water mark in the gradual erosion of freedom of speech in this country. Britain now has the dubious honour of being the world centre for libel tourism. My point is that this government—which seems to be overwhelmingly run by ex-lawyers whose closets are bulging with guilty secrets—has opened the door to this kind of ridiculous nonsense by gradually making it ever easier to sue book publishers.
The worst cases are those where lawyers sue for libel or human rights infringements on a no-win, no-fee basis, which automatically entitles our learned friends to double their fees if they are successful. We were hit with one of those, where the plaintiff wanted no more than an apology. We agreed this by exchange of a few letters and e-mails to his solicitor. The lawyer promptly sent us a bill for £25,000. Our own representative had charged £1,200 for more or less the same job of work.
The sad thing about all this is that significant and important books, that would have been published five years ago, are now simply not worth the risk. We have created a country in which dishonest tycoons and evil people are now able to frighten publishers into silence—and a climate where even the Hillside Strangler thinks suing a UK publisher is probably worth a punt.