Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 12:49 UK

Housing chief's record net payout

A "malicious" campaign of harassment against a housing group in Wearside has resulted in what is thought to be the biggest internet defamation payout.

The Gentoo Group, formerly known as Sunderland Housing Company, was abused through the "Dads Place" website created by a group of anonymous people.

John Finn of Pallion Housing admitted being behind the site and agreed to pay chief executive Peter Walls 100,000.

Mr Finn had already agreed a 19,000 payout to Gentoo and various employees.

The lawyers in the case believed the cash award is the biggest award in an internet defamation case.

No amount of money can compensate my family for the distress these outrageous and false statements have caused us
Peter Walls

Representing Mr Walls, Hugh Tomlinson QC said Dads Place was responsible for the publication of a "seriously defamatory, abusive and scurrilous anonymous website" over a two year period until July 2006.

He added: "The claimants brought proceedings for libel in respect of numerous seriously defamatory allegations ranging from corruption to nepotism and the promotion of female employees in exchange for sexual favours.

"Dads Place used their publications and in particular the website to conduct a malicious, unpleasant and relentless campaign of libel and harassment.

"Mr Walls was forced to withstand an almost daily barrage of anonymous allegations, threats and abuse and suffered very serious damage to his professional and personal reputation."

'Particularly frightening'

Speaking outside the court on Thursday Mr Walls, 55, said: "No amount of money can compensate my family for the distress these outrageous and false statements have caused us.

"What was particularly frightening was the fact that we didn't know who was doing this or why.

"There is no doubt that the internet can be a fantastic tool for good but we urgently need legal change to enable victims of internet abuse to have a quicker and more effective route to justice."

Mr Finn and Pallion had repeatedly denied any responsibility for the site but last October they "capitulated" and admitted the allegations, the court was told.

In November, they agreed to pay 5,000 compensation to Gentoo and a total of 14,000 to a group of seven employees.

In July 2006, John Baines, the main administrator of the website, also admitted his involvement and being employed by Mr Finn.


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