Chris Packham has been accused of ‘abusing his privileged position as a BBC presenter’ to encourage donations to a charity by falsely claiming that a well-treated tiger donated by a circus had been ‘rescued’, a court heard.
The TV naturalist is suing three men over articles on the Country Squire Magazine website, who say they scammed people into donating to a charity to save tigers despite knowing the animals were well cared for – described in court as ” tiger fraud”.
At the start of the trial on Tuesday, the High Court in London heard the conservationist was accused of ‘abusing his privileged position as a BBC presenter’ to dishonestly appeal for donations for the Wildheart Trust, which runs a sanctuary of wildlife on the Isle of Wight.
Mr Packham has been accused of misleading the public into donating to the charity, of which he and his partner, Charlotte Corney, are trustees.
Dominic Wightman, editor of Country Squire Magazine, defended the libel suit along with writer Nigel Bean and a third man, Paul Read, whom the court heard was not responsible for the publications attributed to him as a “mere proofreader”.
Nicholas O’Brien, for Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, argued that the articles in the application were true and could be defended as being in the public interest.
In written submissions, counsel said, “It is clear that the tigers had not been rescued from a circus, did not need rescuing and were not rescued by Mr. Packham.”
Mr O’Brien said the couple “claim that Mr Packham knew the statements were false and therefore were made dishonestly”.
“They were also fraudulent in that they were made for profit and constituted an abuse of his privileged position as a BBC presenter,” he added.
An animal welfare activist
Jonathan Price, Mr Packham’s solicitor, said: ‘It is now a facility that rescues animals who need a forever home, as they say, because for whatever reason they are not wanted by their former owners.
“A central charge in this case [is] that it is fraudulent to attach the word “rescue” to this process.
The strongly denied allegations have been repeated in several tweets and videos.
“Mr. Packham is well known for his decades of vocal campaigning and strong beliefs on animal welfare and nature conservation issues,” Price said in written remarks.
“An argument that he does not genuinely hold those beliefs but instead tried to defraud the public for money is ambitious at best.”
‘puerile and harmful material’
The court was told that Mr. Packham had been described by the defendants as a cheater, a “notorious liar”, of having “obvious malice”, and of playing the “Asperger’s victim card”.
Mr Price argued that the three men intended to make “a frontal attack” on Mr Packham’s character during the legal case and get him fired.
“As the litigation progressed, the defendants published an enormous amount of puerile, offensive and harmful material about the plaintiff, often under the guise of raising funds for their defence,” counsel said in written submissions.
The case came as Mr Packham was raising money for another legal battle, against publisher Fieldsports Channel, whom he accused of allegedly faking his own death and that such claims caused such hatred towards him that she fears for her family’s safety.