Jack Monroe bears ‘no ill will’ towards Katie Hopkins after libel case
It took 21 months of what she describes as “long, grim, exhausting” legal proceedings, but days after winning her libel case against Katie Hopkins, Jack Monroe has said she would like to invite the controversial columnist round for dinner.
In an interview with the Guardian, the food blogger and activist said she bore “no ill will” towards Hopkins. “Although what she said about me was wrong and the last two years have been a grim process, I would happily sit down and talk as adults. I just think the world is a bit better when you are willing to give people chances.
Hopkins, a columnist with MailOnline, is facing a legal bill estimated at more than £300,000 after a high court judge ruled on Friday that she had defamed Monroe in two tweets sent in May 2015, which the court found had implied that Monroe had defaced or supported defacing a war memorial.
Though Hopkins had mistakenly tweeted Monroe instead of another writer, and the food blogger, who is from a military family, immediately denied the accusation, the court heard that Hopkins had refused to apologise and had resisted repeated attempts to settle the case before it came to court.
The legal process, says Monroe, was “emotionally crippling. I don’t feel like I have achieved anything work-wise in the last 18 months, because I feel I have been consumed by this whole debacle.”
So why was she determined to sue, given the notoriously unpredictable nature of the libel courts? “Everybody told me I was mad, but I thought, I’ve started this, and I’ve got to finish it. And I did.”
A wave of abuse from supporters of Hopkins that followed the tweets had caused her to “completely fall apart”, Monroe says. “I look at my Instagram the week before [the tweets], and I was happy as a lark. I was in love, I was carefree. And within a week, that had all changed. I had completely plummeted into darkness, staying in bed, duvet over my head. Nobody understood.”
She felt unable to turn off her phone or ignore Twitter, she says, because she feared the abuse might include other untruths that she would have to counter.
Though she has tried a few “micro-detoxes” from the social media site, she says: “As someone who is a journalist and a news columnist, it’s a constant source of news and contacts and banter. It’s quite difficult to step out.”
Monroe acknowledges that, not unlike Hopkins, she is “slightly combative”. But she refutes the suggestion, made in court by Hopkins’s barrister, that the two writers are equally provocative voices on different sides of the political spectrum.
“I fly off the handle, I say things that are ill-thought through, and I have said things in the past that I am hugely sorry for. But I try to realise my mistakes and attempt to make them better.”
Monroe was questioned in detail in court about a tweet she sent in 2014 that stated that David Cameron “uses stories about his dead son… to legitimise selling our NHS to his friends”; the day after the verdict, Hopkins tweeted a screengrab of the tweet, urging her followers: “Stay strong people. The fight goes on. We have reputations and principles to defend.”
Monroe wrote a personal apology to the Camerons at the time and says: “I’m still deeply sorry about that tweet. I’m ashamed of myself. But just because I have said and done some fairly shit things myself doesn’t mean that it’s a free for all for people to lie about me.”
She hopes her case could encourage people to “be nicer” on the social media site. “Big claim this, but I think my case will have done more to counter Twitter abuse than Twitter have managed to do in the last 10 years. Because it sets a precedent.
“Don’t say things about people that aren’t true … because there are consequences for that.”
Monroe first came to prominence through a blog called A Girl Called Jack, in which she shared budget recipes she had devised as a single mother on benefits. Columns in the Guardian, Huffington Post and elsewhere followed, and she became an outspoken campaigner on poverty and austerity issues, earning a profile in the New York Times and an appearance on Question Time.
Last year the blogger revealed that she was non-binary transgender, and now identifies as neither male nor female, though she says she prefers the use of female pronouns when being written about. “If it’s going to make an article inaccessible for people to read, then I very much prefer ‘she’.”