Blackpool FC fan David Ragozzino has been ordered to pay Karl and Owen Oyston £20,000 each after making defamatory remarks online.
Judge Stephen Davies has published his long-awaited judgement against Mr Ragozzino who he said had made “serious allegations of a defamatory nature against the claimants.”
Mr Ragozzino, 32, who was also ordered to pay Blackpool Football Club £1,000 in damages, had “gone well beyond vigorous criticism” when he posted on websites including fansonline.net, he said.
Judge Davies said: “I am quite satisfied that Mr Ragozzino has been motivated by malice against the Oystons both as regards the initial posts and as regards his subsequent conduct of this case.
“If he had limited himself in his posts to genuine, even if intemperate, criticism of the Oystons for their management of Blackpool FC in footballing and in financial terms then he would not have found himself in his current invidious position.
“I am satisfied that he made these most serious and damaging allegations without having any reasonable basis for thinking that they were true, because he was and remains consumed by hatred for them, and that his subsequent conduct shows that he will stop at nothing to exert pressure on them to achieve what he believes is in the best interests of the football club he supports.
“Mr Ragozzino has conspicuously refused to take responsibility for the posts or to apologise.”
The comments made by Mr Ragozzino, who claimed he had been “duped” into signing a consent form at a previous hearing, centred around “lurid allegations of a sexual nature”against Owen Oyston and also allegations of fraudulent and corrupt behaviour against Karl Oyston in his running of Blackpool FC.
Judge Davies said the allegations against Owen Oyston made by Mr Ragozzino, who represented himself at earlier hearings in Manchester, would have had “a very significant impact upon him”.
And referring to the impact on Karl Oyston, Judge Davies said: “I do not consider that they had anything like the same impact as the allegations made against Owen Oyston did upon him” adding they would have been easier for him to “shrug off”.
Karl Oyston, in his witness statement, said he was “deeply distressed and humiliated” by the allegations made against him.
In reference to the damages claim by Blackpool FC, Judge Davies said: “The Company does not plead, or seek to establish, a claim for special damages against Mr Ragozzino, but it does contend that its goodwill and good reputation have been damaged by these assertions, and that it is entitled to substantial general damages as a result” although he added it would be difficult to ascertain the financial damage as a result of the comments.
Judge Davies said Mr Ragozzino, from Marton, had conducted his cross-examination of the Oystons in relatively moderate and restrained terms but said he “has not been at all well-served by the assistance of Mr Reed” - referring to fellow Pool fan widely-known as Stephen Reed, or ‘Afroman’.
Mr Ragozzino was “passionately aggrieved” about the way the club had been run, the judge added.
He also chronicled Mr Ragozzino’s credibility, concluding: “It is readily apparent that these posts were being made by someone, hiding under a disguised name, with an obsessive hatred for the Oystons and their running of Blackpool FC.”
He said the fact Karl Oyston had been fined £40,000 by the FA for sending abusive texts to a fan have no connection to the matters of the subject of this particular claim.
He added: “The claimants fully accept that they are not entitled to be protected from legitimate criticism of their management of Blackpool FC in footballing or in financial terms.
“They accept that Blackpool FC’s supporters are entitled to express opinions about such matters, in vigorous terms if they so wish.
“It is the claimants’ complaint however that these postings cross the boundary between legitimate criticism, no matter how vigorously expressed, and making serious and untrue defamatory statements of the kind mentioned.
“In these proceedings the claimants all complain that the defendant has been guilty of defamation and the third claimant also complains that the defendant has been guilty of malicious falsehood.”
Summing up, he said: “I consider that the allegations against Owen Oyston achieved a wider publication and interest, and caused him greater distress, than did the allegations against Karl Oyston.
“Both Owen Oyston and Karl Oyston are entitled to aggravated damages by reference to Mr Ragozzino’s malice and conduct of the case.
“The Company is entitled to substantial damages, but only modest damages.”
A spokesmanon behalf of the football club and the Oyston family said: “This was a regrettable course of action that was not taken lightly.
“Unfortunately the defamed parties were left with no alternative, despite trying from the outset to resolve matters with Mr Ragozzino and his advisor. The defamatory postings went way beyond football and the normal criticisms aimed at football club directors.”