Laurence Fox apologises in court for calling people ‘paedophiles’ in online row
The actor was giving evidence in a High Court libel trial.
Laurence Fox has apologised from a witness box to two people he called “paedophiles” in a Twitter row that sparked a High Court libel battle.
The Reclaim Party founder claimed he had been “diminishing the ridiculousness” of being labelled “a racist” amid exchanges on the social media platform, now known as X, about a decision by Sainsbury’s to provide a safe space for black employees during Black History Month.
Mr Fox, 45, called for a boycott of the supermarket in October 2020 and was called a racist by the drag artist Crystal, former Stonewall trustee Simon Blake and actress Nicola Thorp.
The actor and politician subsequently termed each of the trio a “paedophile”, prompting the libel action by Mr Blake and the drag star, also known as Colin Seymour.
Mr Fox, who denies being a racist, is counter-suing the trio over their tweets and continued to give evidence for a second day at a hearing in London on Tuesday.
During his cross-examination, Mr Fox accepted calling someone a paedophile was a “very serious allegation” if it was a “genuine allegation” and not a “rhetorical device”.
Lorna Skinner KC, representing Mr Blake, Mr Seymour and Ms Thorp, asked that after the two men gave evidence earlier in the trial, Mr Fox “still maintained that they were not caused distress by it”.
Mr Fox replied: “Distress? The both said they were distressed by it. I can only take their words for it.”
Addressing the pair, he added: “I’m sorry to both of you individually for that.”
The actor said his use of the term was “rhetorical” and “there was no inference at any point that I thought they were a paedophile”.
“I was diminishing the ridiculousness of calling me a racist,” he said.
In his written evidence for the case, Mr Seymour, a Canadian artist, said he had faced “overwhelming and distressing” abuse after Mr Fox’s tweet, adding that he felt less safe as a drag performer.
Mr Blake, who is now chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, told the court the incorrect suggestion that gay men were paedophiles was “a trope as old as the hills”.
Mr Fox earlier said his approach to the Twitter exchanges had been: “If you’re going to throw around pointless, meaningless words then let’s start now.”
He said the paedophile allegation “was a serious allegation in exactly the same way that calling someone a racist is a serious allegation”.
He told the court that he had faced a “Twitter pile-on” and “triple-pronged attack”, adding that “since then, my life has been utterly, totally destroyed as an actor”.
During questioning, Mr Fox rejected suggestions from Ms Skinner that he had expressed “stupid and offensive” views and “twisted” humour over previous matters relating to race.
Mr Fox defended his views on a number of issues, claiming it was “anti-British to take the knee”, criticising the “progressive religion” and alleging that posting black squares on Instagram in support of the Black Lives Matter movement was “pointless virtue signalling”.
In October 2020, the actor said he would boycott Sainsbury’s, accusing it of promoting “racial segregation and discrimination”.
In court, he said his reaction was that the supermarket chain was “corporate virtue signalling dreadful people” and that the safe space move was a “ludicrous idea”.
Mr Fox said in his written statement: “My understanding of a safe space is that it is the opposite of a dangerous space – suggesting that it is dangerous for any white employees to be able to go into those spaces.
“I think that this is wrong, harmful and racist. Ultimately it has come over from America: it is a cultural import from America.”
Ms Skinner said segregation in America was “enforced on black people” and was “completely different to creating a safe space in Sainsbury’s”.
Mr Fox claimed the language was “hyper-emotive” and accused the supermarket of allegedly “encouraging” segregation.
Ms Skinner suggested this was an example of “Alice in Wonderland thinking”, with the actor disagreeing with her suggestion that he had “misread” the supermarket’s intention to have a “virtual” safe space amid Covid restrictions.
She said Mr Fox’s choice of the word “dangerous” was “revealing” about “what’s really going on in your head about black people”.
The actor said: “For the record, I don’t think black people are dangerous at all and I think that’s a pretty nasty assertion to make.”
Patrick Green KC, representing Mr Fox, has previously said in written arguments that neither Mr Blake, nor Mr Seymour “has suffered any actual, real-world consequences” due to the actor’s tweets.
The barrister said that the posts did not cause people to think worse of Mr Blake and Mr Seymour and that people did not believe they were paedophiles.
Instead, Mr Green said readers would have understood that Mr Fox’s posts were a “retort to an allegation of racism” rather than a factual allegation.
Ms Skinner has previously said that Mr Blake, Mr Seymour and Ms Thorp “honestly believed, and continue honestly to believe, that Mr Fox is a racist”.
In written submissions, the barrister said Mr Fox “has made a number of highly controversial statements about race”, adding: “If, and to the extent that Mr Fox has been harmed in his reputation, it is his own conduct and not the claimants’ comments on it that caused that harm.”
Mr Fox is due to conclude giving evidence on Wednesday.
The trial before Mrs Justice Collins Rice is due to end later this week, with a decision expected at a later date.