Thursday 26th June 2008
A Christian activist who tried to charge the BBC's Director General and the producer of Jerry Springer the Opera with blasphemy is facing bankruptcy over a 'grotesque' costs order.
The High Court ruled last December that Stephen Green could not prosecute Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, and Jonathan Thoday of Avalon over the BBC2 broadcast of Jerry Springer the Opera and its subsequent theatre tour. The Court ordered costs against him.
In a hearing a fortnight ago, Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday were awarded costs totalling £90,000 against Green, who is the National Director of the prayer and lobby group Christian Voice. The BBC's solicitors were awarded £55,000 and Olswangs Solicitors, who acted for Thoday, got an order for £35,000.
The costs order is better than it could have been; the BBC originally demanded almost £78,000 after instructing David Pannick QC, probably the most expensive barrister they could find, while Thoday wanted over £58,000.
The money is due to be paid today, but Stephen Green doesn't have it.
He has written to both Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday inviting them to waive their costs in the interests of goodwill and justice.
Thompson screened Jerry Springer the Opera on BBC2 in January 2005, attracting 55,000 protests, and the show itself ran at the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden before Avalon sent it on a badly-attended tour in 2006 over which Thoday said he lost £500,000.
Stephen Green, who brought the action over Jerry Springer the Opera in his own name, said today:
'Jerry Springer the Opera portrayed Jesus Christ as a nappy-wearing sexual deviant, who said he was 'a little bit gay'. It called Mary a rape victim, said the birth of Jesus was because 'the condom split', ridiculed His wounds on the cross and the sacrament of Holy Communion, had God as an ineffectual old man who needed guidance from Jerry Springer and finished up with Springer as a counterfeit saviour of mankind who told Jesus to "Grow up for Christ's sake and put some f***ing clothes on."
'It should be enough for Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday that they got away with blasphemy, insulting God and the Lord Jesus Christ, at least in this life. For these rich, powerful men to pursue me into the bankruptcy courts over money I don't have would be vindictive.'
Both sets of solicitors have also threatened to chase the donors who gave the money for the original action, but it is far from clear that a court would allow that. Even if it did, Green is adamant that he will protect the donors' identity, even if that puts him in contempt of court.
'I should go to prison rather than reveal their names, even if I could remember who they were,' he told both Thompson and Thoday.
The BBC is currently wasting £18million a year on a Gaelic TV channel, £150million on BBC3 and BBC4, its well-heeled bosses spent millions changing their logo and they have just splashed out £550,000 on a completely unnecessary rebrand of the News. They have been in the public eye recently over the obscene sums of money they are paying presenters, with Jonathan Ross getting £18million for a three year contract. Mark Thompson's own salary was £609,000 in 2005/6 and must be around £750,000 now. Added to that, the solicitors in the BBC's legal department are on the payroll anyway; the BBC is not even out of pocket in that regard.
Avalon represents entertainers such as Frank Skinner, David Badiel, Harry Hill and Al Murray. Its TV production arm has supplied shows involving most of its own entertainers to TV channels.
Stephen Green continued: 'Mark Thompson earns well over twenty times as much in a year as I am worth. He could pay his own costs out of his inflated salary, and the BBC certainly would never notice the odd £55,000 alongside the money they squander on a daily basis.
'Jonathan Thoday can easily afford to waive his costs as well. He lost £500,000 over the failed tour of Jerry Springer the Opera in 2006, and didn't bat an eyelid, so he isn't exactly short of money either. Seven years ago, in 2001, he featured in the Independent's Media Rich List, with a personal fortune estimated then at £12million.
'Quite simply, I do not have the money anyway, and will be certainly end up bankrupt if Thompson and Thoday decide to enforce these punitive costs.'
Human Rights barrister Paul Diamond said the case raises issues under the European Convention of Human Rights about access to the courts.
Stephen Green concluded: 'How are people with limited means expected to bring actions of public importance against public bodies or wealthy people? It is outrageous that a public-spirited individual should be dissuaded from upholding standards of public decency in a public body because of the fear of adverse, grotesque costs orders.'
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NOTE for editors: The European Court have previously held that in certain circumstances legal aid must be granted to individuals to enable them to pursue their case. In the same way an impecunious claimant should not be subject to an adverse costs order which would deter other individuals from access to the courts where it as reasonable to have legal representation and the other party is a public body.