Vegetable war ends in defamation case over fiery Facebook posts

prog   July 13, 2017   Comments Off on Vegetable war ends in defamation case over fiery Facebook posts

AN ongoing war between northern suburbs greengrocers and the operators of a “pop up’’ weekend vegetable market is being fought in the District Court.

Outspoken former political candidate Mark Aldridge is being sued for defamation by a one-time business rival over a series of vitriolic Facebook comments posted as part of the vegetable war.

The defamation case, a legal rarity, is being decided in the District Court following a failed last-minute manoeuvre by Mr Aldridge to amend his defence.

Mr Aldridge, pictured, is being sued by Benjamin Johnston, the former owner of a Pooraka fruit and vegetable shop, over two Facebook posts in November 2015 and April last year.

The pair were in dispute over a “pop up’’ fruit and vegetable market at Salisbury and its approval process – with the matter being heard in the Environment, Resources and Development Court at the time.

Mr Johnston says in the first Facebook post on November 25, 2015, Mr Aldridge alleged that he (Johnston) was “intent on closing farmers markets in Australia …” through the action he was opposing in the ERD (Environmental, Resources, Development) Court.

“If I lose the case … thousands of good hardworking Australians will lose, they will lose jobs, farms and businesses.’’

Mr Aldridge claims attempts to work with Mr Johnston “have failed due to his refusal to even talk so it is all about closing markets to improve his sales, rather than improve his business model”.

“If this greedy man wins, the precedent will affect all farmers markets, roadside vendors, general markets, even community events and fetes.’’

Mr Johnston claims the post was seen by Mr Aldridge’s 5974 followers, it was “liked’’ 12,586 times, shared 13,040 times and received more than 4500 comments.

Mr Johnston claims that in a second Facebook post in February last year Mr Aldridge said he (Johnston) was “still trying as hard as he can to shut Farm Direct”.

“Since this has started, threats to my family, stall holders and others have continued and still are a regular occurrence, no one wants to pick up the phone mist (sic) nights to threats of rape of his wife or death threats.’’

Mr Johnston says that post was seen by Mr Aldridge’s 5974 followers and “liked’’ 149 times, shared 41 times and attracted 31 comments.

In his statement of claim Mr Johnston alleges the posts have “brought him into ridicule and contempt, has had his character and reputation injured and has suffered hurt and embarrassment’’. He is claiming compensation for defamation to vindicate his reputation, for the distress caused and for loss of profit.

Last month Mr Aldridge attempted to change his pleadings in the case to fresh defences of qualified privilege, truth and reasonable comment and honest opinions, but this was rejected by Judge Paul Slattery because of the lateness of the move and the fact they did not address the plaintiffs pleaded imputations.

There have been just a handful of defamation cases launched across Australia concerning Facebook and Twitter, including one involving Port Adelaide star Jackson Trengove over his pet dog.