Lord McAlpine's recently reported litigation against tweeters stemmed from a Newsnight broadcast in November 2012 which reported allegations of sexual abuse of boys at the Bryn Estyn children's home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. The broadcast was followed by substantial social media commentary. While Newsnight did not specifically name the former Tory Party treasurer during the broadcast, the Tory peer was later incorrectly named and identified on Twitter as the abuser.
Lord McAlpine recently settled defamation complaints against the BBC and ITV in December 2012 for Stg£185,000 and Stg£125,000 respectively. He also received unreserved apologies for the damage and distress that had been caused to him.
Lord McAlpine was also pursuing defamation claims against Twitter users arising from the same complaint. A reported 10,000 tweeters who posted initial defamatory tweets and re-tweets could potentially be named as defendants. However, he announced recently that he is dropping defamation claims against Twitter users with less than 500 followers, instead asking them to make a small donation to the Children In Need charity. The Tory peer has said that he wants to draw the "unfortunate episode" to a close.
It is notable that Twitter users could face the threat of criminal prosecution in the UK under the Malicious Communications Act, 1988, should it transpire that their messages are held to be grossly offensive.
Lord McAlpine's litigation is likely to involve some of the first English High Court defamation trials over defamatory Twitter posts.