Jack Monroe on trolls, mental breakdown and that libel victory over Katie Hopkins
PUBLISHED: 10:39 17 March 2017 | UPDATED: 21:04 17 March 2017
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EXCLUSIVE: A libel victory over Katie Hopkins, a suicide attempt and the hope that we might all finally learn to be a little kinder to one another online
I was never in it for the money. My rule of thumb is to never do anything for the money. When deciding which work and sponsorship jobs to accept, I ask myself – would I do this for free? If there is even a fraction of hesitation, I consign it to the bin, and sleep soundly at night knowing that my motivation is at least never skewed by the promise of gold nor thirty pieces of silver.
As with this case, I offered to settle for a swift public retraction and apology. I made a flippant jibe about a donation to charity, an attempt to provoke some kind of response from Katie, after previous messages informing her that I had never scrawled on a war memorial and did not condone it, and asking nicely if she would delete her tweet, were ignored.
It was a long game of chicken, barbed correspondence and internet commenters jibing that I would never dare go through with it. And yet only one of us crossed the road into the Royal Court Of Justice, for a gruelling and combative three day trial.
After 21 months of endless legal correspondence, Hopkins herself refused to turn up. She refused to give a witness statement. She refused to be cross examined. She refused to defend her actions. I, on the other hand, was put on trial. Five hours of torturous cross-examination by one of the country’s leading libel lawyers, who accused me – as I stood trembling, digging my nails into the wooden edges of the witness box – of enjoying myself. I almost spat my response at him, that we have a very different definition of what constitutes enjoyment. Sir.
I was taken to task over my gratuitous use of the word ‘fuck’ on my own Twitter timeline, as though having a ‘propensity to profanity’ meant that I deserved everything that I got. I mildly pointed out that even the Sunday Times prints the word ‘fucking’, nowadays. I’m surprised that, considering the defence largely consisted of telling me in various ways that I was ‘asking for it’, nobody thought to ask me what I was wearing.
I was vomited into the public eye in December 2012, in a Daily Mirror article about having just £10 for Christmas that I took reluctantly for £250 to pay for some heating, rent arrears and scant decorations, and a pair of £5 Mickey Mouse rollerskates for my son.
A one-off humiliation in the double pages of a national newspaper, stripped bare like an emotional centrefold, and it would all be over, I thought.
It was not to be. The last five years have been spent in a tumultuous single-carriage rollercoaster, speeding through the highs of glittering award ceremonies and accolades, and plunging over cliff edges into the Priory and A&E.
Through it all has been the core of detractors, the anonymous bile, the Daily Mail doorstepping, the lies about my family, the strain on my personal relationships, two broken engagements, and a stoic refusal to involve any more romantic prospects in my frankly bonkers and invasive day-to-day life.
This episode – being falsely accused of defacing a war memorial on a platform with the reach of one of the country’s largest national newspapers – came the day after I had given a cookery demonstration, laughing with a dozen school children, at Ballymaloe in Cork, Ireland. A few weeks later, I was leaving my family home following a suicide attempt and complete mental breakdown. In the eyes of the law, the definition of serious harm; sits on a knife edge.
I broke down in court during five hours of cross-examination, describing the swirling, suffocating vortex of hate and bile and awfulness that comes with a mass-troll attack on Twitter. Poised to defend against further false allegations, you can’t help but rubberneck at your own car crash, watching through your fingers as the house of cards you have lovingly built, through cookery tips and charity campaigns and generally being decent, threatens to come crashing down on the whims of spite and deceit.
Someone calling you a cunt as you prepare to read your son a bedtime story.
Another wishing I would be shot in Syria.
Another mulling over my fate should I be handed over to ISIS.
A direct wish that I should be put in a wheelchair.
And so on. And so forth. An endless torrent of hatred and what feels like very real threats of harm. Only this week did I receive messages wishing that I would burn to death, so the sender could ‘dance on my charred and twisting corpse’.
The hate still pours in, daily. The defence had the audacity to question my mental capacity. Is it any wonder I am sometimes a vacant shell of a person, detached and glazed and in hiding, when daily people are violently describing the ways they wish I would die?
I just want to teach people to cook cheaply. That’s all I’m here for. And for two years I have been unable to concentrate on doing just that. I’ve become largely desensitised to it now, but I live in fear of the day that my young son stumbles across the violent rape fantasies written about his mother by faceless strangers. That day creeps ever closer, and makes me sick with fear. But where do I go from here?
I don’t know. Rebuild, recover, repair, finish my very late cookbook, and carry on, hoping that we have all learned to be a little kinder to one another online in the process.
Jack Monroe is a writer, journalist and activist; follow Jack on Twitter @mxjackmonroe