A BUSINESSMAN cruelly lampooned as "Toad of Toad Hall" by locals on Facebook after he took over a Moreton pub has been awarded a libel damages payout of £9,000.
Former Moreton resident Christopher Horne, aged 68, suffered torrent of "offensive and salacious" abuse on a Facebook page set up by Alistair Dempster, who had previously worked at The Bell Inn, London's High Court was told.
The two men "fell out very substantially" over the running of the 18th Century coaching inn, and the page became a platform for Mr Dempster and others to vent their spurious allegations, the court heard.
It was originally intended to advertise the pub, but Mr Dempster, 49, re-named the page, "Toad of Bellenders - how not to run a Cotswold pub".
The page had more than 100 members, some of who- including Mr Dempster - posted a string of venomous comments about Mr Horne and his management of the popular high street hostelry.
Judge Mackie said Mr Dempster, now a barman at The Gate Hangs High pub, in Hook Norton, near Chipping Norton, constantly referred to him as "Toad of Toad Hall".
In a series of postings, Mr Horne was unjustly branded an "inveterate liar" and faced claims of poor management skills, mistreatment of staff and of shutting the pub for several hours.
Mr Dempster's campaign lasted from May to November 2012, when Mr Horne secured a court order closing down the page.
Although he was not the only one to post comments, the judge ruled Mr Dempster "responsible" and held that the campaign of abuse was "motivated by malice".
Speaking to The Journal following the court hearing, Mr Horne, who was born and bred in Moreton and has played for the cricket team since 1956, said he was asked by Enterprise Inns to run the Bell on a short-term basis.
"One this Facebook started, any chance of getting managers in went," he said. "They caused absolute hell for me.
"Room bookings dropped back the second someone checked on the page. It probably cost us £100,000. It's been ghastly.
"I am intensely relieved that this quite awful matter is over and am satisfied that the damages award - taken in the context of his belated but welcome apology - is most welcome".
Mr Dempster, who made a full apology which was posted on The Bell's Facebook page, said: "Mr Horne had no previous experience of running a pub and one way or another during 2012 I accept he did his best in a difficult year.
"I also regret very much that I did not make this apology sooner, and recognise that the damages awarded to Mr Horne reflect this delay fully.
It is understood that no further action will be taken against anyone else who posted libellous statements on the Facebook page, unless they are repeated.