A SOUTH Tyneside councillor embroiled in the search for ‘Mr Monkey’ has come under fire from a town hall rival after launching a new legal appeal in the US.
Coun Ahmed Khan failed in a legal challenge to halt the hunt for the notorious internet blogger last September, with his action dismissed as ‘frivolous’ by San Mateo County Court in California.
As a result, council bosses said they would be pursuing the Independent Alliance member for $64,000 – more than £40,000 – in legal costs that came from dealing with his ultimately doomed anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) motion.
Coun Khan, however, now says he intends to appeal that verdict, which his own legal team says could take up to another year to hear, and which the council say will mean further costs on top of the six-figure sum already spent.
The appeal was slammed by Labour chief whip John McCabe, who claimed his fellow councillor now “owes” borough taxpayers £40,000, and queried his court intervention given no one has ever been named as being responsible for the Mr Monkey website postings.
The council has backed a three-year legal hunt to discover the identity of those behind the ‘Mr Monkey’ blogs on behalf of four plaintiffs who came under attack, South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm, Coun Anne Walsh, Coun David Potts and council regeneration boss Rick O’Farrell.
Despite no one ever being named as Mr Monkey, Coun Khan intervened in proceedings to file his SLAPP motion, and the council said as a result of that challenge their legal costs had risen beyond the six-figure mark.
The four plaintiffs had previously won the right to have Coun Khan’s personal computer records examined after a successful legal bid ordering social networking giant Twitter to hand over various documents.
The bid to unmask the mystery blogger remains ongoing, with the plaintiffs weighing up the option of pursuing data from other phone and internet providers that they believe could help in the search.
Coun Khan, who has always denied being behind the ‘Mr Monkey’ blogsite, says he brought his action in a bid to force the council to ‘show its evidence’.
He believes the case could continue for many years, while also predicting it was ‘highly unlikely’ that a successful prosecution will ever be made.
Coun Khan said: “I say again that they should bring their evidence or stop wasting public money. We have had adjournment after adjournment in this case. It’s like War And Peace.
“It was first brought to court on April 5, 2009, and here we are almost three years later, and we still don’t have a defendant in this case. I don’t believe there ever will be one.
“Under Californian law they could receive damages, but not a costs order. It’s futile.”
But his stance was heavily criticised by Coun McCabe, who said: “Let’s be clear. The Monkey blog is not some whistle-blowing caped-crusader seeking justice for the underdog. It is a vile, filthy and tawdry blog full of lies, slander and frankly horrendous filth against councillors, council staff, their families and reputable businesses in the borough.
“The council has a duty of care to its staff. Cyber bullying should not be tolerated. Four people, who have been libelled the most, agreed to allow their names to be used in the US Courts to seek to unmask this pathetic individual.
“We don’t know who it is, the council has never suggested it is Coun Khan, but given his frantic attempts to undermine this case it is hard to understand why he would spend so much time, effort and risk so much money trying to stop the legal action.
“Coun Khan’s anti-SLAPP motion was an attempt to stop the council unmasking the individual operating as Mr Monkey, but Coun Khan’s actions were dismissed by a judge as ‘frivolous’ at a hearing in September and costs were awarded in favour of the council. In my view, he owes the council taxpayer more than £40,000.”
A council spokesman said: “Coun Khan has now submitted an appeal against the judge’s decision and the costs awarded against him.
“These matters will now be determined by the court. This appeal will not only further extend the duration of the legal process, but will also incur additional legal costs.”