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A man who sued a former school friend for creating a fake profile on the social networking site has won his libel case

Jonathan Richards

A businessman who had his personal life laid bare in a fake profile on the social networking website Facebook has been awarded £22,000 in a libel case he brought against a former school friend.
Mathew Firsht, who runs a website which books live audiences for TV shows, sued an old school friend for libel and misuse of personal information after the friend created a false Facebook profile for Mr Firsht and a group called "Has Mathew Firsht lied to you?"
Grant Raphael, a freelance cameraman who fell out with Mr Firsht several years ago, had argued that the profile was created by a group of mischievous friends during a party at his home in London, but a judge in the High Court ruled that the defence was "built on lies".
Deputy Judge Richard Parkes QC awarded Mr Firsht £15,000 for libel and £2,000 for breach of privacy. Mr Firsht's company, which arranges audiences for shows such as Big Brother and Ready Steady Cook, was also awarded for £5,000 for libel.
Mr Firsht accused Mr Raphael of creating a false Facebook profile which claimed that Mr Firsht was "looking for whatever I can get" in a relationship. Mr Raphael had also signed the profile up to various groups on Facebook, including "Gay in the Wood...Borehamwood" and "Gay Jews in London'".
The profile listed private information about Mr Firsht, including his birthday, relationship status, details of his whereabouts and activities, but also made false claims concerning his sexual orientation and political views.
Mr Firsht also claimed that the profile made allegations that he owed substantial amounts of money - which he had avoided paying by lying, that he and his company were not to be trusted financially, and that they represented a serious credit risk to business partners.
Mr Raphael argued that, unbeknown to him, strangers at an impromptu party he had held at his home in Hampstead, north west London, had sneaked into a spare room and created the profile using his PC. The profile was on the site for 16 days before it was spotted by Firsht's brother and taken down.
Mr Firsht accused Mr Raphael of bearing a grudge against him since they fell out in 2000, and that the creation of the false Facebook profile had caused him anxiety and embarrassment.
Mr Firsht, now in his late 30s, became good friends with Mr Raphael in Brighton, where they went to school together.
Recounting the "unfortunate dispute between two former friends", the judge said Mr Firsht's company provided audiences for popular shows such as Big Brother, The X Factor and Top Gear. He was personally involved in overseeing the audience operation, and his credibility and reputation were very important to him.
Mr Raphael, a freelance lighting cameraman, also spent much of his time working in television.
When they fell out over a business dispute, Mr Firsht, who said he did not hold grudges, forgot about the episode and moved on to become very successful. "He is plainly a businessman of single-minded drive and dedication, and he did not strike me as being the kind of man to waste valuable time on ancient disputes," the judge said.
By contrast, Mr Raphael's company went into voluntary liquidation and, by the time the present dispute arose, "Mr Firsht was prospering and highly successful, and Mr Raphael was not".
The judge described as "utterly far-fetched" Mr Raphael's claim that a complete and random stranger visiting his flat for the first time used his computer for more than an hour, without being observed, to create a false and hurtful profile containing information that few people apart from Mr Raphael could have known.
Mr Raphael, as a witness in court, was "glib and loquacious, always prepared, it seemed to me, to talk his way out of a difficulty, with no apparent insight into the implausibility of some of his answers".
The judge said Mr Firsht, a very private person, was shocked and extremely upset by the gross invasion of his privacy and the fact that personal details, including false details about his sexuality, had been "laid bare for all to see". The damage he suffered was made worse by his being compelled to endure an expensive and time-consuming court process to achieve vindication in the face of Mr Raphael's lies.
He would have accepted an apology if Mr Raphael had offered one at an early stage, thus avoiding the distress and expense of litigation.
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