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Voices: Laurence Fox called me a paedophile – I couldn’t let him get away with that

‘Every now and then, you need to remind people that defamation has consequences’  (Leigh Kelly)
‘Every now and then, you need to remind people that defamation has consequences’ (Leigh Kelly)

Three years ago, during a row with the actor and political activist Laurence Fox on social media over a supermarket chain’s support for Black History Month, he called me a paedophile for no reason whatsoever.

At that moment, things could have gone one of a couple of ways. I could have turned a blind eye, and that would have been the end of it. There’s a totally different timeline of events in which I just let his comment slide.

But I chose to take Fox to the High Court and sue him for defamation. I’m glad now that I did.

Yesterday, I was vindicated when the judge described him labelling me and another man, Simon Blake, a former Stonewall trustee, as paedophiles as “seriously harmful, defamatory and baseless”.

The moment Fox called me a paedophile, I felt I had to do something. It’s a slur I’ve seen normalised and weaponised, particularly against the trans community and the drag community and anyone who’s gender non-conforming.

I needed to have my name cleared and for this incredibly damaging allegation to have been ruled as a baseless attack. I hope it goes some way to restoring my reputation. I’m also very satisfied with the win on its own, for the principle of it. The trope about gay men being paedophiles is as old as the hills, and I felt it was important to challenge it.

Every now and then, you need to remind people that defamation has consequences – particularly if anyone is stupid enough to do it from a verified account – and that those consequences might be ruinous.

For some, anti-gay bigotry never died but they realised it had become socially unacceptable for them to express it out loud, so they found a new avenue where they feel emboldened and think that they’re going to get away with it. Calling someone a paedophile, or groomers, or nonces, is often the first line of attack, a new way of framing very old homophobia – and it’s all bound up in a modern “trans panic”.

It’s hard to say what’s going on with Laurence Fox because he contradicts himself daily. Just last night, he was saying he’d won the case, even though he lost – now this morning, he’s saying he lost and how devastated he is. I think he will say whatever he needs to to maintain attention on him.

One of the interesting things that came up in court was an email he sent, saying (and I paraphrase): “I’m getting a huge wad of cash for this game, and I suppose it’s better to be hated and rich than hated and fired from a job in a supermarket.”

Who can say how much of what he says he actually believes, and what is said just to agitate and rile up his base? Frustratingly, he is also trying to play the victim and the martyr when the nasty things he says have consequences.

What was remarkable was how great a poker face the judge had. She had to watch Fox throwing out the n-word, and doing the haka – twice.

There was one day in the courtroom when the clerks sat in a row under the judge’s chair, taking notes, and there was a black man, a Muslim woman and a trans woman, and they were all sat there, listening to Fox on the stand. And you could see that they were trying very hard to remain neutral and composed in the face of the absolute rubbish coming out of his mouth. You could just see their bodies react.

At one point in court, a barrister was trying to get him to agree that some things are racist, and he wouldn’t agree to anything. He constantly equivocated. And so she said: “Well, let’s try and agree on this: if someone said, ‘I hate black people’, would that always be racist?” And he said: “Well, it’s so difficult because you’re being subjective. If a man has just been released from a Ugandan jail where he’s been gang-raped by several men and he walks out and he says, ‘I hate black people’, it’s a sort of understandable response. You’ve got to be specific.” The mind boggles.

I went on Sky News this morning to discuss the case, and Kay Burley asked me if I had any sympathy for Fox. I haven’t seen a second of genuine remorse or accountability or reflection from him. It’s always doubling down and digging the hole deeper. I think until he demonstrates some actual willingness to examine his behaviours, I can’t feel anything for him except contempt.

The things I’ve had to put up with over the past three or so years have been disgusting. I’ve been physically threatened, in person, even at Pride gigs. I’ve had emails saying if I ever show my face in Southend again, I’ll get what’s coming to me. It’s been years of pretty relentless abuse. I can’t attribute it to Fox directly but none of it happened before our run-in – and the judge was keen to point that out in her ruling.

I thought about coming off social media, to back away from it, but it’s how I make my living as a drag performer. It’s how I get work, how I get bookings. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my freedom and my ability to do the job I love because someone else is trying to make it unpleasant for me.

When I embarked on all this, I was assured by my fantastic legal team (shout out to Mark Lewis…) the whole way through that we had a really good case. Now, I’m just so relieved, like a huge weight has come off that I almost didn’t realise I was holding because it’s been so long.

It’s very satisfying, very gratifying – and nice to know it has all been worth it. Damages and costs haven’t been awarded yet but I hope they will reflect the harm that has been caused to me.

I notice Fox has been making noises that he wants to appeal. I’m hopeful that permission won’t be granted. I mean, running his own political party, he’s a busy man. Presumably, he’s got multiple elections to lose.

Crystal is a drag performer and TV personality and was a contestant in the first series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK