Memorandum submitted by Elaine Maria Decoulos

 

 

1. My name is Elaine Maria Decoulos. I was borne and raised in Massachusetts, USA. I have both American and Greek citizenship. I have lived in the UK for many years. I attended The London School of Economics for post-graduate studies in Economics and I have worked in The City of London. I am currently unemployed because of ill health and my all too consuming problems with the British press. Currently residing in the U.S., I plan to return to the UK sometime in March 2009.

 

2. Over approximately the last five years, I have unfortunately had many problems with the British press that have severely disrupted my life. I understand that the Committee does not normally investigate individual cases of complaint. Nevertheless, my problems with the British press are so serious and distressing I believe they need to be heard in the context of this inquiry. Moreover, I have had a number of problems trying to get justice in the English courts after harassment litigation was used to create privileged occasions that gave the press the opportunity to defame and then libel me. My problems also raise serious issues regarding how the wealthy and well connected get preferential treatment by the courts and the press, including violations of The European Convention of Human Rights. Nearly all of my court hearings have been held in private, apparently under Article 8 of The European Convention, though there appears to be no precedent for it. Private hearings are against English court procedure, English common law and Article 6 of The European Convention. It has gotten to the point that my human rights, access to justice and due process have been so repeatedly ignored that I feel it necessary to issue a complaint to Senator Kennedy's office here in Massachusetts. Notwithstanding the above, I will try to give a broad overview of the issues I raise and how they affect press reporting, libel and human rights, while detailing the specific problems I have encountered and continue to encounter in the courts and with the press.

 

3. Firstly, it is probably important for me to say that I am currently representing myself in an ongoing libel claim against Associated Newspapers, one of their freelance journalists, Rory Knight-Bruce, Bruno Schroder and Schroders plc over an article that was published in The Daily Mail on the 2nd August 2005 and on the internet. The article recently reappeared on the internet after the date of publication was mysteriously changed from 2nd August 2005 to 2nd August 2008. This caused it to be re-syndicated to American websites and I find this very disturbing indeed. I believe this was done deliberately by a woman out to destroy me, Suzanne von Maltzahn, the person who caused all this unnecessary pain and suffering to occur. She is the long term partner of Bruno Schroder and was formerly a defendant in this claim. Associated Newspapers and Rory Knight-Bruce are represented by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP Solicitors. Bruno Schroder and Schroders plc by Swan Turton LLP Solicitors. I noticed the latter will be giving oral evidence for this inquiry on the 24th February 2009. I previously succeeded in a libel claim against Express Newspapers in December 2005 over an article published in June 2004. I had another libel claim against The Sunday Times that I initially tried to avoid by making a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. After being extremely disappointed by their reply, I resorted to issuing another claim, but served it a few hours too late, causing News International to succeed in having it struck out in November 2007.

 

4. It will be helpful if I provide the unfortunate background as to how I came to be defamed by nearly every British newspaper and then libeled by several of them. Back in November 2003, I made a visit to the isle of Islay on the west coast of Scotland. I went there in the hope that Bruno Schroder, who has an estate on the isle, would be there. I was on my way from Massachusetts to Germany for medical treatment because of several miscarriages I had while in a relationship with him. I was hoping he would be there so I could discuss the matter with him. Unfortunately, he was not there. After a stay of four days, I left and stopped in London on my way to Germany. Once in London, a friend showed me a copy of that day's Daily Mail, the 8th November 2003. To my utter horror, there was an article about my visit to Islay and how Bruno Schroder and his long term partner, Suzanne von Maltzahn, had taken court proceedings against me in Scotland for harassment and obtained an interim interdict against me. The title was bad: "1.4 billion baron stalked by pretty brunette" and the subtitle worse: "'Potentially violent' American is banned from tycoon's island hideaway". I was referred to as a stalker. I later found out that every newspaper in Scotland and every Scottish edition of the English papers had published a story on it. Most of them referred to me as a 'potentially violent' stalker, which I most certainly am not.

 

5. Trumped up and false allegations were used to obtain the court ordered interim interdicts, the Scottish equivalent of an English injunction. As those on the Committee will know, the Scottish legal system is different to the English, and no Witness Statements needed to be prepared. What was most astounding was that I had complained for years to the Metropolitan Police in London about Suzanne von Maltzahn and her sons harassing me while living in London, culminating with the brakes being cut on my bicycle in September 2002. The fact that she was now accusing me of harassing her and Bruno Schroder and then reading about it in the press made me feel as if I was suddenly in a totalitarian state. How could they publish without hearing my side of the story? I denied all the allegations, but to this day, over five years later, no publication in Britain has given me a right of reply to those allegations. It was not for want of trying. They all shied away.

6. In December 2003, I went to The Court of Session in Edinburgh to request a court hearing in the hope of having the interim interdict removed. Soon after my arrival, the 'potentially violent' allegation was withdrawn, there being absolutely no evidence whatsoever to substantiate it, even though it had by now been used to seriously defame me across the British press and soon after, the internet, including American websites that carried syndicated articles from British newspapers. I proved other trumped up and false allegations were untrue, such as that I entered Dunlossit House, Bruno Schroder's residence on Islay, and that I was found to have rolls of film in my bag after having apparently been searched. Rather, I proved I had used a disposable camera to take a few photos and therefore had no rolls of film. In any event, no one searched my bag. It was all a pack of lies, yet much of it ended up in every Scottish newspaper with no reply from me. I was indeed shocked that this could happen to me in a civilised country with a long democratic tradition.

7. Once I arrived at The Court of Session in Edinburgh, I tried to find out how the court summons was leaked to the press. I found out a copy was given to the one agency reporter and the Scotsman reporter. The agency reporter informed most of the press. The court staff told me the contents of the summons and the granting of the interim interdict never should have gotten into the press because the hearing was without notice to me and I had no chance to reply. This was extremely distressing to hear. I was therefore determined to have the court hearing I was now requesting reported in the press. Unbelievably, this was denied me. I had informed both The Scotsman reporter and the agency reporter of the hearing. The Scotsman reporter attended. My hearing was in front of Lord Bracadale on the 19th December 2003. Although Lord Bracadale did not order the hearing in private, he asked the Scotsman reporter to leave. If he did not, the hearing would be held in his chambers. There was quite a stand off. Finally, the reporter left. After the hearing I told him what happened, but he was no longer willing to do a report because the Judge had asked him to leave the courtroom. It was all very distressing and most unfair to me because the story was already in the public domain and I sought to finally have my side of the story heard after being defamed across the British press. This was unjustly denied me. This problem is not unique to Scotland as I will soon explain. The Daily Mail was willing to consider doing a story and finally giving me a right of reply. They wanted me to first send them the Witness Statement I had prepared for the hearing. However, I was legally advised not to do so for fear of being in contempt of court because the Judge has asked the reporter to leave. It was an impossible situation that was soon to get worse. At the hearing, the interim interdicts were reduced but remained until I put in a formal Defence after Mr. Schroder officially filed the claim (lodge the summons for calling in Scotland) or expired after one year, which is indeed what happened because Mr. Schroder did not take it any further.

 

8. After the court hearing in December 2003, I had believed that was the end of the vexatious litigation, but I remained very concerned about clearing my name in the press, worried that I would repeatedly and falsely be referred to as Bruno Schroder's stalker whenever the press wrote about him and possibly his firm. The stress of being called a 'potentially violent' stalker across the British press took its toll on me. While visiting my sister in Panama in January 2004, I developed a severe case of vertigo that lasted for two months. If I had known what was to come next, I might have chanced sending The Daily Mail the statement I had prepared for the Scottish court hearing in the hope of getting my side of the story published. I was right to be concerned about what the press would publish when The Mail on Sunday in their Rich Report in March 2004 said Mr. Schroder was like a Hollywood star because he has a stalker. They went on to say she was an American woman and that he had obtained a court order against her in Scotland. I was extremely distressed and worried. I tried to get Mr. Schroder to tell the press I was not a stalker to no avail. Then on the 22nd April 2004, after speaking to him for 101 minutes, at the end of which he said, "If I do something else, you can cope", I was served an English injunction for harassment in Massachusetts a few hours later. It was indeed shocking, particularly when I read his Witness Statement that I knew contained false evidence provided by his partner, Suzanne von Maltzahn. I immediately believed, as I had done in Scotland, that she had coerced him to do this to me. That remains my view and it is a sad state of affairs. As unbelievable as it sounds, I know and have been told by others that he lives in fear of her.

 

9. I was seriously libeled twice soon after the English litigation commenced. First in The Daily and International Express on the 1st June 2004, then in The Mail on Sunday on the 14th June 2004, when I was used as an example as to why one may need stalking insurance. Neither sought to contact me for a right of reply. The English injunction was discharged at my first appearance in front of a High Court Judge and false evidence was indeed used to obtain it, as Witness Statements ordered by Mr. Justice Holland proved. An agreement was subsequently reached at a court hearing on the 2nd March 2005, held in private against my wishes, English court procedure, common law and Article 6 of The European Convention. I was then pressured to keep the agreement sealed in the court file, after being reassured that it could be unsealed if necessary. After being libeled again by The Daily Mail on the 2nd August 2005, after seeking a right of reply, I have repeatedly tried to get the agreement unsealed so that I will not be libeled again and to quickly resolve my current claim. I need the agreement unsealed to get an adequate correction and apology published.

 

10. I currently have several libel claims outstanding regarding articles published and syndicated by Associated Newspapers. The main one over the 2nd August 2005 article published in Richard Kay's column in The Daily Mail is well explained in the one public judgment made by Mr. Justice Gray on 4th April 2007. Besides Associated Newspapers, there were initially three other defendants because Bruno Schroder had given a quote that misrepresented the outcome of the harassment claim taken out against me. I know him very well and did not believe the words attributed to him were his words. I believed they were the words of James Harcus, his solicitor at the time. Knowing that Mr. Schroder initially said no comment and then phoned The Daily Mail back with the quote gave me more reason to believe this. I submit that after The Daily Mail phoned him for his reply, that he then phoned Suzanne von Maltzahn and James Harcus and that the two of them conspired to libel me. I still stand by this, even though they have now been struck out. Bruno Schroder maintains that he was misquoted. The Daily Mail first told me they had tape recorded him, but now say there is no tape and no notes.

 

11. The Committee should know that after approaching several firms of solicitors, no one would take this claim against The Daily Mail on a CFA. I believe there are several reasons for this, even though I succeeded in my claim against The Express on a CFA and was libeled over the outcome of court proceedings, easy to prove with a few court orders. Associated Newspapers is known to be a more aggressive defendant and because Mr. Schroder provided a quote I sought to include him as a defendant as well. That I sought to include other defendants did not help, but I do not think it would have mattered. I only thought it fair to hold those I believed libeled me to account. I did not think it fair to hold Associated Newpapers solely liable. My kindness towards them is no longer appreciated, for they are now going along with a strategy put forth by Rupert Grey of Swan Turton. They are currently seeking to have my claim against them stayed and struck out over costs. Several legal professionals have told me this will not happen, but that is what I was told when Rupert Grey did just that with my claim against Bruno Schroder. It is currently stayed unless I pay costs of 25,000 pounds. And there is a pending application to have it struck out for this reason as well, currently listed to be heard on the 12th/13th March 2009. I believe this might be unprecedented for a credible libel claim and is unjust. It is at the Judge's discretion, but is against the Overriding Objective of the court on fairness as stated in Civil Procedure Rule 1.0, English common law and Article 6 of The European Convention. That all my hearings bar one in this case have been held in private is another violation of my human rights under Article 6, English common law and Civil Procedure Rule 39. My court files are also sealed from public view using Article 8 for privacy in The European Convention. It is Suzanne von Maltzahn's privacy they are protecting. Yet she is the one who provided the false evidence to commence the litigation. Her privacy under Article 8 is being used to grant the defendants private hearings as well. It has gotten so bad that I have resorted to complaining to Senator Kennedy's office in Massachusetts. I am most unfairly being denied access to justice when I have a very credible libel claim and have been defamed across the British press. It is important for the Committee to know that The European Court of Human Rights has now determined that Article 8 includes a right to reputation. Details about this can be found on Swan Turton's website.

 

12. I have a few other libels claims having to with articles published by Associated Newspapers that were syndicated to America and published on the internet. Two of them have had their copyright criminally infringed to further defame and libel me. This is a serious matter indeed and I hope the inquiry will look into this.

 

13. I would like to add that I do not believe anybody should be allowed to sue in the civil courts for harassment unless there has first been a successful criminal prosecution for harassment. There is too much potential for abuse. No one should be accused of harassment in a civil claim and have it reported in the press with no right of reply. Solicitors and their clients can initially use trumped up allegations, false allegations and false evidence to start a claim, as has happened to me. This is done without any checks and balances from the police or Crown Prosecution Service. In my case, one of the principal reasons it was done was to defame me in the press and I am still fighting in the courts over five years later. This is unjust, against my human rights and has been very painful indeed.

 

14. It is a disgrace to the United Kingdom and the British press that an individual can be defamed and libeled in the way I have been. What happened to me is a bit like what has happened in the McCann case, though of course not as serious, but very damaging nonetheless. Rather than lies being told about the investigation, in my case, lies were told in court proceedings by a woman intently out to defame me, knowing full well that the press could initially publish those lies without being sued for libel. This woman, Suzanne von Maltzahn, was also using court proceedings to deflect attention away from her very serious harassment of me and to prevent the police from investigating my allegations about her. Once harassment litigation was commenced against me, the police did indeed stop investigating.

 

15. There is more I would like to say to the Committee and I hope to do so in due course, in further written evidence and possibly in giving oral evidence. I have more to say about funding, The European Human Rights Act, the level of damages, the Press Complaints Commission and the use of The Harassment Act 1997 in the civil courts to defame and libel. Gideon Rachman, a columnist for the Financial Times, published a column last summer about the inaccuracies of the British press verses the American press. Their failure to back up their stories with two sources is much of the problem.

 

16. I thank the Committee for commencing this inquiry and for the opportunity to put forth my experiences.

 

February 2009