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Blogger cleared of harassing public health boss over mental health posts

"Unpleasant" posts by a blogger criticising a council's public health boss after she opened up about her mental health struggles did not amount to harassment, a High Court judge has ruled.

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Lisa McNally is the director of public health at Sandwell Council

Lisa McNally, director of public health at Sandwell Council, brought a claim of harassment against Julian Saunders, over comments made on a blog he runs called the Sandwell Skidder. The claim was struck out at the High Court as it was judged to have little chance of success.

Ms McNally, whose profile has grown over the last 18 months during the pandemic as she has largely been the public face of the authority's response and health advice, said the posts had caused her "crippling" anxiety and made her worry about her ability to do her job.

She said she was now "afraid" of posting on social media in case she gets further criticism.

Mr Saunders made a number of references to Ms McNally on his blog over the last year, including in response to a video she posted about issues she had with mental health as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

He labelled the video "narcissistic garbage" and accused her of seeking publicity.

Ms McNally claimed the blogger had "pursued a campaign of oppressive and unacceptable behaviour against the employees and officers of the council since at least 2018".

Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that while the "unpleasant, personally critical publications" were of a "puerile and abrasive tone and style", they were entitled to the same level of protection as mainstream journalism and therefore did not amount to harassment.

He said Ms McNally had chosen to put her mental health struggles into the public domain and added that "someone who decides to make a public disclosure of this kind must expect that, while many people are likely to comment favourably, some may choose to make comments that are adverse".

"This is one of the reasons why those who make such disclosures are often aptly described as courageous," he added.

Ms McNally's legal counsel was instructed by Sandwell Council, meaning the authority will face a legal bill after the judge ruled against her.

Mr Saunders was cleared at Dudley Magistrates Court in 2019 of abusing former Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton.

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