Elon Musk wins defamation case over 'pedo guy' comment

7 December 2019, 00:03 | Updated: 7 December 2019, 04:12

Elon Musk's lawyers said it was just a playground insult
Elon Musk's lawyers said it was just a playground insult. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Elon Musk has been found not liable for defamation over his "pedo guy" comments about British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth.

The cave diver sued the Tesla co-founder after being called "pedo guy" and "sus" (suspicious) on Twitter following the July 2018 Thai cave rescue.

A federal court in California heard Mr Unsworth was left feeling "humiliated, ashamed, dirtied" by the billionaire's social media post.

Mr Musk's lawyers argued it was no more than a playground insult and did not represent an allegation of paedophilia.

The jury agreed with the billionaire's team.

Elon Musk said his "faith in humanity" had been "restored" upon hearing the outcome, which was deliberated for less than an hour.

Mr Unsworth was disappointed with the ruling and said he would "take it on the chin."

"I respect the jury's decision," he told reporters outside the courtroom.

"I'd just like to say my legal team have been absolutely awesome. I came here for a verdict, unfortunately it's not gone the way I expected but I respect the jury's decision and thank them for that."

Mr Unsworth felt "humiliated" by the comment
Mr Unsworth felt "humiliated" by the comment. Picture: PA

The cave diver's UK lawyer, Mark Stephens, called the tech entrepreneur a "bullying billionaire."

Lin Wood, the lawyer who represented Mr Unsworth throughout the trial, added: "Regardless of the verdict, the message is loud and clear: It was a false allegation. This is a good man.

"I'm unhappy with the verdict because I think he deserved a different brand of justice. But he had the courage to come to this country where Elon Musk lives and accept his challenge, he sued him. It's not true."

Both Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth gave evidence at some point during the four-day trial, with the cave expert saying the post still "feels very raw" to this day.

"From day one I was given a life sentence without parole. And at times I feel very vulnerable, it hurts to even talk about it," he said.

"I find it disgusting . . . I find it very hard to even read the word, never mind talk about."

Mr Musk was accused of being a "bullying billionaire" by the claimant&squot;s team
Mr Musk was accused of being a "bullying billionaire" by the claimant's team. Picture: PA

Mr Unsworth first travelled to Thailand in 2011 with his girlfriend Woranan Ratrawiphukkun.

He said as a result of Musk's tweet, his name is "tagged with being a paedophile."

Mr Musk insisted the phrase "pedo guy" was commonly used in his native South Africa and instead meant "creepy old guy."

His lawyer, Alex Spiro, said if people had considered "pedo guy" an allegation, Mr Unsworth would have been rejected by society, instead of meeting politicians, invited to speak at events and awarded an MBE.

Instead, there has been "not one" person to say they interpreted Mr Musk's tweet as an allegation, Mr Spiro said.

"This was obviously an opinion, an insult, not a statement accusing you of a crime. No responsible reader would conclude you were accused of a sexual act of a child."