Elon Musk wins defamation lawsuit against British cave expert over ‘pedo guy’ tweet

The US tech billionaire Elon Musk has been found not liable for defamation after being sued by a British cave expert he had called a "pedo guy" on Twitter.

A Los Angeles jury found in favour of Mr Musk after a four-day trial in which Vernon Unsworth, who had taken part in the rescue of a group of children in Thailand last year, had sought damages of up to $190 million (£145 million) for libel.

The two had clashed after Mr Unsworth, 64, insulted Mr Musk’s proposals for a mini submarine to rescue the children from the flooded caves. Mr Musk, 48, had responded by referring to Mr Unsworth as a "pedo guy".

A jury took less than an hour to consider the verdict. Judge Stephen Wilson read out the verdict, delivered by the jury foreman, saying: “We find in favour of the defendant.”

Speaking outside court after the decision, Mr Musk said: "My faith in humanity has been restored." His lawyer Alex Spiro said: "The jury got it right." 

Asked if it had been an easy decision, the jury foreman said: "Took us like 20 minutes."

The court earlier heard that Mr Musk’s comments about Mr Unsworth had "dropped a nuclear bomb" on the caver, who received an MBE earlier this year for his role in the rescue that received international attention last year.

Mr Unsworth had claimed the tweet had left him feeling "dirtied" and "humiliated". 

"I took it to mean I was a paedophile," he said on Wednesday. "It feels very raw. I feel humiliated, shamed, dirtied." He later added that the Duke of Cambridge had brought up the subject at Buckingham Palace when he was awarded his MBE.

Mr Musk had claimed the tweet was not to be taken literally, and was meant as an insult, rather than an allegation.

Lin Wood, representing Mr Unsworth, repeatedly called Mr Musk a “liar” in his closing speech to the jury. "The biggest lie of them all was when he told the world that Vernon Unsworth was a paedophile," he said.

Arguing that the tweet was simply part of an exchange of insults between the two men, Mr Spiro earlier said that nobody had really believed that Mr Unsworth was a paedophile. 

He also questioned why the caver’s Thai partner had not appeared to talk about the emotional damage he had been caused.   “No-one ever took this as an accusation of the crime of pedophilia,” he said. 

He added that the case had implications for freedom of speech in the US, where defamation is harder to prove than in the UK. “This case is more important than two men getting into an argument punctuated by insults. You can’t start policing speech,” he said.

Outside court Mr Unsworth said he would "take it on the chin." "I’ve just got to go back and try and rebuild my life," he said. 

Mark Stephens, his UK lawyer, said Mr Musk was a "billionaire bully".

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The conflict between the two emerged when Mr Unsworth had told a news channel that a submarine developed by engineers at SpaceX, Mr Musk’s space company, amounted to little more than a “PR stunt”, and said that the billionaire could "stick his submarine where it hurts".

Mr Musk said the comments had "denigrated" the efforts of his staff. 

"There were a lot of people who worked day and night to be helpful," Mr Musk had said. "They cancelled plans, their obligations, left their families behind to try and be helpful and he denigrated their efforts."

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