Libel Action against Random House - 1998/2000
Before readers consider the malicious misogynist libel that Random House published against ‘young women’ at Release remember an important fact that always gets lost in the clamour to dismiss and humiliate women: this was a libel against both George Harrison and Mick Jagger. Both men, when lawyers drew the libel to their attention, stated that what Random House published was untrue. Random House apologised to these famous rich men virtually by return of post.
Random House had thought it titillating to name check rock stars but believed it to be legally wise to remove the name of Caroline Coon from the libel and substitute what they considered to be anonymous ‘young women’. Thus they made the libel worse. They dangerously smeared all the women staff and volunteers who Caroline Coon, as co-founder and Director of Release, employed, supervised and cared for. For financial gain Random House and their lawyers – some who boast of a ‘right on!’ interest in human rights - considered a pioneering woman artist who had founded a unique and world famous socially innovative organisation, as well as all the women who worked at Release, utterly worthless and expendable. Because Random House refused to remove the entire untrue story from the book – including sexualised racism – Caroline Coon decided to sue for libel, not only for the sake of historical accuracy and for her own sake but also for the sake of all the wonderful women who had contributed to the success of Release.
This is the June 12th 2000 statement Caroline Coon released to the press on winning her case:
CAROLINE COON has won her libel action against Random House.
For publishing damaging libel in the book ‘All dressed Up: the Sixties and the Counterculture’ by Jonathon Green, Random House have agreed to make an Open Apology to Caroline Coon in the High Court on:
Monday, 12th June 2000, at 10.am (Queen Bench Division)
In August 1998, Random House published false allegations about how Caroline Coon as director of Release from 1967 to 1971 went about fund-raising among rock stars that came to her for help. Random House have withdrawn the book and agreed to pay Caroline Coon £40,000 (forty thousand pounds) in damages, and legal costs, a combined total of approximately £73,000,00. (In January 1999, Random House apologised to George Harrison in Open Court and paid him substantial damages and costs to settle his action in regard to the same book.)
In 1967, when Caroline Coon was an art student at Central St Martins School of Art, she founded the drug advisory service Release. 33 years later the Release 24 Hour Emergency 'bust line' is still the same - 020 7603 8654. [Today, 2016, the Release help line is 020 7324 2989]
Like hundreds of young people in the 1960’s, George Harrison and Mick Jagger telephoned Caroline Coon at Release for her advise and expertise on drug law, the courts and the police… Her help and professionalism was appreciated. When Release needed financial help Caroline Coon approached these stars, through their management companies, in writing. At business meetings she made presentations of what it cost to run Release, with detailed documentation. George Harrison gave Caroline Coon a £5,000 cheque for Release (worth approximately £80,000 to-day ). Mick Jagger arranged for the Film Premier of his celebrated film ‘Performance’ to be a Release Benefit. At the time such generosity and endorsement gave Release the financial and morale boosts needed to keep going.
Caroline Coon and the young women she employed to work along side her in the 1960’s are proud of what they all achieved together at Release. They pioneered equal opportunity, anti-racist and anti-sexist practice in the work place.
Rufus Harris, co-founding director of Release, says: ‘We ran Release in the 1960’s with renowned probity. We had to – in order to do the dangerous work we did and survive.’
Caroline Coon says: ‘The false allegation of prostitution concerning me and/or the women I employed at Release was especially distressing. I don’t think prostitution is funny, titillating or anything to joke about. The issue of prostitution is serious for me. When I was 16 I was thrown out of home. Like many other homeless, abused young people I did every kind of job to survive and pay for my own education. When I founded Release (aged 22) I was only too well aware of what causes many young people to feel so depressed that they become addicted to drugs. This subject [sexual abuse of children] was impossible to talk about then. And to-day, we prefer to turn a blind eye to the systematic exploitation of vulnerable boys, girls and young people in prostitution which often leads to drug addiction. (There are brave exceptions, especially in the field of voluntary and social work. In 1997 Release published “Sex Workers and the Law”.) Prostitution and pornography is a billion dollar “entertainment" industry, used mostly by men, built on the often fatal exploitation of the young, the poor and the dispossessed who we grant fewer rights than animals. I despaired about what happened to me. For me – the founding Director of Release, committed to the health and welfare of young people – it could not have been more distressing and damaging to be falsely accused of sending young women I employed to rise money in illegal and dangerous situations that I myself appose and abhor.
‘The misogyny in the way people joke about and are titillated by despised women prostitutes effects society as a whole. Prostitution and social policy are connected. Until we campaign to stop prostitutes being sent to prison, until we abolish the fasle chasm between “bad" women and “good” women, then we should not be surprised when it is you or me or your girlfriend or your wife or your sister or your mother or your daughter who is the next woman branded by sexists as utterly worthless and expendable.
‘Regarding Random House – in the 21c institutional sexism and racism is not cost effective.’
Caroline Coon donated part of her damages to the Modern Records Centre of the University of Warwick Library in order to catalogue the Release Archive. Further donations to sustain the Release Archive could be sent to: The University of Warwick Foundation, c/o The Archivist, University of Warwick Library, Modern Records, Coventry CV4 7AL GB.