Debunking All the Misinformation About the Russell Brand Allegations

A lawyer explains why Brand's supporters may be wrong to be so sceptical about investigations like this.
Russell Brand leaves the Troubabour Wembley Park theatre in north-west London after performing a comedy set. He faces claims about his sexual behaviour at the height of his fame. He has vehemently denied the allegations. Picture date: Saturday September
Russell Brand leaves the Troubabour Wembley Park theatre in London after performing a comedy set. Photo: Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images

YouTube might have just de-monetised his channel, but there are still plenty of people still willing to support Russell Brand in the wake of serious sexual assault allegations against the comedian – or at least issue Bad Takes on his behalf. 

They’re there among the 18,000 replies to Brand’s post on X – formerly Twitter – in which the TV celebrity turned wellness influencer denies claims that he sexually assaulted four women, including a 16-year-old teenager, as reported by the Times, the Sunday Times and Channel 4 Dispatches. Brand maintains that the relationships were “absolutely always consensual”.            


“Sexual allegations? Oldest trick in the book,” one comment reads. This unfounded scepticism isn’t just rampant among Brand’s hardcore fanbase. Maybe your redpill-adjacent little brother is questioning the story. Maybe your uncle is in the family WhatsApp, asking questions like: Why are these allegations only coming out now? Where’s the proof? How do we know these women are telling the truth? 

But publishing a story of this scale – indeed, of any scale – isn’t easy. There are a tonne of legal hoops that journalists have to jump through, with the assistance of lawyers, before they even get to the point of hitting publish. We spoke to our colleague and media lawyer James Vaughan-Jones to clear up any misconceptions around how an investigation like this works.

VICE: First off - just how difficult is it to publish stories like this?
James Vaughan-Jones:
Stories involving allegations of this nature are among the hardest to publish. The journalists need to find sources relating to events that occurred way back in time. After finally finding them, they need to reassure them into speaking about very difficult topics, which the source will often, and understandably, decide that they don't want to talk about publicly.

On the legal side, meticulous work needs to be done to ensure that each allegation made in the story, and the specific wording of each allegation, can be properly stood up by the sourcing and evidence that the journalist has worked so hard to get. You'll also need to offer the subject of the story an opportunity to respond to the allegations you've uncovered.


One of two things usually happens next: You'll either get an honest, credible response, which could mean a return to the drawing board in terms of striking out allegations which have been cast into doubt or disproven, or you'll get an aggressive letter from a lawyer. The fight is then to defend the allegations you believe you can stand up in the face of the lawyer's attempts to have the story spiked.

What are the risks involved in publishing stories involving alleged sexual abuse?
The main cause of action for a story of this nature is defamation. The UK has some of the strictest libel laws of free societies. The claimant will need to show that an allegation made has caused – or is likely to cause – serious harm to the reputation of the defendant.

If a publisher was sued for defamation, they'd have two main defences at their disposal. The first is the defence of truth – that the allegations contained in the story are true. The burden would be on the publisher to prove that the allegations are true. The second is “publication on a matter of public interest”. The publisher must show the allegations were on a matter of public interest and that the defendant reasonably believed that publishing was in the public interest, acting responsibly in doing so. 

While a publisher will obviously want to rely on the defence of truth, it can be hard in cases involving allegations of historic sexual abuse abuse claims to conclusively prove that the allegations are undeniably true beyond any shred of doubt (i.e. in the absence of video evidence or witnesses). Therefore it’s crucial for such stories to do everything you can to demonstrate that you’ve been responsible in your reporting, to have the “publication in the matter of public interest” as your fallback defence.


How are these risks amplified when it involves a celebrity, like Russell Brand?
Should a claimant win a claim for defamation, the damages awarded will be initially aimed at restoring the claimant to the position they had been in had they not be defamed. That is, the higher the amount of money they earn, and the more damaging the story to their ability to earn that money, the bigger the pure financial risk for someone publishing that story. 

Then there's the reputational risk. The more famous a person is, the more eyes will see the story. If you've got it wrong, and the subject of the story takes you to court to prove it, then your reputation as a responsible, honest journalist will be more publicly dragged through the mud. More resourced individuals will also be able to afford top-shelf PR firms to make sure that your reputation being destroyed is at the top of the headline pile.

What kind of legwork do journalists have to do to stand up allegations? When do the lawyers come in and what do they do?
You'll need to be absolutely confident in your sourcing. Say, for example, you'd heard rumours of sexual abuse perpetrated by a celebrity – that could be the impetus for a journalist to start investigating, but wouldn't be nearly enough to publish in and of itself. Say the journalist managed to speak to a survivor, but the source is, understandably, too nervous to go on the record. That, again, wouldn't be enough to publish.


If the lawyer isn’t already involved at this stage, they’ll come into play once a rough edit of the story is together. The first part of their job is to comb through the wording of an article, or in case of documentary, a transcript of a rough cut of the film, to make sure (i) that each potentially damaging allegation made can be stood up by the sourcing and evidence gathered, and (ii) that the wording of each allegation made doesn't go beyond that – for example by implying that other victims are likely out there.

One of the last, but most important steps of the process, is to offer the subject of the allegations an opportunity to respond. A publisher is obliged both ethically and legally to make sure that they have both sides of the story before publication, and to not do so could potentially call into question whether the publication had acted in accordance with responsible journalism in the eyes of a judge, potentially losing them the one of the defences mentioned earlier.

People undermining the allegations have noted the length of time it took for them to be reported, i.e., “why now?” Why does it sometimes take so long for stories like this to be made public?
Speaking in general terms about stories of this nature, there would be two factors in terms of it taking time: Firstly the time it takes between an offence occuring and the survivor of that offence wanting to speak publicly about it, and secondly, once they have made that decision to do so, the time it takes the journalist to do their groundwork to make sure the story is water tight. 

I don't think it's my place to comment on why survivors usually don't immediately speak publicly about abuse that they've suffered. I do, however, have sympathy for the fact that it can take a long time to process traumatic events and fully understand the reality of what occurred. As to the second factor, a huge amount of work needs to be put in by journalists and lawyers to make sure that they're investigating and publishing the story in a responsible manner. Once the journalist offers well-resourced perpetrators an opportunity to respond, they will often receive aggressive letters from expensive law firms, frantic calls from PR representatives, or both. It's again imperative in the name of responsible journalism and the law to give these communications ample consideration where due, so this will often lead to further delay in a story reaching the public.  

Brand considers these allegations to be a “co-ordinated media attack” – his words. What do you make of that defence from your perspective as a media lawyer?
I personally have no idea whether there's a conspiratorial agenda pooling its resources to attack YouTube influencers, I must've lost my illuminati membership card down the back of the sofa. I suppose there could be. All I can say is that during my time working in the media industry, I haven't seen anything like that: Only a bunch of hardworking journalists doing their best to keep the wheels of democracy working by keeping the public informed and holding influential figures to account. 

One thing that does sit uncomfortably with me about attempts to reframe the discourse around whether there might be some kind of conspiratorial cabal-driven agenda behind the story, is that it seems a convenient distraction from the most important question: Did he, or did he not, do what these women are saying he did to them? 

If the allegations are accurate, the women making them deserve justice. If the allegations aren't accurate, as Russell repeatedly asserts in the same video, then he would have legal grounds to sue and clear his name. Whether he does so or simply just continues to post YouTube monologues, remains to be seen.