A British cave diver who Elon Musk accused of being a “pedo” and a “child rapist” on Twitter sued the tech CEO for defamation on Monday.
Vernon Unsworth and his attorneys filed the lawsuit in a US District Court in California. Unsworth is seeking $75,000 in compensatory damages, and the issuance of an injunction against Musk “ordering him to refrain from making further publication of the False and Defamatory Accusations.”
Musk became aware of Unsworth during the events of the Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand. In July, a Thai youth soccer team had become trapped in a partially flooded cave, remaining there for 18 days before divers extracted all twelve boys and their coach. Unsworth played an “instrumental” role in saving their lives, according to the lawsuit.
Several days into the mission, Musk engineered a “kid-size” submarine for transporting the boys through the cave system. The device was never used, however, and by the time Musk arrived at Tham Luang, most of the team had been extracted, according to the lawsuit. Musk was publicly angered by criticisms of his submarine, including Unsworth’s comments during a CNN interview that Musk “can stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Musk proceeded to call Unsworth the “pedo guy,” and told people to “stop defending child rapists” in tweets that Musk has since deleted. He later issued a perfunctory apology, but never officially retracted his remarks about Unsworth being a sex criminal. In August, Musk said that it was “strange” that Unsworth hadn’t sued him.
On August 6, defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood published a letter sent to Musk that stated he was “in the process of preparing a civil complaint for libel.” And later that month, BuzzFeed News published a series of emails sent by Musk to reporter Ryan Mac in which the CEO reiterates unfounded claims about Unsworth being a pedophile.
In the lawsuit, Unsworth rejects claims involving pedophilia, sex trafficking, lying, and being “married to a 12-year old child.”
“Elon Musk falsely accused Vern Unsworth of being guilty of heinous crimes,” Wood said in a statement. “Musk's influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law.”
Unsworth intends to file a separate complaint in the High Court in London for reputational damage in England and Wales. As BuzzFeed News notes, the burden of proof will be different there—with Musk needing to prove the veracity of his allegations against Unsworth.
In an email to BuzzFeed News just weeks ago, Musk wrote: “I hope he fucking sues me.”