British cave diver Vernon Unsworth, who helped rescue 12 children trapped in a cave in Thailand this summer, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who asserted that he was a pedophile and “child rapist.”
The conflict began over Musk’s offer to donate a mini-submarine to help rescue the young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave system in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province.
Unsworth criticized Musk’s mechanism, telling CNN that the submarine was “just a PR stunt [that] had absolutely no chance of working” and said Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Musk took to Twitter to respond, calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” this past July. The Tweet, sent to his more than 22 million followers, was later deleted.
After publicly apologizing, Musk rehashed the allegations once more in August. During yet another Twitter feud, Musk questions why Unsworth hadn’t sued yet if the accusations being made are false.
A few days later, Musk emailed a BuzzFeed News reporter, suggesting that the reporter investigate Unsworth and “stop defending child rapists.”
“He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years,” Musk wrote. He added that Unsworth moved in Thailand “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.”
In a second email to BuzzFeed, Musk accused Unsworth of being a liar and claimed that he wasn’t even a part of the cave dive team.
Musk has finally gotten what he asked for: Vernon Unsworth and his attorneys filed a defamation suit against him in the U.S. district court for the Central District of California on Monday. The lawsuit seeks $75,000 in compensation and an injunction against Musk to stop further allegations.
The suit highlights Unsworth’s more than 40 years of experience and the six years he spent surveying the cave system where the Thai boys became trapped. He knew about the raised ledge where the boys and their football coach could have sought shelter, travelled into the caves shortly after the group went missing and called on the two expert British divers who eventually found the trapped group.
The legal documents also offer further context for Unsworth’s remarks about Musk’s mini-submarine. Unsworth notes that eight of the 12 children had already been extracted from the cave by the time the submarine arrived. Unsworth also argues that the sub’s 12-inch diameter wouldn’t have fit all the boys and that divers would not have been able to maneuver the machinery in “zero visibility.”
The rest of the suit responds to the accusations Musk has made about Unsworth on Twitter and in written correspondence. “Mr. Unsworth is not a child rapist,” the suit states, or guilty of sex trafficking, pedophilia, marriage to a minor and lying.
Musk has also been accused of knowingly making false statements, a requirement for any defamation case of a public figure. Pointing to the apologetic Tweet, where Musk claimed he made his original accusation about Unsworth in anger, the suit paints the Tesla CEO as a vengeful billionaire.
Unsworth’s legal action seeks recovery for “worldwide damage he has suffered to his reputation.”
“Elon Musk falsely accused Vern Unsworth of being guilty of heinous crimes,” Unsworth’s lawyer, L. Lin 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.”