In Depth

Elon Musk lawyer demands apology from ‘paedo guy’ diver

Cave expert Vernon Unsworth insulted the Tesla founder’s miniature submarine during Thai rescue operation

Elon Musk’s legal team is demanding an apology from a British diver who mocked the billionaire’s offer of a miniature submarine to help rescue a football team trapped in a cave last year.

Vernon Unsworth is suing the Tesla founder for defamation after the pair became embroiled in a war of words during the operation to recover 12 teenagers and their football coach from a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand last year.

Musk apologised to Unsworth in a Los Angeles federal court earlier this week for referring to him as “paedo guy” during the spat. But the South Africa-born tycoon is now demanding that the Thai-based Brit, originally from St Albans, do likewise for dismissing the submarine offer as a “PR stunt”. 

What happened?

Unsworth made headlines for his role in the rescue operation after the football team became trapped deep in an underground cave complex in Chiang Rai province during an excursion in June 2018. Unsworth drafted in diving experts from across the world and using his knowledge of the caves to guide rescuers.

As the rescue effort stretched into its third week, Musk announced on Twitter that he was working with staff from SpaceX and his infrastructure firm The Boring Company to build a miniature submarine that could navigate the network of tight passages and transport the teenagers to safety. 

Musk even visited the rescue command centre in Thailand to deliver the sub, the BBC reports. But in an interview with CNN, Unsworth rubbished Musk’s plan as a “PR stunt” that had “absolutely no chance of working”.

Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”, he added.

In a series of tweets, the tycoon responded that the British’s expat decision to live in Thailand was “sus[picious]” and  referred to Unsworth as “paedo guy”.

A ferocious backlash against the entrepreneur prompted Musk to apologise in July after the boys had been rescued. He claimed he had “spoken in anger” and that Unsworth’s “actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologise”.

Appearing in court his week, Musk argued that he “didn’t literally mean he was a paedophile”.

But according to Business Insider, “at the height of his feud with Unsworth, Musk pushed the assertion in follow-up postings, paid a private investigator $52,000 to find evidence of sexual misconduct involving Unsworth, and months later wondered aloud on the social-media platform why Unsworth had not sued him yet”.

Defamation case

In September 2018, Unsworth announced he was suing the Tesla founder for defamation. He is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress.

Following the launch of the trial this week, Musk apologised again in court while “looking directly at a stony-faced Mr Unsworth, who said that because of Mr Musk even his investiture as a member of the British Empire by the Queen felt bittersweet”, The Independent reports.

“The diver said he had lost a lot of self-confidence since Musk’s tweet and didn’t want to attend the ceremony because he knew it would be overshadowed by some mention of ‘paedo guy’,” the newspaper adds.

But Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said Unsworth should not receive any payouts for what he called “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men”.

Another member of Musk’s legal team then suggested that Unsworth should apologise - a request that the Brit rejected.

“My insult was to the tube [submarine] and not to Mr Musk personally,” Unsworth replied. “I’m not sure how I need to apologise. It was my opinion at the time and I stand by that opinion.”

The case continues.

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