LOS ANGELES – Helping rescue a dozen boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand should have been one of a British diver's proudest moments. Instead he found himself branded a pedophile on Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk, his lawyers said Tuesday.
Vernon Unsworth “did the only thing he could do,” attorney Taylor Wilson said during opening statements in a defamation trial. He sued Musk in federal court in Los Angeles, seeking unspecified damages, after the Tesla CEO called him a “pedo guy” in a tweet.
Musk's attorney said Unsworth started the spat – belittling Musk's efforts to help with the rescue by building a mini-submarine to transport the boys. Unsworth said it was nothing more than a “PR stunt” and Musk could stick the contraption “where it hurts.” The sub was never used.
Musk's lawyer, Alex Spiro, said Unsworth deserves nothing for what he called “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men.”
The shame and mortification Unsworth said he experienced is undercut by the attention he received after the rescue, Spiro said, including honors from the Thai king and British prime minister and offers from agents and film crews.
“There's a little more to this Twitter insult, and you'll hear it,” Spiro told jurors.
Musk, who is expected to testify early in the case, has apologized for lashing out at Unsworth. He removed his tweet, widely interpreted as a reference to a pedophile, and disputed that's what he meant.
“'Pedo guy' was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,” Musk said in a court declaration. “It is synonymous with 'creepy old man' and is used to insult a person's appearance and demeanor.”