Cave explorer dubbed ‘pedo guy’ describes hurt, humiliation

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A British cave explorer who helped rescue a dozen boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thailand cave last year testified on Wednesday that Elon Musk branded him a peadophile and sullied his reputation.

Vernon Unsworth choked up as he described the effect of the “pedo guy” tweet the Tesla CEO fired off in anger after Unsworth belittled the sub Musk built for the rescue that was never used.

“I was effectively given a life sentence with no parole,” Unsworth said. “It feels very raw, I feel humiliated, ashamed, dirtied.”

Unsworth said he had to sue Musk for defamation because if he didn’t the allegation would seem true.

Unsworth is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress from the tech entrepreneur who testified that his stock in Tesla and SpaceX is worth around USD20 billion.

ABOVE & BELOW: British cave diver Vern Unsworth arrives at US District Court in Los Angeles, California with his attorney Lin Wood (R); and Elon Musk leaves the US District Court, Central District of California through a back door in Los Angeles. PHOTOS: AFP

Musk insisted earlier in the day that he never called Unsworth a peadophile, telling a Los Angeles federal jury that the phrase he tweeted off-the-cuff “was obviously a flippant insult, and no one interpreted it to mean peadophile.”

Unsworth’s lawyer asked the billionaire how the insult was cast in the media worldwide, and Musk said he recalled that news organisations “correctly interpreted it as an insult, not an accusation of peadophilia.”

That wasn’t the interpretation of Unsworth’s lawyer, however, who unsuccessfully tried to introduce headlines compiled by someone at one of Musk’s companies that showed many news outlets perceived the phrase to mean pedophile.

Judge Stephen Wilson said it would be up to jurors to apply the standard of what a reasonable person would think Musk meant, not what journalists think.

“These reporters are taking the word ‘pedo guy’ and writing their story saying it’s peadophilia,” Wilson said. “That makes a more interesting story than ‘pedo guy.’’’

Musk said he deleted the tweet within hours and apologised on Twitter two days later.

Musk said the insult meant only “creepy old man.”

The spat began when Unsworth ridiculed Musk’s effort to help in the rescue by having engineers at his companies, including Space X and The Boring Co, develop a mini-submarine that could transport the boys. Despite working around the clock to build the sub, Musk arrived in Thailand late in the rescue effort and the craft was never used.

Unsworth called it nothing more than a ‘PR stunt’ and said Musk could stick the sub “where it hurts.” On cross-examination, Unsworth said his jab at Musk was just an idiomatic expression and not meant to be taken literally.

That appeared to score a point for the defence because Musk said the same thing about his tweet.

Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said Unsworth deserves nothing for what he called “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men.”

Spiro said in his opening statement that honours Unsworth received in Thailand and Britain undermined his claimed anguish.

But Unsworth said even his investiture as a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II this summer was bitter sweet.

Unsworth 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 “pedo guy.”

A newspaper article that reported on the honour also mentioned the hurtful tweet. He said it was a good day for his mother and other loved ones, but just OK for him.

Musk said he posted his tweets without knowing what role Unsworth played in the rescue.

Unsworth, who lives part-time in Thailand, said he has been exploring Tham Luang cave since 2012 and spends hundreds of hours there a year.

He said he was contacted to help after the boys got lost in June last year and spent three straight days without sleep trying to stem rising water levels with sand bags. Unsworth said he provided information on the extensive system he’s been mapping.

Unsworth also recommended the Thai government reach out to British cave rescue divers who ultimately located and rescued the boys.

The lead cave rescue diver, Rick Stanton of Coventry, testified that Unsworth was essential in providing a detailed map of the cave that helped him locate the boys and eventually bring them to safety after they were trapped more than two weeks.