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 Wednesday that Elon Musk branded him a pedophile and sullied his reputation.
Vernon Unsworth choked up as he described the effect of Musk’s “pedo guy” tweet that the Tesla CEO said he 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 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 $20 billion.
Musk insisted earlier in the day that he never called Unsworth a pedophile, 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 pedophile.”
Unsworth’s lawyer asked the billionaire how the insult was cast in the media worldwide, and Musk said he recalled that news organizations “correctly interpreted it as an insult, not an accusation of pedophilia.”
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.
Musk said he deleted the tweet within hours and apologized 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.”
Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said Unsworth deserves nothing for what he called “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men.”
Spiro in his opening statement spoke of honors Unsworth received in Thailand and Britain.
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 there would be some mention of “pedo guy.”
A newspaper article that day reported that he had received the honor and also mentioned the hurtful tweet.
He said it was a good day for his mother and other loved ones, but just OK for him.
The leader of the rescue effort, Rick Stanton, testified that Unsworth was essential in providing a detailed map of the cave that helped them find the boys.
Story: Brian Melley