Full case report

(1) Contostavlos (2) Simpson v News Group Newspapers Ltd

Reference [2014] EWHC 1339 (QB)
Court High Court (QBD)

Judge Tugendhat J

Date of Judgment 1 May 2014


Summary

Defamation- meaning- preliminary ruling


Facts

C1 was a well known singer and television personality. C2 was a professional footballer. On 16 November 2012, D published details of the alleged affair between C1 and C2. The publication included Ms Stephanie Ward’s (C2’s partner’s) reactions to the affair and her revelation to the effect that she was three months pregnant with her and C2’s second child.

C1 and C2 issued defamation proceedings. The defamatory meanings pleaded by C1 were that she had:

“(a) entered into a romantic relationship with the Second Claimant knowing that he was in a stable, long-term and committed relationship with Stephanie Ward, who lived with the Second Claimant and their daughter as a family, and who, as [she] knew, was pregnant with their next child;

(b) thereby wrecked the home and family life of Miss Ward, the Second Claimant and their child”

The defamatory meaning pleaded by C2 was that:

“by entering into a romantic relationship with the First Claimant, the Second Claimant was unfaithful to his partner Stephanie Ward, with whom he was in a stable, long-term and committed relationship, living together with her and their daughter as a family, and who, as he knew, was pregnant with their next child.”

The parties agreed that there should be a preliminary determination of the issue of meaning prior to the service of any defence.


Issue

(1)  Did the words complained of bear the meanings pleaded by the Claimants?

(2)  What defamatory meanings (if any) did the words complained of bear?


Held

Applying the principles on determining meaning set out in Jeynes v News Magazines Limited [2008] EWCA Civ 130, Tugendhat J held that the words complained of were defamatory of C1 and C2:

The words complained of by C1

The words complained of were plainly defamatory of C1. Refusing however to adopt C1’s pleaded meanings, Tugendhat J found instead that these were in substance one meaning. There was nothing in the words complained of to give rise to the meaning that C1 knew that Ms Ward was pregnant. Whether C1 had in fact wrecked the relationship between Ms Ward and C2 was not, at that early stage of the story, a matter of fact, but may have depended on what Ms Ward herself would do. The meaning of the words complained of were that:

[t]he First Claimant entered into a romantic relationship with the Second Claimant knowing that he was in a stable, long term and committed relationship with Stephanie Ward, and knowing that he lived with Ms Ward and their young daughter as a family, and that in doing so she knowingly encouraged the Second Claimant’s betrayal of his family, and thereby engaged in conduct likely to cause the breakdown of the Second Claimant’s relationship with Ms Ward and their daughter.”

This meaning was a statement of fact, not opinion or comment.

The words complained of by C2

There was no dispute that the words complained of were defamatory of C2. The main difference between the parties was that on D’s submissions, the meaning in relation to C2 did not include any suggestion that his conduct was made worse by reason of his having a young daughter and an unborn child.

Such submissions were deemed unrealistic. A reasonable reader would have understood that C2 knew that Ms Ward was pregnant. Ms Ward was C2’s domestic partner, with whom he had already had one child, and with whom he was living in a family home.

The words complained of bore a meaning which was substantially that attributed to them by C2.


Comment

Whilst a straightforward application of the Jeynes principles, the decision clarifies the position of the third party – i.e. the party not in the marital/stable relationship – where allegations of infidelity are made. Where a party is in a stable relationship, the court may consider it unrealistic to suggest that there is an imputation that the third party did not know this, and therefore that the article is not defamatory of them. It is defamatory to state that X is having an affair with a person who X knows is married or in a stable relationship.


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Instructing Solicitors

Lewis Silkin LLP for the Claimants, Simons Muirhead & Burton for the Defendant