Full case report

Cruddas v Adams

Reference [2013] EWHC 145 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 4 Feb 2013


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Assessment of Damages - Twitter – Blog – s.12 Defamation Act 1952


Facts

On 25 March 2012, the Sunday Times published a series of articles following a covertly recorded meeting between two undercover journalists and the Claimant, the then Co-Treasurer of the Conservative Party. The article concerned a proposed donation to the Conservative Party.

Immediately following those articles – for which the Defendant a political consultant and Blogger took credit as being the “whistleblower” behind the story – the Defendant published a series of Tweets and Blog entries which suggested that the Claimant was a criminal, liable to arrest at any time, who had breached the provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 by seeking to secure an illegal political donation for the Conservative Party.

Following numerous Tweets, in which the Defendant repeated his allegations that the Claimant was a criminal and dared him to sue the Defendant, the Claimant commenced proceedings at the end of July 2012.

Having previously been cleared of any wrong-doing by the Electoral Commission, the Claimant also received confirmation in early September 2012 that, following an assessment of the Sunday Times material, the Police had decided that there was no evidence of any criminal conduct on the part of the Claimant “either directly or by implication” and that “no inchoate offences had been committed”. The Defendant made no reference to the conclusions of the police either on Twitter or in his Blog. 

Despite being given an opportunity to consider a transcript of the meeting between the Claimant and the Sunday Times journalists to enable him to consider whether he had a basis upon which to defend his allegations, the Defendant decided not to file a Defence. Judgment in default was finally entered on 16 November 2012.

The Court heard evidence from the Claimant and the Defendant at the assessment of damages hearing on 23 and 24 January 2012.


Issue

The sum to be awarded to the Claimant in damages.


Held

  1. There are three overlapping objectives to be taken into account; (i) compensation for injury to reputation, (ii) the need to convince bystanders of the baselessness of the charge (i.e. vindication), and (iii) to provide an element of solatium to the claimant for distress and hurt feelings: see Cairns v Modi at [21].
  2. The allegations made against the Claimant were high on the scale of gravity, since the Defendant was repeatedly claiming that Mr Cruddas was a criminal who deserved to be behind bars. Such an allegation went to the core of the Claimant’s professional reputation and personal integrity.
  3. The observations of the Court of Appeal in Cairns v Modi [27] – “that as a consequence of modern technology and communications systems any such stories will have the capacity to ‘go viral’ more widely and more quickly than ever before” - had a particular resonance in this case.
  4. Although the Court had to have regard to the damages paid by the Independent for an article suggesting that the Claimant was the subject of a serious criminal investigation into his conduct in relation to the proposed donation discussed at the meeting with the Sunday Times journalists, the Defendant’s behaviour and his continued refusal to acknowledge the falsity of his claims (right up to his closing submissions) meant that ”the mitigating effect of these factors will be relatively modest”.
  5. The appropriate sum to be awarded to the Claimant was £45,000.

Comment

Another case demonstrating the dangers that can arise from postings on Twitter. Here, the Defendant was found to have aggravated the damages by his conduct. The Defendant was found by the Judge to have “done himself no favours in the conduct of [the] litigation, apparently taking every opportunity between March and September to aggravate his original publications.” [43]


Download this Judgment


Instructing Solicitors

Russell Jones & Walker for the Claimant; Defendant in person


Links

Cruddas wins libel payout over former Blair aide's Twitter slurs - The Guardian
Ex-Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas wins ?45k libel damages from blogger - Press Gazette
Mark Adams loses libel case brought by Peter Cruddas - PR Week