Full case report

Keith Singh v Joseph Weayou

Reference [2017] EWHC 2102 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge The Hon. Mrs Justice Nicola Davies DBE

Date of Judgment 11 Aug 2017


Summary

Libel – Malicious Falsehood – Serious Harm – Qualified Privilege – Honest Opinion – Truth – Malice – Damage


Facts

C and D were both psychiatric nursing professionals at a hospital in Roehampton. C was the Night Services Coordinator while D was a Health Care Assistant until May 2017. C had some managerial responsibility over D. On the 24 August 2015 at 7.36am D published an e-mail to a senior manager and the HR manager alleging sexual harassment, including sexual assault, and victimisation.

C brought an action for Defamation on the basis that the e-mail’s natural and ordinary meaning was that the C was guilty of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and victimisation once sexual advances had been spurned. D admitted C’s pleaded meaning. C also brought the claim in malicious falsehood asserting that the D published the e-mail maliciously after a shift swap request had been refused by C.

D pleaded truth, honest opinion and qualified privilege as a defence to the libel claim and asserted that the publication did not surmount ‘serious harm’ under section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013. D pleaded that the publication was true and not published maliciously in that he honestly believed it to be true.


Issue

  1. Was the publication entirely a statement of fact, or were parts of it opinion?
  2. Was the publication (substantially) true? The burden of proof fell on C in malicious falsehood and on D in libel.
  3. Was the publication malicious?
  4. Was there sufficient damage to satisfy the test of (a) ‘serious harm’ in libel under s.1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013; and/or (b) to prove ‘pecuniary loss’ in malicious falsehood (and/or s.3 of the Defamation Act 1952)?

Held

  1. The publication consisted entirely of statements of fact.
  2. The publication, in its admitted meaning, was not true.
  3. The publication by D was malicious.

(a) The publication caused serious harm to the reputation of the C. Whilst the email was sent to only two people, the hospital was a small close-knit working environment where gossip was likely, and the Court had heard evidence on the effect of the publication on C’s relationships with co-workers. The false allegation of sexual assault was particularly damaging for an individual in C’s line of work, in a hospital dealing with vulnerable patients.

(b) The publication also caused pecuniary loss to the C due to the cost of medical expenses arising from stress-related conditions and C’s lost income from overtime shifts. There was no need to rely upon s.3 of the Defamation Act 1952.

Damage to reputation was calculated at £15,000 with a further £5,000 for aggravation. There was another £5,531.10 awarded for special damage with £433.97 interest, coming to £25,965.07, plus an additional amount of 10% as part of the indemnity costs ordered as the result of C’s unaccepted-and-beaten CPR Part 36 offer. C was also granted an injunction to restrain D from repeating the defamatory words or similar for a period of five years.


Comment

A case decided solidly on its facts, but perhaps notable for similar fact evidence (per O’Brien v Chief Constable of South Wales Police [2005] 2 AC 534) being relied upon to demonstrate malice on the part of D.


Instructing Solicitors

Brett Wilson for the Claimant


Links

Singh v Weayou