Full case report
Tilbrook v Parr
Reference  EWHC 1946 (QB)
Judge Tugendhat J
Date of Judgment 13 Jul 2012
Tilbrook- Parr- defamation- malicious falsehood- whether words capable of referring to Claimant- strike out –summary judgment
C, the chairman of a political party, the English Democrats, brought an action in defamation and malicious falsehood against D, the author of an internet blog known as ‘Bloggers4UKIP’. The words complained of were published under the heading “BNP Butler joined BNP Barnbrook in the English Democrats”. The text read:
“Eddy Butler the former National Front, former BNP, former Freedom Party, former BNP a couple more times, former BNP national elections co-ordinator has joined the English Democrats.
The announcement which was the EDP’s worse kept secret since his mate Richard Barnbrook joined in January, will be a bitter blow to the handful of party activists that haven’t yet joined UKIP who had hoped to stop the BNP takeover of the party…
English Democrats: not left, not right, just racist”.
C was not named, nor did the Particulars of Claim set out any facts relied on which might be known to any particular publishees, and no publishees were identified. The only fact set out in the Particulars of Claim relevant to the issue of whether the words complained of were capable of referring to C was the fact that he was the chairman of the English Democrats.
D applied for strike out and/or summary judgment primarily on the basis that the words were not capable of referring to C. Alternatively, D argued that the case should be struck out as being an abuse of process.
Were the words complained of reasonably capable of referring to C?
(1) It is settled law that words cannot be defamatory of a claimant unless they are capable of being understood by a reasonable reader as referring to him.
(2) Where the claimant is not named the test is whether the words were such that they would reasonably lead persons acquainted with him to believe that he was the person being referred to.
(3) In order to answer that question, the meaning of the words (as understood by the reasonable reader) had to be ascertained. That test was most recently formulated by Sir Anthony Clarke MR in Jeynes v News Magazines Limited  EWCA Civ 130, and required the court to ask what the words would mean to a hypothetical reader who is neither naïve, unduly suspicious, nor avid for scandal.
In this instance the words were not capable of referring to C. It was not enough for C to rely simply on the fact that he was the chairman of a party that was named in the text. For that reason C’s claim in defamation, and in malicious falsehood, fell at the first hurdle.
A useful succinct judgment on the test to be applied to determine whether words are capable of referring to a claimant, especially where the claimant is part of an organization or group of individuals which is referred to in the words complained of.
It is not enough for a claimant simply to rely on the fact that he is a member or a leader of an organisation which is referred to by name. Instead, he will need to properly plead in the Particulars of Claim why the words would still be understood as referring to him specifically. In the absence of evidence as to why the words would be understood in that way, there is no viable claim.
D: Hemingways Solicitors Ltd
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