Full case report

Wright v Caan

Reference [2011] EWHC 1978 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge HHJ Parkes QC

Date of Judgment 27 Jul 2011


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Meaning – Natural and ordinary meaning – Innuendo meaning – Whether words complained of capable of bearing meanings pleaded – Whether innuendo properly pleaded – Malicious falsehood – Whether words complained of capable of being likely to cause pecuniary damage – Whether claims in malicious falsehood properly pleaded – Application to amend particulars of claim


Facts

C appeared on the Dragons Den television programme and attracted offers of investment from all 5 ‘Dragons’.  She accepted offers from 2, including D.  C and D’s business relationship broke down.

C gave an interview with the Mail on Sunday about her experiences, including the reasons for the breakdown of her relationship with D.  Prior to publication, D was asked to comment and gave a different reason for the breakdown of the relationship.

After publication of the Mail on Sunday article, D published a press release, setting out in more detail his explanation for why he was no longer working with C and her business.

C sued D in respect of his comments to the Mail on Sunday and on his website for libel and malicious falsehood.  D issued an application seeking a ruling under CPR PD53 para 4.1 that the words complained of were not capable of bearing the pleaded or any defamatory meaning concerning C and for an order to strike out the claims in malicous falsehood.

Before the hearing to determine D’s application, C, having now instructed counsel, accepted that the original Particulars of Claim were defective and sought permission to amend her Particulars of Claim.  D made a number of objections to the application to amend, including that the words were not capable of bearing the meanings pleaded, that the particulars of innuendo, falsity and malice were not properly pleaded, and that the words were not likely to cause pecuniary damage.


Issue

(1) Whether the words complained of were capable of bearing the meanings pleaded;

(2) Whether the particulars of innuendo were properly pleaded;

(3) Whether the particulars of malice and falsity were properly pleaded;

(4) Whether the words complained of were likely to cause C pecuniary loss.


Held

Refusing permission to amend save in respect of the natural and ordinary meaning of the words on D’s website:

(1) The words were not capable of bearing the natural and ordinary meanings pleaded, save for one meaning in respect of the website (to which D had not objected).  In respect of the innuendo meanings, there was no reason why the journalist or a reader of D’s website would, having knowledge of C’s account, come to the conclusion that C must have been lying.  Permission to amend the libel claim was therefore refused save in respect of one meaning in respect of D’s website article.

(2) The particulars of innuendo were properly pleaded.  They set out extrinsic facts which would lead a reasonable reader to understand the words complained of in a a different sense from that in which they would have been understood without the help of the extrinsic facts.  In respect of the website, it was not necessary to identify particular readers who understood the words in the meaning contended for, given the very substantial publication of the Mail and the popularity of D’s website.

(3) Save for a particular of falsity and a particular of malice based on a meaning which was unsustainable, and an allegation of recklessness which was not particularised, the pleaded case on falsity and malice was not objectionable.

(4) C had no real prospect of establishing that the single publication to the journalist was likely to cause her pecuniary loss, or that the minor and politely expressed reservation about C’s performance on Dragon’s Den on D’s website was likely to do so.  Permission to amend the malicious falsehood claim was therefore denied.


Comment

A straight forward application of the law on natural and ordinary meaning.  However, what may be of interest is the judge’s discussion on Baturina v Times Newspapers Ltd [2011] 1 WLR 1526 and what needs to be pleaded to support an innuendo meaning where the extrinsic facts relied upon, as well as the words complained of, had been widely published.


Instructing Solicitors

Debello Law for C; Grosvenor Law LLP for D