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January 7, 2016

Claimant succeeds in latest serious harm trial

Category: Defamation

Tags: Defamation, serious harm

Email sent to 124 people found to have caused serious harm to reputation


Following a two day trial to determine whether the libel claim brought by Sam Theedom satisfied the test under s.1 of the Defamation Act 2013 (that there has been serious harm to reputation), judgment has been given in favour of Mr Theedom.

The Defendants are CSP, Mr Theedom’s former employer, and one of its directors.  They admitted sending 124 emails which defamed Mr Theedom. HHJ Moloney QC, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, concluded that the natural and ordinary meaning of all of the emails was that during his employment with CSP Mr Theedom had regularly supplied commercially important, confidential information about CSP’s business and its customers’ business to CSP’s commercial rivals in breach of his contract of employment and that as a result he had been dismissed for gross misconduct.  115 of the emails included the words: “We are now considering whether to take criminal action against Sam.”  The Judge found that those emails bore the further meaning that Mr Theedom’s misconduct “has been so serious that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that it also amounts to a criminal offence.” Having established that the emails bore these “very serious” defamatory meanings, the Judge concluded that if the court were persuaded “by a combination of evidence and inference, that the group to whom these libels were published (and any wider group to the whom the libel was percolated) included people who are likely to have business dealings with the Claimant, then he will be a very long way towards making out his case.”

The Judge also concluded that in assessing serious harm to reputation one must consider whether it is a serious matter for the individual Claimant.  It was relevant that the Claimant was a young man starting out on his career in a competitive business and that the emails complained of had been sent by an influential and prima facie reliable source (the defendant director writing on behalf of CSP) largely to CSP’s customers i.e. people who trusted it. Furthermore, the “very serious” allegations were made to a “fairly substantial” number of people but, more importantly, to people who were potentially important to his career.  The Claimant was likely to deal with the publishees in his future career.  Therefore the serious harm threshold was passed.

5RB‘s William Bennett (instructed by Carter-Ruck) acted for Mr Theedom.

The judgment can be found here.