(1) Greensill Capital (UK) Limited (2) Alexander Greensill v Reuters News And Media Limited

Reference: [2020] EWHC 1325 (QB)

Court: High Court, Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Nicklin J

Date of judgment: 14 May 2020

Summary: Defamation - Meaning - Preliminary Issue - Hearing Bundle

Appearances: Adrienne Page QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)  Jonathan Barnes QC (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Schillings International LLP for the Claimants; Pinsent Masons LLP for the Defendant

Facts

The Claimants  – a financial services company and its eponymous Chief Executive Officer – complained that the Defendant’s website article “Exclusive: Greensill issued false statement on bonds sold by metals tycoon Gupta” was defamatory of each of them by implying that they had knowingly provided false information to bond market investors and brokers and so committed a serious criminal offence of market abuse. The Defendant denied its article carried such a meaning. It argued that the article did not refer to the Second Claimant personally at all and further in any event that it did no more than raise questions as to how an allegedly false statement had come to be issued.

Issue

What if any natural and ordinary defamatory meaning did the article bear in respect of each Claimant?

Held

The ordinary reasonable reader would not understand the natural and ordinary meaning of the article to convey any defamatory allegation against the Second Claimant personally.

The ordinary reasonable reader would not come to the conclusion that the article alleged that the First Claimant had knowingly issued a false statement: the article was not written so as to compel the reasonable reader to come to this conclusion but rather reported surrounding circumstances so that the ordinary reasonable reader would have to suspend judgment as to where the truth lay. The article was clear in its allegation that a false statement had been made but offered no answer to the question whether that had been knowingly by the First Claimant. Accordingly the meaning in respect of the First Claimant was essentially at Chase level 3: the article alleged that there were grounds to investigate how the First Claimant came to make a false statement, whether the First Claimant knew the statement was false when it was issued and whether the First Claimant had therefore committed any offence of market abuse.

Comment

This was an application of the principles most recently recounted in Koutsogiannis v The Random House Group Limited [2020] 4 WLR 25. Although there was an arguable lack of “bane and antidote” the Court did not see that as particularly significant here in contrast to the description of that principle in Mark v Associated Newspapers [2002] EMLR 38.

Of greater note for practitioners in this area more generally might be the Court’s observations at paragraphs 45 and 46 of the Judgment concerning the preparation of the hearing bundle for trials of preliminary issues on meaning and in particular the need to include only what the Court is likely to be referred to or want to see during the course of the parties’ submissions.