Andrew James Enforcement Ltd v ITV PLC
Reference:  EWHC 3503 (QB); LTL AC9301179
Court: High Court, Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Bean J
Date of judgment: 30 Nov 2012
Summary: Libel - defamatory meaning - capability
Jonathan Barnes (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Gateley Solicitors LLP for the Claimant; Charles Russell LLP for the Defendant
The Claimant, a debt enforcement agency, complained that the Defendant’s consumer affairs television programme, “The Ferret”, had accused it of victimising the owner of a car that it had clamped and, by featuring it in the programme in the first place, suggested by innuendo that it was a company that should be avoided at all costs. The programme had stated that the Claimant had done nothing illegal, unfair or wrong. The Defendant applied for a ruling that its programme did not carry any natural and ordinary or innuendo meaning that was capable of being defamatory of the Claimant.
Was the programme capable in its natural and ordinary meaning or by way of innuendo of defaming the Claimant?
In the light of the content of the programme overall, including the “bane” and “antidote” that were present, it did not contain any allegation to the effect that the Claimant had acted to its discredit and accordingly it was not capable of being defamatory of the Claimant in its natural and ordinary meaning. However, if the Claimant’s plea that “The Ferret” was a programme of the nature that would feature a particular business only if it warranted criticism or deserved to be avoided was correct (which question must await trial), then the programme was capable of being defamatory of the Claimant by featuring it, and so giving rise to a defamatory innuendo meaning.
This ruling on capability may give the producers of consumer affairs and similar coverage pause for careful thought when considering whether to feature a particular individual or organisation, that has done nothing wrong, in a piece which seeks by illustration to draw attention to a controversial area. The danger is that although the coverage may not mean to criticise or stigmatise any particular business, the nature of the programme (or even genre) may in itself give rise to a defamatory “rogues gallery” meaning, along the lines of the Chamber of Horrors libel in Monson v Tussauds Ltd  1 QB 671, CA.