Striking out the claim as an abuse of process and granting the Defendants summary judgment:
(1) There was no evidence of malice fit to be left to a jury. Malice could not be inferred from the fact that the First Defendant denied having spoken the words complained of in the face of conflicting evidence that he did speak them. Nor could malice be inferred from the words themselves. An alleged prior incident in which the First Claimant is said to have publicly humiliated the First Defendant (which the First Defendant denied involved himself) did not provide evidence of malice. Even if it had occurred it was mere supposition that it would have caused the First Defendant or others within the HSE’s employ to have some personal animosity towards the First Claimant.
(2) The proceedings were an abuse of process. They had been issued for an improper collateral purpose, namely to provide a public forum for an airing of the dispute between the parties as to the risk posed by material containing white asbestos. The evidence for this consisted of:
(i) an e-mail from the First Claimant to the Chair of the HSE prior to the institution of proceedings in which he had stated that his “main objective” was to get all those responsible for the HSE policy into court and the public arena so that the concerns could at last have a proper hearing; and
(ii) the fact that the Claimants had not issued proceedings in respect of other far more serious allegations against them recorded in permanent form in the print media and available to a much wider audience.
The First Claimant was pursuing a vendetta against the HSE and the alleged incident at the University was merely a peg on which to hang his desire to challenge the HSE’s views on the science. The action had not been brought for the primary purpose of protecting reputation.
Further, the very limited publication, the minimal amount of damages that would be likely to be awarded, the dubious nature of any possible vindication, the transient nature of the alleged defamation, and the poor prospects of success meant that “the claim was not worth the candle.”
The delay in issuing proceedings until just before expiry of the one year limitation period played no part in the court’s decision.