Caplin v Associated Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  EWHC 1567 (QB)
Court: High Court Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sharp J
Date of judgment: 20 Jun 2011
Summary: Defamation - Meaning - Capability - Bane and antidote - CPR PD 53 4.1
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Instructing Solicitors: David Price Solicitors & Advocates for the Claimant, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP for the Defendant
Carole Caplin, ex-confidante of the Blairs, sued Associated Newspapers in libel for an article published in the Daily Mail with the headline “Will Carole Caplin lift the lid on the Blairs’ marriage?” The article speculated whether Miss Caplin might sell secrets about the marriage now that she might be facing financial difficulties. The article included reference to Cherie Blair telling Miss Caplin her sex secrets and to Miss Caplin giving massages to Tony Blair.
The Claimant claimed that the article bore the following meanings defamatory of her:
1) that having insisted that Cherie Blair told her every detail of her sex life there were strong grounds to suspect that she will disclose the Blairs’ sex secrets for financial reward,
2) that the massages she gave to Tony Blair involved a sexual element,
3) that there were strong grounds to suspect that she will disclose the details of that activity,
4) that there were strong grounds to suspect that she will blow the lid of the Blairs’ marriage and finish them
Associated made a meaning application under CPR PD 53 paragraph 4.1 for a ruling that the article complained of was a) incapable of bearing any of the pleaded meanings and b) incapable of bearing any meaning defamatory of the Claimant.
Whether the article was capable of bearing any of the meanings pleaded by the Claimant, bearing in mind the article as a whole including both “bane” and “antidote”.
If so, whether the article could bear meanings that there were “strong grounds” to suspect the Claimant, or the lesser meaning that there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the Claimant.
The article was capable of bearing the meanings pleaded by the Claimant. Whether the text (“the antidote”) in fact neutralises the headlines (“the bane”) so that the reasonable reader would conclude that there was nothing concrete in the story is a matter for trial.
A reader not “avid for scandal” could reasonably conclude that sexual activity was implied from the wording of the article, and thus the words were capable of bearing the meanings pleaded at 2), 3) and 4) as well as that at 1) (above). The article included, amongst other things, the question “How much money would [the Claimant] get for telling all about the massages she gave to Mr Blair at Chequers?” and a quote from the Claimant’s former PR about the massages including the words “nudge nudge wink wink”. The reasonable reader could conclude that the “all” in context referred to sexual activity.
It would be putting it too high to say that there were “strong grounds to suspect”, the highest meaning the article can bear is “reasonable grounds to suspect”.
Sharp J outlines the matters for a court to consider when addressing the issue of “bane” and “antidote”, referring to the leading decision of the House of Lords in Charleston v News Group Newspapers Limited.
Whether the antidote is sufficient to neutralise the bane will often be a debatable question, relying not only on the words of the headline and article, but the whole context of publication. The law of defamation recognises that the layman reads in implication more easily than the lawyer, and is particularly prone to do so when the implication is derogatory.
It will be a rare case where such a matter is not left to the jury.