Full case report

Carruthers v Associated Newspapers Limited, Carruthers v News Group Newspapers Limited

Reference [2019] EWHC 33 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division, Media and Communications List

Judge Nicklin J

Date of Judgment 14 Jan 2019


Summary

Defamation – Meaning – Honest Opinion – Summary Judgment


Facts

The claimant, a former senior social work manager, sued for libel over stories on Mail Online and Sun Online reporting that while at work she had sent sexual texts and images to a man she met on a dating website.

The defendants applied to strike out the claim for libel on the grounds that the defence of honest opinion was bound to succeed.


Issue

  1. the meaning of the words
  2. whether the words were factual statements or opinions
  3. whether the defence of honest opinion was bound to succeed

Held

  1. Although the articles juxtaposed allegations about the texts and images with reports of the Baby P and Victoria Climbie scandals, the reasonable reader would not understand the article to mean that the Claimant had been culpably involved in the earlier scandals.
  2. The articles contained both a factual meaning that was not defamatory and an expression of opinion.
  3. The defence of honest opinion was bound to succeed. The facts which the claimant sought to rely on as demonstrating that she had done nothing wrong could not properly be described as exculpatory. In any event exculpatory facts were irrelevant to an assessment on the objective part of the statutory defence within s.3(4) of the Defamation Act 2013. There was no basis upon which to conclude that either defendant did not honestly hold the opinion expressed.
  4. The defendants were therefore entitled to summary judgment on the libel claim. However there was no application to strike out the claim under the DPA 1998 or for misuse of private information which could proceed to trial.

Comment

The judgment is of interest in its analysis of the role played by exculpatory facts in assessing the defence of honest opinion.


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Instructing Solicitors

Carruthers Law for the Claimant; Wiggin LLP for Associated Newspapers Ltd; Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP for News Group Newspapers Ltd