Chishti v Spottiswoode & Ors

Reference: [2023] EWHC 1808 (KB)

Court: Kings Bench Division, Media & Communications List

Judge: Collins Rice J

Date of judgment: 17 Jul 2023

Summary: Defamation – preliminary issue – single meaning –- context – hyperlink – Chase levels

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Appearances: Adrienne Page KC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)  Jacob Dean (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Michelmores LLP (Claimant)


The Claimant was an entrepreneur with US and Pakistan citizenship who complained of articles published by the Third Defendant on the Telegraph website and in the print edition of The Sunday Telegraph. The articles concerned the business fall-out following allegations of a sexual nature made against the Claimant by the First Defendant, a former employee (“the complainant”) in testimony to the US Congress. The claims against the First and Second Defendants were not pursued.

The Claimant contended that the articles imputed to him that he had groomed the complainant for sex since he was introduced to her by her father when she was a child of 13 years old. The Defendant contended for a Chase level 2 meaning of grounds to suspect grooming for sex of the complainant after she became an adult and relied as context on additional information about the complainant’s allegations accessible by readers from clicking on a hyperlink in the online article. It was not disputed that the articles were defamatory of the Claimant.


(i) Whether the ordinary reasonable reader would have clicked on the hyperlink in the online article, as contended by the Defendant, as further context for the words complained of.

(ii) Whether the articles imputed to the Claimant sexual grooming from the age of 13 or only after the complainant became an adult.

(iii) Whether the meaning was at Chase level 1 or 2.


(i) The hyperlink was not proper context for the hypothetical ordinary reasonable reader of the online article, nor therefore for its natural and ordinary meaning. The titling of the hyperlinked material signalled to the reader that it was an optional extra, not integral to, or incorporated into, much less required reading for understanding, the story itself.

(ii)/(iii) The natural and ordinary meaning was at Chase level 1 and imputed to the Claimant grooming of the complainant with sexual intent since she was 13 and he was an adult.


The judge did not find the decided cases on hyperlinks, whether internal or external, in social media of particular help in the present case. She observed that it may often be a challenge for a court dealing with social media to draw a line around what the hypothetical reader would absorb by way of essential contextual understanding, because of the “fragmentary, fluid and conversational quality of the medium”. The cases regarding hyperlinks could not be read directly across to edited mainstream journalism.

On Chase level, the Judge observed that, although the Claimant’s protestations were reported, the reader was not led to take them at face value. The articles failed to convey open-mindedness or a balanced perspective. They went beyond a report of ‘smoke’ to a distinct imputation of underlying ‘fire’.