The Claimant was the former Treasurer of the Conservative Party. On 15 March 2012 he had been made the subject of subterfuge and covert video recording by the First and Second Defendants (members of the Insight team of The Sunday Times) who posed as potential donors to the Conservative Party.
The Claimant sued on the articles published on 25 March 2012 by the Defendants, bringing claims for libel both and malicious falsehood. The Court ruled that the Articles meant:
(1) in return for cash donations to the Conservative Party, the Claimant corruptly offered for sale the opportunity to influence government policy and gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers (the “cash for access” meaning);
(2) the Claimant made the offer, even though he knew that the money offered for secret meetings was to come, in breach of the ban under UK electoral law, from Middle Eastern investors in a Liechtenstein fund; and
(3) further, in order to circumvent and thereby evade the law, the Claimant was happy that the foreign donors should use deceptive devices, such as creating an artificial UK company to donate the money or using UK employees as conduits, so that the true source of the donation would be concealed.
These meanings were (a) the single meaning of the Articles for the purposes of the claim in libel; and (b) meanings which a substantial number of reasonable readers of the Articles would have understood the words to bear for the purposes of the malicious falsehood claim. In addition, and as affirmed by the Court of Appeal, meaning 1 also had a second, graver variant for the purpose of the malicious falsehood claim (to which the single meaning rule does not apply) in which the allegation of corruption connoted criminal corruption. It was accepted that this second version of meaning 1 was untrue.
The Defendants sought to defend the libel claim with a plea of justification. In relation to the malicious falsehood claim, the Defendants denied malice, relied upon their justification defence to rebut falsity of the allegations (apart from criminal corruption) and contended that the publication was not likely to cause the Claimant pecuniary damage within s.3 Defamation Act 1952.
At trial Tugendhat J found for the Claimant on both the libel and malicious falsehood claims. All three meanings were false. The appropriate sum in libel damages was £180,000 (including £15,000 aggravated damages). Both journalists were found to be malicious on the basis that they knew that the meanings conveyed by the Articles were false and that they had a dominant intention to injury the Claimant. The Claimant met the conditions for s.3 Defamation Act 1952: As an approved person under the Financial Services legislation and regulated by the FSA, the publication of the allegations against the Claimant was likely to cause at least an investigation into the Claimant by the FSA and that the Claimant would have incurred the substantial costs of dealing with that. Given the size of the award for the libel claim, the Judge did not make a separate award for the malicious falsehood claim.
The Defendant appealed.