The Claimant was the former Treasurer of the Conservative Party. On 15 March 2012 he had been made the subject of subterfuge and covert 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. He brought claims for libel and malicious falsehood. The pleaded meanings for both actions were:
(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.
(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.
In relation to the libel claim, the Defendants relied on a defence of justification contending that the articles were true in the meanings:
(1) That what the Claimant said in the course of a meeting on 15 March 2012, as co-Treasurer and Board member of the Conservative Party, in claiming:
(a) that the Conservative Party would accept large donations from persons whose sole purpose in making the donations was to advance their business interests by obtaining direct access to the Prime Minister, by lobbying on policy areas affecting their business and by moving in circles where they would pick up useful intelligence to progress their business strategy;
(b) that in return for six-figure donations, such persons would be able to achieve that purpose in the ways they wanted; and
(c) that in return for donations of £250,000 a year, they would obtain special access to the Prime Minister and senior governments ministers, would get noticed and be taken really seriously, would be able to operate at a higher level within the Party (and, thus, the Government) and would have things open up for them;
was inappropriate, unacceptable and wrong and gave rise to an impression of impropriety.
(2) That the Claimant, when faced with the prospect of donations being made to the Conservative Party from an overseas fund (which was not itself eligible to make donations under the relevant law), was prepared to contemplate ways in which donations from that source could be made to the Party, namely;
(a) Through using a legal loophole that would permit a UK company, carrying on business within the jurisdiction, to make donations from such a source; or
(b) By having individuals on the UK electoral register make donations in their own name;
even though the use of either route would result in the concealment of the true source of the donation, contrary to the spirit of the law which was intended to ensure that the source of any donation over £7,500 would be made public.
In the alternative, the Defendants contended that the words complained were true in substantially the meaning pleaded by the Claimant in (1) above.
In relation to the malicious falsehood claim, the Defendants denied malice, relied upon their justification defence to rebut falsity and contended that the publication was not likely to cause the Claimant pecuniary damage within s.3 Defamation Act 1952.