Donovan v Gibbons

Reference: [2014] EWHC 3406

Court: High Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge: HHJ Judge Parkes QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court)

Date of judgment: 21 Oct 2014

Summary: Ruling on meaning and comment

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Appearances: Jacob Dean (Claimant)  Victoria Jolliffe (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Carter-Ruck for the Claimant, Payne Hicks Beach for the Defendant


The Claimant sold the Defendant a polo pony named Lady Gaga. The Defendant was not happy with the pony. The Defendant arranged for three videos to be posted on YouTube which showed the pony bucking whilst being lunged. Each was captioned: “ Louisa Donovan sold this polo pony as being suitable for children. Downright dangerous and a scandal they get away with this.” The Claimant sued for libel.


Were the words and images allegations of fact or comment and what was their defamatory meaning?


(1) The words and images complained of contained an allegation of fact: that the Claimant sold a dangerous pony as being suitable for children. This was defamatory, falling into the one of the categories of “business defamation” set out by Tugendhat J in Thornton v Telegraph Media Group [2011] 1 WLR 1985 [34].

(2) The words and images imputed knowledge to the Claimant that the pony was dangerous and unsuitable at the point of sale, bearing the meaning that the Claimant recklessly placed the safety of children at risk by selling a dangerous pony as being suitable for use with children when she must have known it was not.


As the claim was issued after 1 January 2014 it did not fall to be tried with a jury, therefore the issues could be decided by the Judge at an early stage, although, as the majority of the publications complained of took place in 2013 the issues were decided under the common law as it existed prior to the Defamation Act 2013.

Shortly after the decision the case settled, with the Claimant securing damages, an apology and the payment of her legal costs. This is another example of the way in which early rulings on meaning, and other issues traditionally the province of the jury, are likely to make libel claims quicker and cheaper.