Ferguson v Associated Newspapers Limited
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 15 Mar 2002
Summary: Defamation - Libel - football manager - summary disposal - section 8 Defamation Act 1996 - defamatory meaning - summary relief - quantum of damages
Instructing Solicitors: Stock Fraser Cukier for the Defendant
The claimant, manager of Manchester United, complained of an Evening Standard article which made admittedly false allegations to the effect that he had demanded money for TV interviews. The defendant applied for summary disposal under section 8 of the Defamation Act 1996 on the grounds that either the article was not defamatory and judgment should be entered for the defendant; or if it was defamatory then summary relief under s9 of the Act was sufficient. The claimant maintained that the article was defamatory and meant that he was greedy and mercenary. He contended that summary relief would be inadequate.
(1) Whether the words complained of were defamatory of the claimant.
(2) If so, what was their meaning, would summary relief suffice, and what relief should be granted?
The words were defamatory, but in a less grave meaning than the one complained of. They were an accusation of cupidity, meaning something less than greedy or mercenary. Summary relief was sufficient. No apology would be ordered, as a correction had already been published, time had passed, and the allegation was not a grave one. The appropriate award was £7,500.
Gray J had misgivings about the propriety of a judge rather than a jury deciding what the words meant, even though that had been done by Sir Oliver Popplewell in Milne v Telegraph Group  EMLR 760, and by Gray J himself in Gillick v Brook Advisory Centres (12 Mar 2002), on summary disposal applications. Sir Alex’s advisers may not have harboured such doubts; Sir Alex accepted the court could decide meaning. The second point of interest is the level of damages. These were larger than they would have been, said the judge, because it was inappropriate to order an apology. Still, they were modest. In a case where he considered the libel “not a grave one” the judge found the comparison with personal injury damages for serious fractures of the nose (£5,252) a “telling” one. This will have been a disappointing result for Sir Alex, as the decision carried with it the costs of the summary disposal hearing.