C was a member of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), who was working in its extradition unit in 2006. D was the publisher of the Times and Sunday Times newspapers. C’s action for libel arose from an article by Michael Gillard published in The Times on 2 June 2006 under the headline “Detective accused of taking bribes from Russian exiles”. The sub-heading read “Police are investigating the alleged sale to a security company of intelligence on the Kremlin’s attempts to extradite opponents of President Putin”. The article appeared in print and online on the Times website, Timesonline.
C issued proceedings on 31 May 2007, D advancing defences of Reynolds (public interest) privilege and justification. At first instance, Tugendhat J upheld the Reynolds defence in respect of the print version and in respect of the publication on the website up to 5 September 2007 ( EMLR 8). There were appeals to the Court of Appeal, which reversed Tugendhat J on the success of the Reynolds defence ( 1WLR 153), and then to the Supreme Court, which restored Tugendhat J’s judgment and held that publications up to 5 September 2007 were protected by Reynolds privilege ( 2 AC 273).
Following correspondence from a journalist employed by D, the MPS’s Directorate of Professional Standards started an investigation into C. This concluded that there was no evidence to show that C was the detective identified in the article, or that he had done anything wrong. Michael Gillard was informed of the outcome in a letter dated 4 September 2007. There was no update to the website to report the outcome until 21 October 2009, the only alteration before this being a legal warning which read “This article is subject to a legal complaint.” The update made in October 2009 included a report of the outcome of the MPS investigation into C
In July 2013, the parties sought a ruling on the meaning of the article. Tugendhat J’s ruling determined that the meaning was
“that there were, and at the date of publication of the article online complained of there continued to be, strong grounds to believe that the claimant: had abused his position as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit by corruptly accepting £20,000 in bribes from some of Russia’s most wanted suspected criminals in return for selling to them highly confidential Home Office and police intelligence about attempts to extradite them to Russia to face criminal charges; had thereby committed an appalling breach of duty and betrayal of trust; and had thereby also committed a very serious criminal offence”
D then abandoned its defence of justification and, with no defence remaining, it was for the Court to assess damages in respect of the publication of the article on Timesonline from 5 September 2007 until about 21 October 2009.