C was a police officer and D was the publisher of The Times newspaper. The hearing was a trial of meaning as a preliminary issue and of C’s application for permission to amend his Particulars of Claim. Permission to amend was given at the conclusion of the hearing itself.
The article complained of was entitled “Detective Accused of Taking Bribes from Russian Exiles”, and was first published in The Times on 2 June 2006 and thereafter on the newspaper’s website. Proceedings were issued, and D advanced two defences: a Reynolds defence and justification.
In 2007 the Metropolitan Police Service concluded an investigation into the Claimant which was accepted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, finding no evidence that C was guilty of the conduct alleged by the article. D was notified of the outcome on 4 September 2007. The article carried the qualification that “this article is subject to a legal complaint”, but no further article, or update to the original reporting the outcome of the IPCC investigation, was published until October 2009.
The Reynolds defence was tried as a preliminary issue before Tugendhat J in July 2009 and judgment was handed down on 16 October 2009 ( EMLR 8). The J held that the Reynolds defence succeeded in relation to the print edition, and in relation to the website until 5 September 2007, but it failed in respect of later publications on the website.
Both parties appealed to the Court of Appeal, where C succeeded, the J’s judgment on the availability of Reynolds privilege pre-5 September 2007 being reversed, and D failed, the CA upholding the J to the effect that the privilege was not available post-5 September 2007 ( 1 WLR 153).
D appealed to the Supreme Court, which restored the J’s judgment, holding that the publications up to 5 September 2007 were protected by Reynolds privilege ( 2 AC 273). D withdrew its appeal on the post-5 September 2007 publication.
C’s claim was therefore confined to publications on D’s website from 5 September 2007 to October 2009.
C attributed to the article the meaning that there were, and at the date of publication of the article online complained of there continued to be, strong grounds to believe, or alternatively that there were reasonable grounds to suspect, 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.
C pleaded that the allegation of commission of a very serious offence was an innuendo meaning, and pleaded in support of it that where a person who is employed to perform a public duty takes a bribe to act corruptly in discharging that duty he commits a criminal offence under common law.
D sought to justify a meaning that the claimant was the subject of an internal police investigation; and that there were grounds which objectively justified a police investigation into whether the claimant received payment in return for passing confidential information about Russia’s possible plans to extradite Russian oligarchs.