Reference:  EWHC 250 (QB)
Court: High Court, Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Mr Justice Nicol
Date of judgment: 12 Feb 2016
Summary: Defamation, Meaning, Repetition Rule, Levels of Meaning, Preliminary Issue
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Appearances: Adam Speker KC (Claimant) Adam Wolanski KC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Schillings for C, Times Newspapers Ltd for D
The Claimant complained of articles in the Sunday Times concerning her conduct whilst she was a director of property investment company Hirco. The articles referred to allegations of fraud made by Hirco about the Claimant and members of her family within private arbitration proceedings in Singapore. They also reported similar allegations made by Hirco within civil proceedings in the Isle of Man. The articles contained denials on the part of the Claimant.
- In a case where the words complained of contained hearsay statements, did the repetition rule require the court in assessing meaning to approach the task in two stages: first, to start from the position that the hearsay allegation are to be treated as the statements of the publisher and with no lesser meaning than guilt; and second, to weigh those statements against any denials to decide whether the article as a whole conveyed no more than a reasonable suspicion?
- Alternatively, did the court in such cases have to consider the article as a whole in assessing meaning?
- What meaning did the articles bear: guilt of fraud, or some lesser meaning?
- The Claimant’s approach to assessing meaning was artificial. Stern v Piper  QB 123 was distinguishable on its facts. As was apparent from Shah v Standard Chartered Bank  QB 241 CA, the court was not required to apply the repetition rule to articles which contained hearsay statements. It did not have to apply a two stage test.
- Instead, the court in such cases had to approach the task of determining meaning simply by taking the article as a whole, including any bane and antidote: Jeynes v News Magazines Ltd  EWCA Civ 130 applied.
- This conclusion did not have the effect of rendering substantial parts of the law of qualified privilege otiose. If the court concludes that an article bears a meaning lower than guilt, and the Defendant relies on the defence of truth, it will still have to show that there were, objectively, reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty.
- Having regard to, amongst other things, the denials on the part of the Claimant in the articles, the frequent use of words such as “alleged”, and the fact the Defendant did not adopt the allegations as its own, the articles bore a meaning of “cogent grounds to suspect” fraud, rather than guilt: Charman v Orion Publishing Group Ltd  EWHC 2187 (QB) considered.
The court found that the repetition rule has only a very limited role to play where the court is required to assess meaning. Where articles include references to defamatory allegations made by third parties, the use of words such as ‘alleged’, together with the inclusion of denials, may well have the effect of reducing the level of meaning to one of ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’, or similar.