Johnson v MGN Ltd

Reference: [2009] EWHC 1481 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Eady J

Date of judgment: 24 Jun 2009

Summary: Libel - Meaning - Innuendo - CPR 53, PD 4.1 - Whether words capable of bearing pleaded defamatory meanings

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Appearances: David Sherborne (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Teacher Stern for J; Davenport Lyons for M


C, a footballer, brought a libel claim in respect of a newspaper article which C alleged carried the meaning that C had lied about the true reason for missing a football match, and by innuendo meant that C had breached Premier League Rules prohibiting undisclosed or unauthorised approaches by a player to another football club during the currency of his contract. D applied for a ruling under CPR 53 PD 4.1 to the effect that the words were not capable of bearing the pleaded meanings.


Whether the words were capable of bearing the pleaded meanings.


Dismissing the application:

The allegations could cause considerable damage to a player’s reputation depending on the context. The category of readers who would have had the relevant facts at their fingertips in order to draw the pleaded innuendo meaning was “very small indeed” but the innuendo meaning should not withdrawn from the jury. As to the natural and ordinary meaning: the article was ambiguous and allowance should therefore be made in favour of C. There was no justification in ruling that no reasonable reader could understand the words in the sense already pleaded on C’s behalf. The words were capable of bearing some defamatory meaning.


The judgment highlights the danger of attempting to strike out meanings where the words complained of are ambiguous; see also Lowe v Associated Newspapers Ltd.