The words complained of bore a number of general and specific meanings defamatory of C:
The test for coming to a conclusion on either the actual meaning or the scope of possible defamatory meanings was that of the “ordinary reader” Slim v Daily Telegraph Ltd  2 QB 157 considered. This concept was wide enough to embrace, in cases such as the present, the readers of a specialist publication, who were likely to bring a degree of specialist background knowledge to their interpretation.
The words in the Story meant that C had told the police “a pack of lies” about D3’s behaviour at the club offices. That phrase could only convey the imputation that what C had told the police was known by him at the time to be false or exaggerated. Six allegations of specific examples of C’s behaviour towards D3 were also defamatory and characterised as factual rather than the expression of opinion or comment.
The Interview bore the general meaning that the Claimant was responsible for mismanagement, including financial mismanagement. The meanings conveyed by the Interview, both general and specific, were defamatory in that they reflected adversely either upon C’s competence as chairman of Barrow or upon his treatment of other people (in particular, employees and players). These defamatory imputations were factual in nature, rather than comment.
The innuendo meaning
Most readers of the publication would be persons with a specialist interest in and knowledge of rugby league. It was reasonable to suppose that a substantial proportion of those readers would have a good knowledge of the rules governing the sport, including the substance of the rules contained in the Betting Code which prohibited a bet on Jamie Rooney’s performance. Accordingly, C’s pleaded true innuendo meaning was upheld.
Noting that the role of the court did not extend at this stage to commenting on or ruling upon the scope of the D1 and D2’s plea of justification, Sir David Eady went on to consider the commentary in Gatley on Libel & Slander (12th edn) with reference to the rules governing the pleading and justification of legal innuendo meanings by defendants. He made the following (obiter) observations:
- The principle set out in paragraph 3.23 of Gatley was clear: a claimant who could show that the extrinsic facts were known to some of the readers would ex hypothesi have established a defamatory publication to them at least; whereas a defendant who could only show that some of the readers knew the extrinsic facts he prayed in aid would only ever be able to make out a partial defence of justification.
- D1 and D2 therefore had to go further than showing simply that a substantial proportion of readers – as had been pleaded in the amended defence – knew of the substance of the rules contained in the Betting Code. They would at some point have to satisfy the court that all readers had, at least, a general knowledge of the relevant rules.
- Although such a case was not currently pleaded by D1 and D2, it would not be appropriate to rule at this stage that their case of justification of a different innuendo from that complained of by C, as currently formulated, was untenable as a matter of law. The point had not been argued at the hearing.