Reference:  EWHC 1495 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sir Charles Gray (Sitting as a Judge of the High Court)
Date of judgment: 2 Jul 2009
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Meaning - Qualified privilege - Justification - Fair Comment - Damages
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Jacob Dean (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Carter-Ruck for the Defendant; Ford and Warren for the Claimant
C, a former director of Leeds United Football Club, sued D, the current Chairman of that club, for libel over comments published in progamme notes for the club’s home games and a letter to club members. D defended the case on the interlocking bases of meaning, qualified privilege, justification and fair comment. There was no plea of malice. The case was tried by Sir Charles Gray, sitting, without a jury, as a Judge of the High Court.
(1) Whether any of the publications were made on an occasion of qualified privilege;
(2) Whether the defamatory allegations made in the publications were, in their correct meaning, true;
(3) Whether the allegations were protected by fair comment;
(1) The claim to privilege succeeded in relation to the letter but not the programme notes, given the width of publication.
(2) On the facts the allegations were not justified.
(3) The allegations were largely in the nature of comment, but there was not a sufficient substratum of fact for the comment to be defensible.
(4) C was awarded £50,000 in total.
The case is interesting for the fact that although the Judge found that the words were largely comment and that the view expressed was one which could have been held by an honest person, there was nevertheless an insufficient substratum of fact for the defence of comment to succeed.