Reference:  EWHC 2677 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Tugendhat J
Date of judgment: 11 Nov 2011
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Trial of Preliminary Issue on Meaning - Whether words complained of are defamatory - The actual meaning of the words complained of
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Appearances: Adam Speker KC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Simons Muirhead Burton for the Claimant; RPC for the Defendant
C, a friend of Sir Ian Blair, sued D, the publisher of the Daily Mail, over an article published in the newspaper and online entitled “Met Boss in new ‘Cash for a friend’ storm”.
C originally complained that the article would be understood to bear two defamatory meanings: that he had corruptly exploited his friendship with Sir Ian Blair to obtain an improper payment of a five-figure sum from public funds; and that he had, on behalf of his company, agreed to act as Sir Ian Blair’s image consultant under a ‘vanity contract’ knowing that his company had no relevant knowledge or experience, thus improperly obtaining payment for work that his company was not competent to carry out. D issued an application for a ruling as to whether the words complained of were capable of bearing either or both of those meanings, or any meaning capable of being defamatory of C. Eady J heard the application and struck out both of Cs meanings.
C amended to plead that the words complained of meant that he was a willing beneficiary of cronyism in relation to the vanity contract only. D pleaded in its defence that the words were not defamatory but if they were then they meant no more than that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that C was a willing beneficiary of cronyism in relation to the vanity contract and also the other contracts referred to in the article.
After the parties agreed the case would be heard by a Judge sitting without a jury D issued an application for a trial on the preliminary issue of whether the words complained of bear any, and if so, what meaning or meanings defamatory of C.
Whether the words complained of bore any, and if so what, meaning or meanings defamatory of C
The words were defamatory of C but did not bear the Chase level 1 meaning contended for by C. At their highest they meant there were reasonable grounds to suspect that C was a willing beneficiary of cronyism. Moreover, the words bore D’s lower meaning in relation to the other contracts, as well as the vanity contract.
The case contains a useful discussion on defamatory allegations relating to business and friendship. The trial of the remaining issues is set down for May 2012.