Full case report

Miller v Associated Newspapers Ltd

Reference [2003] EWHC 2799 (QB); [2004] EMLR 698
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 11 Nov 2003


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Reynolds qualified privilege – application to strike out defence of privilege- alternatively for summary judgment – whether the law as to qualified privilege was in a state of flux


Facts

The Claimant, a Detective Chief Inspector, sued the Defendant in respect of articles published in the Daily Mail and Evening Standard on 11 September 2001. These reported on an internal police investigation into the allegations of sexual assault made by Nadine Milroy Sloan against Neil and Christine Hamilton, which led to the Hamiltons’ arrest. It was said that the report found the Hamiltons should never have been arrested, and the investigation was a fiasco. It was said that the Claimant led that investigation. The article also mentioned an earlier investigation into the alleged rape of a 17 year old woman known as Miss B, stating that this had been thrown out by a judge on the basis the investigation was “grossly incompetent”, and that the Claimant was facing disciplinary charges over it. The Defendants pleaded defence was Reynolds qualified privilege.


Issue

Whether the defence of qualified privilege should be struck out and/or summary judgment entered for the Claimant on this issue.


Held

(1) The plea would be struck out as untenable. Taking the facts to be true for the purposes of the application, and considering them in light of the the ten criteria set out by Lord Nicholls in Reynolds v Times Newspapers [2001] 2 AC 127 there was no duty to publish the article to the world at large. The articles were based on an incomplete and secondhand account of a confidential interim report with the status of a work in progress. There was no urgency to publish at a time when a criminal investigation into Ms Milroy Sloan’s allegations was underway. Such matters militated strongly against privilege. Furthermore. minimal steps were taken to verify the information and neither the Metropolitan Police or the Claimant was approached for comment.
(2) It was not correct to characterise the law as to qualified privilege as being in a state of flux which would justify not striking out the plea: E (A Minor) v Dorset County Council [1995] 2 AC 233 distinguished.


Comment

The most interesting aspect of the decision is its focus on the doctrine, well-established before the House of Lords’ decision in Reynolds, that there would rarely be a privilege available in respect of the publication of allegations into which an official enquiry was currently under way. The judge recalled not only Blackshaw v Lord (1984) but also Purcell v Sowler (1877), both of which stand for the proposition that the public interest is not served by the premature attribution of blame to specific individuals. The decision suggests that the media should be wary of publishing leaks about forthcoming reports, critical of individuals or companies. They will usually need to be prepared to justify such articles.


Instructing Solicitors

Carter Ruck for the Claimant. Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Defendant