C was a friend of Sir Ian Blair, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. D, the publisher of the Daily Mail, published an article in the newspaper and online entitled “Met Boss in new ‘Cash for a friend’ storm”. C sued for libel.
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 sought a ruling that the words complained of were incapable of bearing either or those meanings, or any meaning capable of being defamatory of C. Eady J heard the application and struck out both of C’s original meanings.
However, 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 Judge alone, D applied for the meaning of the words to be tried as a preliminary issue. Tugendhat J held in November 2011 that (1) the words complained of meant that there were (at the date of publication) reasonable grounds to suspect that C was a willing beneficiary of improper conduct and cronyism because of his friendship with Sir Ian Blair in respect of the award of a number of Metropolitan Police Service contracts to Mr Miller’s company worth millions of pounds of public money and (2) that meaning was defamatory of Mr Miller.
D amended its Defence to add an abuse of process argument on the basis that the meaning found by Tugendhat J was one of which C had not chosen to complain, and that the action involved costs disproportionate to any legitimate aim.
The issues of justification, abuse of process and damages were tried by Sharp J on 21 to 25 May 2012.