Niall Horan v Express Newspapers
Reference:  EWHC 3550
Court: High Court Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Mr Justice Dingemans
Date of judgment: 7 Dec 2015
Summary: libel - meaning - capability - CPR Part 53 PD 4.1(1)
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Jacob Dean (Claimant)
Christina Michalos QC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Lee & Thompson for the Claimant. Express Newspaper for the Defendant
Niall Horan of the boyband One Direction sued Express Newspapers over an article in the Daily Star entitled “1D NEW DRUG STORM”. The article featured a photograph of him with Justin Bieber and Cody Simpson close to what was described as a “Breaking Bad-style drugs pipe”. Horan complained that the article bore the defamatory meaning that during an evening spent with Justin Bieber and Cody Simpson he had used hard drugs, namely crystal meth or crack. The Express applied pursuant to CPR 53 PD 4.1(1) for a ruling that the words complained of were not capable of bearing the pleaded meaning.
(1) Should the application be treated as if it were a preliminary issue on meaning?
(2) Were the words capable of bearing the pleaded meaning?
(3) Were the words capable of bearing any other meaning defamatory of the Claimant?
(1) Although there are many advantages in determining the actual meaning of published words by way of preliminary issue it was not appropriate in the circumstances of this case.
(2) The words were capable of bearing the pleaded meaning.
(3) The words were also capable of bearing the lesser meanings that there were reasonable grounds to suspect or reasonable grounds to investigate whether the Claimant had been guilty of the misconduct referred to in the pleaded meaning.
The fact that the Judge was not willing to treat an application issued pursuant to CPR 53 PD 4 as a preliminary issue on meaning demonstrates that a party who wishes such an issue to be determined needs to make an application for an order to that effect.