Oliver v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police (No.2)

Reference: [2004] EWHC 790 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Gray J

Date of judgment: 7 Apr 2004

Summary: Defamation - Libel - Justification - Qualified Privilege - Malice

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Instructing Solicitors: Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners for the Claimant; Crutes for the Defendant


The Claimant was a police inspector who brought this action against his chief constable (the Defendant) in relation to four statements made on the Defendant’s behalf in response to the enquiries of journalists about a murder enquiry, and substantially reproduced on regional television and in regional newspapers. The Defendant relied on qualified privilege, justification and fair comment. At the pre-trial review it was held that the defence of fair comment was not available, but that the Claimant could not realistically resist a finding that the publication was protected by qualified privilege.


(1) Whether the Defendant could justify the truth of words complained of; (2) Whether the Defendant could establish malice so as to defeat the qualified privilege defence.


The Defendant succeeded on the grounds of justification and qualified privilege. The Claimant failed to prove malice. Carelessness of expression in making a defamatory statement does not provides a ground from which malice could inferred(Roberts and another v Bass [2002] 194 ALR 161 followed).


This is an example of the difficulties of proving malice.