Roberts & Another v Gable & others (QBD)
Reference:  EWHC 1025 (QB);  EMLR 692
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 12 May 2006
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Qualified privilege - Reynolds privilege - Dispute between members of political party - Allegations of commission of criminal offences - Reportage
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Instructing Solicitors: Osmond & Osmond for the Claimants; Kosky Seal for the Defendants
The Cs were active members of the British National Party (“BNP”). Both stood as candidates in the 2005 general election. They complained of an article in Searchlight magazine’s October 2003 edition, published by D3, Searchlight Magazine Ltd, and edited by D2, Mr Silver. The article was written by Mr Gerry Gable, D1. It was headed “BNP London row rumbles on” and appeared to be part of a series of articles intermittently covering what was described as a “feud” between different factions of the BNP in the London area. Cs complained that the article meant that C1 had (i) stolen money collected at a BNP rally, and (ii) not returned it until threatened with being reported to the police, and (iii) that both Cs had threatened to kneecap, torture and kill 2 other BNP members and their families and (iv) that both Cs might be subject to police investigation. The Ds pleaded justification and alternatively the reportage variety of Reynolds privilege.
Finding the publication privileged; there is a duty upon political commentators to cover the goings-on in political parties, including disputes, fully and impartially. There is a corresponding legitimate interest in the public to have such information available. Readers of the words complained of would be well aware that D1 was merely reporting the conflicting positions rather than taking sides with either. They could hardly conclude that he had been present as an eye-witness and would, therefore, realise that he was not in a position to espouse one version or the other. It would be of interest to the reader that the allegations of criminal offences were being made by BNP factions against each other, and not necessarily their truth or falsity. These were allegations they were entitled to know about, in the context of a party presenting itself before the electorate, and especially so since the allegations against the BNP members now making the allegations had been reported.
Reynolds privilege is sometimes said to be a great defence in theory but one that all too often fails on the facts: media defendants will be reassured to see this case bucking the trend. This was not however a ‘standard’ Reynolds plea, but rather one of reportage under Al-Fagih. Eady J noted that Lord Nicholls’ ten non-exhaustive tests set out in Reynolds are not a good fit for this type of case, although he nonetheless applied them so far as possible. He also noted that the reportage defence in this case was stronger than that in Al-Fagih itself, as the dispute in that case was rather more remote to the public in this jurisdiction.