The claimant (“C”) was William Alexander Spicer, described in the Particulars of Claim as a respectable and widely-liked young man. The defendant (“D”) was the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.
D was sued over an article published on 26 January 2017 at the news website for the Metropolitan Police www.news.met.police.uk (“the Article”).
The Article was headed “Two guilty of killing a woman while racing their cars”. In the body of the Article, the reader was told that C was one of the two racers, and that he had been found guilty by a jury. But the reader was also told that whilst both men had faced a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, as well as one of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, C had been acquitted of both those charges, and convicted of careless driving.
It was the other man, Farid Reza, who was convicted of causing death and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. Reza was sentenced to five years and three months’ imprisonment for the killing and three years’ concurrent for the serious injury, as well as being disqualified from driving. C, it was reported, was fined £1,000, given nine penalty points, and ordered to pay costs of £500.
C complained that he had been libelled by the Article including in the meaning that he and Mr Reza had been found guilty by a jury of unlawfully killing a young woman pedestrian. D contended that the Article did not bear any meaning as to a finding by a jury of C’s guilt, but that it meant that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that C had been involved in racing his car against another vehicle, and that the other vehicle had struck a young woman who was killed.
An order was made by Master Kay QC that there be tried as a preliminary issue “the question of what meaning the words in the publication complained of at paragraph 5 of the Particulars of Claim bear of the claimant.”