Full case report

Tiscali UK Ltd v British Telecommunications Plc

Reference [2008] EWHC 2927 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 1 Dec 2008


Summary

Libel – Meaning – Innuendo – Whether words capable of bearing defamatory meanings


Facts

BT sent a letters to many of T’s broadband customers in an attempt to persuade them to change to BT’s service, referencing a possible takeover of T and indicating that that might affect the recipients’ broadband service. The recipients were invited to visit a page on BT’s website containing a similar message.

T sued, alleging that the letter and page on the website were libellous. It relied, not only on the natural and ordinary meaning of the words, but also on an innuendo that T had been guilty of a lack of honesty and candour towards its customers by failing to warn them that the continuity and/or reliability of their broadband
service was potentially in jeopardy if T was sold.

BT applied to strike out the defamation claim, on the basis that it would be perverse for a jury to find that the words bore the pleaded defamatory meaning, or any meaning defamatory of T.


Issue

Whether the words were capable of bearing a meaning defamatory of T.


Held

Striking out the defamation claim; it would be perverse for a jury to find the words bore the meaning that T had been dishonest or in breach of any duty to its customers, even with knowledge of the background circumstances referred to in the alternative innuendo meaning.


Comment

It appears that the precise identity and nature of the Claimant was particularly significant. the Judge held that the reference to a ‘plot’ in the headline, on which the Claimant placed particular emphasis, would be understood as a reference to a human being rather than a corporation and so was not of assistance to the Claimant in their attempt to derive a defamatory meaning from the letters.


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Instructing Solicitors

Schillings for Tiscali; in-house for BT