White v Express Newspapers (Meaning)
Reference:  EWHC 657 (QB)
Court: High Court, Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Tugendhat J
Date of judgment: 18 Mar 2014
Summary: libel - meaning - Chase levels
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Christina Michalos QC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Carruthers Law for C, Express Newspapers for D
This judgment concerns two separate libel actions in respect of the same article, one brought by the well-known snooker player Jimmy White, and the other brought by his friend and fan Mr Callaghan. The Defendant in both actions applied for a determination pursuant to CPR 53 PD para 4.1 that the words complained of were not capable of bearing the meaning pleaded by the Claimants – a meaning pleaded at Chase level 1, attributing actual guilt. The meanings pleaded were that each of the Claimants:
“… had or must have conducted himself dishonestly, was and is or must have been or be corrupt and had been or must have been involved in a gambling scam because Mr Callaghan would only have profited from his betting on the Claimant if he had had inside information from him”.
Tugendhat J invited the parties to agree that the issue of actual meaning be decided as a preliminary issue. Consent was given by both parties to that course of action.
(1) Did the words complained of bear the meaning pleaded by the Claimants?
(2) What defamatory meaning (if any) did the words complained of bear?
The words complained of meant that:
“There are reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Callaghan used insider information communicated to him by Mr White to place winning bets, and so reasonable grounds to suspect that both men acted dishonestly to enable Mr Callaghan to place winning bets.”
Tugendhat J applied the principles on determining meaning as set out in Jeynes v News Magazines Limited  EWCA Civ 130. The words complained of clearly fell short of alleging actual honesty or other wrongdoing. However, they were defamatory of Mr White. A reader would need to be over analytical to consider as a real possibility that if insider information had reached Mr Callaghan which enabled him to dishonestly win bets, then that insider information was not, or might not have been wrongfully disclosed by Mr White.
The defamatory meaning of reasonable grounds to suspect was found to be an allegation of fact.
Whilst largely a straightforward application of the Jeynes principles in which the Defendant succeeded in removing a guilt meaning, it is interesting to note that Tugendhat J rejected as over analytical the argument that the words complained of might not be defamatory of Mr White at all, or ought to bear a lower level of meaning in relation to Mr White than in relation to Mr Callaghan, because any impropriety on the part of Mr Callaghan in using insider information might not necessarily imply any impropriety on the part of Mr White in providing it.
Of particular interest is the costs judgment in this case, reported on the 5RB website here, in which argument centred on what the purpose of this hearing had been.