Wood v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police

Reference: [2003] EWHC 2971 (QB), [2004] EMLR 310

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Tugendhat J

Date of judgment: 8 Dec 2003

Summary: Defamation - Libel - qualified privilege - summary judgment - privilege of a police officer to warn the clients of an unconvicted defendant not to trade with his business

Appearances: Adrienne Page KC - Leading Counsel (Claimant) 

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


H was in business with the Claimant, W. They traded as VSG. H was arrested and charged for handling stolen motor vehicles. The offences alleged did not concern VSG. Prior to the criminal trial, the investigating officer wrote to clients of VSG and advised them to cease trading with it because it was a cover for criminal activity. W sued in libel because the letter implicated him in the criminal activity ascribed to VSG.


Whether the communications of the police officer to clients of VSG were published on occasions of qualified privilege.


Granting summary judgment to the Claimant. Such communications were not privileged. Privilege would only arise for the purpose of, and to the extent necessary for, performance of the police force’s public duty or enabling some other public body to perform its public duty: R v Chief Constable of North Wales ex p Thorpe [1999] QB 396 applied.


This judgment is interesting because it partly relies upon well known public law cases concerning to what extent the police are permitted to disclose information about convicted persons, particularly paedophiles. However, its particular importance in regard to the police is somewhat limited because, since the publication complained of in 1999, the government has introduced a number of laws and guidelines governing under what circumstances the police may disclose such information.