Meaning decision in claim over Police news article

Mr Justice Warby has handed down judgment on meaning as a preliminary issue in a claim brought against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

The Commissioner was sued by the Claimant, William Spicer, over an article published on 26 January 2017 at the news website for the Metropolitan Police, which was headed “Two guilty of killing a woman while racing their cars”. The article reported the outcome of a criminal trial in which two men were charged with driving offences in relation to an accident which resulted in the death of a young woman and serious injury to a child. It went on to say 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, the Claimant had been acquitted of both those charges, and convicted of careless driving.

The main issue which was resolved by the Court was whether the headline encapsulated the meaning of the article, when it was read as a whole. The answer was that it did not. The Court considered the effect of the principles which apply to reading defamatory headlines in their context, derived from the well-known case of Charleston v News Group Newspapers Ltd [1995] 2 AC 65. The decision is a striking example of how they work in practice.

Gervase de Wilde of 5RB, instructed by the Legal Directorate, Metropolitan Police Service, acted for the Defendant at trial.