BNP candidates lose libel claim

Eady J upholds Reynolds defence for political reportage

Two British National Party general election candidates have today lost their libel action over an article published in anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. Eady J held that the article was privileged under the doctrine of reportage established in Al-Fagih v HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) Ltd.

Brothers Christopher and Barry Roberts stood for the BNP in the 2005 general election (Barry having also been a candidate in the 2001 general election and Christopher having stood in the European Parliament elections in June 2004). T

he Roberts brothers complained of an article in the October 2003 issue of Searchlight which focused on a dispute between various factions of the BNP in London. They claimed that the article alleged that Christopher had (i) stolen money collected at a BNP rally, and (ii) not returned it until threatened with being reported to the police, and (iii) that both of them had threatened to kneecap, torture and kill two other BNP members and their families and (iv) that they both might be the subject of a police investigation. 

A libel action was commenced against Gerry Gable, the author of an article in Searchlight, and the magazine’s editor and publishers. The defence was that the article was true, or alternatively that it was protected under the reportage strand of Reynolds privilege.

Whether the article was privileged as ‘reportage’ under Al-Fagih, which allows for the neutral reporting of disputes without liability for repeating allegations, was tried as a preliminary issue. Upholding the privilege, Eady J said:

“What would be of interest to the reader would be the fact that the allegations and cross-allegations of criminal offences were being made by BNP factions against each other, and ‘not necessarily [their] truth or falsity’ (to echo the words of Latham LJ). It seems to me that these were allegations they were entitled to know about, in the context of a party presenting itself before the electorate of London, and especially so since the allegations against Messrs Hill and Jeffries had already been reported.”

The brothers were ordered to pay the Defendants’ costs and to pay £25,000 on account of those costs within 28 days.

Click here for the 5RB case report and the full judgment.