Claimant succeeds on slander preliminary issues

Court rules in claimant's favour on key parts of case

Judgment has been given on preliminary issues in a slander claim between former business partners, by HHJ Richard Parkes QC, sitting as a High Court Judge in the Winchester District Registry of the High Court. At an unusual three day trial of the issues of publication, meaning, serious harm, and actionability per se, judgment was given in favour of the Claimant, Jamie Hodges, in his claim against the Defendant, Christopher Naish. Mr Hodges also succeeded in an application to disapply the limitation period in respect of one of the three publications sued on.

Mr Hodges and Mr Naish worked together as friends and colleagues in a business known as Fusion Fighters. The business involved both performance and teaching. When their business relationship and friendship broke down in early 2019, Mr Naish made a series of very serious allegations of wrongdoing about Mr Hodges to their former colleagues, and Mr Hodges complained of slanders published on three occasions.

Mr Hodges’ case was that the allegations in each instance included one of child grooming. This was denied by Mr Naish, who also denied that the statements he made about Mr Hodges caused Mr Hodges serious harm. At an earlier hearing Mr Naish submitted through counsel that he did not in any event put forward any defence of truth in respect of the allegation of child grooming.

At trial, HHJ Parkes QC found that, in respect of the first of the publications, to Elaine Walker, while it was highly likely that Mr Naish made allegations of sexual misconduct on Mr Hodges’ part, he was not able to infer that he used the particular words which were pleaded, absent direct evidence.

In respect of the second of the publications, to John McCullough and Conor Kennedy, he found that the words spoken did include an allegation of child grooming, that the statement bore a meaning which was defamatory at common law, that it was a slander which was actionable per se, and that it had caused serious harm to Mr Hodges’ reputation, notwithstanding that having heard the Mr Hodges’ response, the two publishees did not believe Mr Naish.

In respect of the third of the publications, to Kevin Goble, the Judge reached similar conclusions. He also granted an application to disapply the limitation period in respect of publication to Mr Goble, where Mr Hodges had done his best to pursue his complaint promptly, and always had a genuine wish to pursue vindication.

A 5RB case report can be found here.

Gervase de Wilde of 5RB instructed under direct access, acted for Mr Hodges at the preliminary issues trial.