Convicted murderer’s libel action fails

Claim struck out as an abuse of process

A man serving a 22 year minimum sentence for the murder of a woman during an armed robbery has had his libel claim struck out.

Peter Williams issued a claim in relation to an article published in the Daily Mirror in August 2007 in which he alleged he had been identified as a police informant and as a ‘henchman’ of another convicted criminal, Colin Gunn.

MGN, the publisher of the Daily Mirror, applied to have the claim struck out on the grounds that the police informant allegation was not capable of being defamatory and that any claim based on the henchman meaning would be an abuse of process as the Claimant would be unable to show that a ‘real and substantial’ tort had been committed as required under the principles identified by the Court of Appeal in Jameel (Yousef) v Dow Jones Inc [2005] QB 946. In addition, MGN sought summary judgment on the issue of limitation, arguing that the entire claim was time-barred.

Mr Justice Eady held that it was plain from the authorities that as a matter of public policy the allegation that Mr Williams was a “grass” was incapable, in the present context, of bearing a defamatory meaning.

Eady J also upheld the application based on abuse of process, stating: “I have come to the conclusion that this is one of those cases where it is right for the court to rule, having regard to the claimant’s background and serious criminal convictions, that it would be inappropriate to regard the article in the Daily Mirror and its references to him as constituting a ‘real and substantial tort'”

On the limitation issue, Eady J ruled that the claim was clearly brought out of time, and there was no reason why the court would exercise its powers under s32A of the Limitation Act 1980 to disapply the limitation period.

5RB‘s Victoria Jolliffe (instructed by Davenport Lyons) acted for the Defendant.

Click here for the case report and full judgment.