Judge rules court report articles 'not for the public benefit' and malicious
Irfan Qadir, a former Bank of Scotland Director, who sued over two articles which appeared in the Mail on Sunday, has successfully seen off the newspaper’s attempts to rely on various grounds of privilege.
The newspaper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers, defended the first article, “Bank of Scotland Director ‘drove us out with dogs’”, on the basis that it was a report of particulars of claim filed at court and protected by privilege. The article included allegations that in 2003 Mr Qadir had threatened and intimidated three businessmen into signing over their shares in the company that owned The Penthouse nightclub in London’s Leicester Square, as well as having engaged in other undesirable and criminal behaviour.
A second later article, “Top Banker named in mortgage fraud case”, reported defamatory allegations about Qadir that had been made by a defence barrister during the course of a sentencing hearing in an unconnected case described by the newspaper as ‘Britain’s biggest mortgage fraud’.
At the High Court on Friday, Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed the newspaper’s privilege defences. Rejecting the newspaper’s arguments, whilst the article was a fair and accurate extract from the particulars of claim filed in the Penthouse case, he held that the first article could not be said to be ‘of public concern’ and for the ‘public benefit’. The article had failed to make any mention of the Defence that Qadir had filed at court, in which he denied the allegations made by the three businessmen.
In respect of the second article, the Judge found that the failure to include the sentencing judge’s remarks during the hearing challenging the allegations made by the defence barrister meant that the article was “seriously unbalanced” and was not a “fair and accurate report” of the proceedings.
The Judge also found that continued publication of the earlier article online was malicious once the newspaper became positively aware of the existence of Qadir’s Defence. He held that the article should have been corrected to make clear that Qadir had filed a Defence denying all the allegations made against him in that action.
As regards the later article, the Judge held that the newspaper had acted maliciously by publishing it in the form it did because the journalist was aware of the remarks of the sentencing judge. The deliberate omission of these remarks in the article meant that the article was known to give a false impression of the hearing.
William Bennett was instructed for the Claimant by Hamlins LLP. Mark Warby QC and Adam Speker appeared for the Defendant, instructed by Taylor Wessing LLP.
As reported here, the Mail on Sunday later publicly apologised to Mr Qadir for the allegations made against him in the articles complained of, accepted that the allegations were untrue and paid him substantial damages. Furthermore, as reported here, the original makers of the allegations also withdrew them, accepted their falsity and apologised to Mr Qadir.