Meaning ruling in Grenfell libel claim

Mr Justice Warby has handed down judgment on meaning in a libel claim brought by Mark Allen against the publishers of The Times.

The claim arises from an article published in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The article reported that the Claimant, an architect employed by a company involved in the manufacture of cladding used on Grenfell, is a member of a committee which advises the government on building regulations (the “BRAC”).

Warby J found that the article did not bear either of the meanings advanced by the Claimant or by the Defendant. Instead he found that the article meant that:

The claimant misconducted himself by remaining on the BRAC when it discussed the Grenfell Tower fire the week before the Article: by doing so despite the facts that (a) he was a senior executive and technical director of the company that made the Celotex insulation boards, which (b) were fitted to the Tower, (c) had proved on investigation to be highly flammable, and thus come under reasonable suspicion of being implicated in the spread of the fire, and (d) been withdrawn from sale, he placed himself in a situation of conflict of interest.

The judgment will be of interest to practitioners for the discussion of the legal principles to be applied when the Court determines a natural and ordinary meaning different to that advanced by either of the parties in their pleaded cases. In particular, the judgment gives important consideration to whether the Court is entitled to find a meaning more injurious to the claimant than that set out in his pleaded case (see paragraphs [40]-[55]).

Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, who is joining 5RB on 3rd June 2019, along with six other members of One Brick Court, acted for Times Newspapers Limited at trial.