Preliminary Issues judgment in Bridgen v Hancock

The High Court has given judgment on preliminary issues in a libel claim brought by Andrew Bridgen (a former Conservative MP, now standing as an independent candidate) against Matt Hancock (also a former Conservative MP and former health minister) concerning a Tweet published on 11 January 2023.  The Tweet referred to a “sitting MP” but did not name Mr Bridgen. The Court has previously held that Mr Bridgen must make out a case on “reference innuendo” in order to establish that he was the MP referred to. The trial of preliminary issues was conducted on the assumption that he will succeed in doing so at the full trial.

In a judgment handed down on 24 June 2024, Mrs Justice Collins Rice held that the Tweet bore the following natural and ordinary meaning:

An unnamed MP had said something that morning related to vaccination which was baseless, unscientific, dangerous and offensive, including because its character was antisemitic.”

She held that the underlined words were a statement of fact but that the remainder of the meaning had been conveyed by way of an expression of opinion. It was common ground that the Tweet gave a sufficient indication of the basis of the opinion, namely what the sitting MP had said that morning. It was also agreed that the Tweet was defamatory at common law.

The Court will now give directions for the progress of the action.

5RB’s Aidan Eardley KC acts for the Defendant, instructed by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP.

The judgment is available here.