Summary judgment for ex-MP

Election campaign newsletter claim succeeds

Nigel Waterson, who was shadow Minister for Pensions in the last Parliament has obtained summary judgment in his defamation action based on the leaflets distributed by his successor at the 2010 General Election.

During the run up to the 2010 General Election, the Eastbourne Liberal Democrats distributed a number of campaign newsletters designed to look like local newspapers in the constituency. One newsletter, calling itself ‘The Sussex Courier’ referred to Mr Waterson as an ‘Expenses Scandal MP’ in dramatic front page headlines. An internal article and a later newsletter made the same allegation. A letter of complaint sent during the election campaign was brushed off by the Liberal Democrats. After the election Mr Waterson brought a libel claim against Stephen Lloyd MP, who won Eastbourne in May 2010 and his election agent, who was responsible for campaign literature, in order to vindicate his reputation.

Mr Waterson issued an application for summary judgment in relation to the pleaded defence of honest comment on the basis that the allegation was a verifiable allegation of fact in the circumstances of publication, not a comment. Three investigations, including a retrospective assessment of all MPs’ expenses claims by Sir Thomas Legg, a retired senior civil servant, had found Mr Waterson’s clains to be above board—matters which the publishers did not refer to in their literature. Mr Lloyd and his agent cross-applied for summary judgment on the basis that the publications meant that Mr Waterson’s claims, without breaching any rule, were scandalous and that the publications bore that meaning. Mr Waterson argued in response that the issue of selective omission of material facts were relevant to the honesty of any opinion and that the meaning linked Mr Waterson to the wider MPs’ expenses scandal rather than considering his expenses claims in isolation.

Mr Waterson will be entitled to have damages assessed in relation to the campaign newsletters in due course.

This was at least the third defamation claim arising out of the MPs’ expenses scandal and the second legal action relating to allegations made in relation to campaign literature at the 2010 General Election.

Mr Waterson was represented by 5RB’Desmond Browne QC and David Hirst, instructed by Irwin Mitchell LLP.

A 5RB case report is available here.

• BBC News Sussex report.

‘Expenses scandal’ election leaflet ruled defamatoryGuardian