Sunday Times’ QP defence struck out

Lance Armstrong wins first round in battle over doping allegations

International cycling star, Lance Armstrong, has scored a significant victory over the Sunday Times in his libel battle over an article published in the newspaper in June 2004.


Sitting in the High Court in London, Mr Justice Eady struck out the newspaper’s public interest (“Reynolds”) qualified privilege defence ruling that it had no prospects of success. Separately, he ruled that the newspaper’s contention that the article was merely asking questions about the cyclist’s performance was also bound to fail. The judge said:


… it seems to me that it would be perverse to conclude that the article meant no more than there were some questions needing to be investigated. The defamatory sting about Mr Armstrong obviously goes well beyond that.


Mr Armstrong alleges that the article, published to coincide with publication of a book written by the Sunday Times‘ Chief Sports Writer (and second Defendant) David Walsh, suggested that he was guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. Following the ruling today, the Sunday Times will continue with its defence that the article suggested only that there were reasonable grounds to suspect Armstrong of doping and that such an allegation is true. These rival contentions will be resolved at a jury trial next year.


The dismissal of a second Reynolds defence in a month has wider ramifications for the media. Whilst accepting that the issue of drugs in sport was a matter of public interest, the Judge ruled that the Sunday Times was not under a duty to publish specific allegations about Lance Armstrong without giving him a proper opportunity to respond to them. Like Galloway, Eady J found that the failure to put allegations to a Claimant was a significant contributing factor in the refusal of Reynolds protection.


In a separate move, the Sunday Times applied for a costs-capping order following the encouragement of their greater use by the Court of Appeal in Musa King. However, Eady J refused to make any such order, ruling that where the Claimant was wealthy and not on a CFA, the Defendants were adequately protected by retrospective assessment of costs at the end of the proceedings. As a resident of the US, Mr Armstrong was, however, ordered to pay £10,000 as security for the Defendants’ costs.


5RB‘s Matthew Nicklin is acting as junior counsel for Mr Armstrong, instructed by Schillings.


A full copy of the judgment and the 5RB case report is available by clicking here.