Thornton wins historic libel and malicious falsehood trial

Judge finds book review was malicious; offer of amends defence defeated

In a reserved judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Tugendhat has awarded author Sarah Thornton a total of £65,000 damages for libel and malicious falsehood against the publishers of the Daily Telegraph.

This is believed to be the first occasion on which an Offer of Amends under the Defamation Act 1996 has been defeated at trial by a plea of malice under s.4(3) of that Act.

Dr Thornton sued for libel in respect of Lynn Barber’s claim, made in her review of Dr Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World, that she (Dr Thornton) had dishonestly claimed to have interviewed Ms Barber for the book when she had not.  She also sued for malicious falsehood over Ms Barber’s claim that she had given ‘copy approval’ to her interviewees.

The Judge found that Ms Barber knew that both of these allegations were false.  In the alternative he found that she was recklessly indifferent to the truth or falsity of the interview allegation.  He also found that the malice of Ms Barber was an aggravating factor, as were the high-handed and offensive way in which the Telegraph dealt with the complaint, and the cross-examination of Dr Thornton.

The Telegraph was also ordered to pay the Claimant’s costs, mostly on the indemnity basis since Dr Thornton had made a Part 36 Offer at the outset of proceedings which she had significantly bettered at trial.

5RB‘s Justin Rushbrooke (instructed by Taylor Hampton) was junior counsel for Dr Thornton.