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Court: Queen’s Bench Division

High court determines ‘Taming of the Screw’ article to mean claimant committed serious misconduct as a prison officer

Hamilton v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2020] EWHC 59 (QB)

This case involved the determination of meaning as a preliminary issue for a libel claim. The claimant was, for a period of months in 2017, a prison officer at Her Majesty’s Prison, Wandsworth. She brings an action for libel and misuse of private information against the publisher of The Sun newspaper in respect of an article published in the print edition of The Sun for 28 February 2018 under the heading, “Taming of the Screw – Jail officer quits after lag ‘fling’”, and a similar online article.

Held: The central, natural and ordinary meaning of each article, in my judgment, is this: “the Claimant committed serious misconduct in her role as a prison officer by engaging in an emotional and physical relationship with an inmate.

High Court determines meaning of articles in MP’s libel claim

Elphicke MP v Times Newspapers Ltd [2019] EWHC 3563 (QB)

This trial determined the preliminary issue of meaning of three articles published in April 2018 under the headlines: ‘Police Quiz Tory MP Charlie Elphicke after two women allege sex crimes’, ‘Police Failed to tell Tory MP Charlie Elphicke about rape claim: Female aide made allegations five months ago’ and ‘A Tory MP is accused of rape and no one stirs: Police delays [and secrecy] are adding to the distress of both parties.’ The claimant is claiming that all three articles were a misuse of private information. He claims that the second and third articles libellous of him.

Held: The meaning of the articles were taken as a whole to mean that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty of rape. The ordinary reader would not understand these articles to make an allegation that the Claimant was guilty of rape. The references in the articles to the complainant’s ‘claims’ and ‘allegations’ to having been raped, do not necessarily protect the Defendant against a Chase level 1 meaning as the repetition rule makes clear, but, at the same time, the use of these words is part of the factual matrix from which the reader will take away the ordinary meanings of the articles.

IRA participant liable for damages in Hyde Park bombing

Young v Downey [2019] EWHC 3508 (QB)

This claim arises from the bomb attack in Hyde Park on 20 July 1982, for which the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) claimed responsibility. The bomb, concealed in a car boot, was detonated as members of the Household Cavalry rode past on their regular route from the Knightsbridge Barracks to Horse Guards for the Changing of the Guard. The bomb killed four soldiers and injured 31 others.  

The claim is brought on behalf of one of the deceased’s daughters, where she seeks damages for her own psychiatric harm and consequential loss and under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Further, she seeks aggravated and exemplary damages.

Held: The defendant was an active participant in the Hyde Park bombing which caused the death of the claimant’s father and the other soldiers. The defendant’s participation was part of a concerted plan aimed at killing or at least doing really serious harm to members of the Household Cavalry. As such, the claimant has established that the defendant is responsible as a joint tortfeasor for the unlawful killing of her father and she is therefore entitled to recover damages from him. The extent of those damages will be determined later.

High Court makes preliminary ruling in Carole Cadwalladr libel case

Banks v Cadawalladr [2019] EWHC 3451 (QB)

This case discusses the preliminary issue as to meaning in a defamation claim brought by the Claimant in respect of four publications. The Claimant is a British businessman who is a prominent figure in the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the EU. The Defendant is an author, investigative journalist and features writer. The four publications where meaning is to be determined include two public talks and two tweets.

The judge held the following meanings:

the Ted Talk and the First Tweet meant: On more than one occasion Mr. Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian Government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding;

The Convention Speech meant: Mr. Banks had been offered money by the Russians and that there were substantial grounds to investigate whether he would be willing to accept such funds in violation of prohibitions on foreign electoral funding;
The Second Tweet meant: There is a proper basis to investigate whether Mr. Banks’ contact with Russia involved any criminal conduct just as the Italian government is investigating Lega’s contact with the Russians.

Judge wins summary judgment against harassing litigant in High Court

Oliver v Shaikh [2019] EWHC 3389 (QB)

In this case, the claimant was a judge of the Upper Tribunal. The defendant was a former trainee cardiac physiologist who had been dismissed by a hospital trust for gross misconduct and prohibited by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) from working with children or vulnerable adults. In 2014, the claimant chaired a UT panel that dismissed the defendant’s appeals against the DBS’s decisions. In other proceedings, the defendant was found to have harassed 29 employees of the trust through, inter alia, publishing malicious and abusive content online.

In 2016, the claimant became aware of a website containing a series of accusations that he was corrupt, took bribes in court and fabricated judgments. A comments section on the website contained offensive and abusive messages, highly intimidating threats, and incitement to attacks against the claimant and his family. It also contained the claimant’s home address and other personal information.

The claimant applied for the defence and counterclaim to be struck out, and to be granted summary judgment.

Held: The defence and counterclaim were struck out pursuant to all three limbs of CPR r.3.4(2). Neither the defence nor the counterclaim complied with the CPR. Although the defendant was unrepresented, that did not absolve him from the requirement to comply with the CPR and the pleading rules contained therein, Barton v Wright Hassall LLP [2018] UKSC 12 followed. 

Summary judgment was entered as the defendant’s bare denial of the claim did not reach even the “fanciful” level of prospect of success. The evidence was overwhelming that he controlled the website and was the author of a great deal, if not all, of its content. It contained information that could only have been known to him at the time it was published. It also contained language that matched language used in documents known to have been written by him. Further, the defendant’s conduct clearly amounted to harassment of the claimant. It went far beyond anything that could be considered reasonable or fair comment, even allowing for the fact that a judge had to expect robust criticism of their work, and warranted a final injunction permanently restraining him from harassing the judge.