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


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

This trial determined the preliminary issue of meaning of two articles published in the Sunday Times in April 2018 under the headlines: 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 has brought claims in libel and misuse of private information in respect of those articles, and a claim of misuse of private information (only) in relation to a third, related article.

Held: The meaning of the words complained of, in the context of the articles as a whole, was that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty of rape. The ordinary reader would not understand the articles to make an allegation that the Claimant was guilty of rape. The references in the articles to the complainant’s ‘claims’ and ‘allegations’ of having been raped, did not necessarily protect the Defendant against a Chase level 1 meaning, but the use of those words, together with other elements of the articles, justified meanings at Chase level 2.

Gavin Millar QC and Ben Silverstone were involved in this case.