The defendant posted defamatory words about the claimant on social media in October 2019 and in June 2020 the claimant issued proceedings seeking damages for libel and an injunction. In September 2020 Mr Justice Nicklin ordered that the issue of what natural and ordinary meaning was borne by the words complained of should be tried as a preliminary issue in the action.
In the High Court before Mr Justice Warby, the claimant’s case was that the words complained of bore the following defamatory meaning about her:
“that the Claimant has consistently and repeatedly betrayed the Defendant’s trust over several years by leaking the Defendant’s private and personal Instagram posts and stories for publication in the Sun Newspaper including a story about gender selection in Mexico; a story about the Defendant returning to TV; and a story about the basement flooding in the Defendant’s new house.”
By contrast, the defendant’s case was that the defamatory meaning of the words complained of was:
“there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was responsible for consistently passing on information about the Defendant’s private Instagram posts and stories to The Sun newspaper.”
HELD: The natural and ordinary meaning of the words complained of is substantially the same as that contended by the claimant. Specifically, they mean:
“Over a period of years Ms Vardy had regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Ms Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Ms Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Ms Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public.”
The tweet and post complained of clearly suggest that the claimant is the person who is guilty of the wrongdoing, and not the people in control of the claimant’s account. Absent the word “account” from the social media posts, the defendant’s position would be unarguable. Furthermore, the use of multiple dots followed by the word “account” does not “dilute” the meaning. Indeed, the element of suspense introduced by the multiple dots seems designed to raise expectations of a dramatic revelation. It would be a poor denouement if all that was being said was that the named individual was to be suspected of the wrongdoing, but it might be someone else.