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High Court dismisses “Steele dossier” libel claim

Related Member(s):
Gavin Millar QC, Edward Craven, Ian Helme
Related Practice Area(s):
Media and Information Law

The claimants, a Russian businessman and one of his tech companies, were identified in an intelligence memorandum prepared by Christopher Steele in December 2016. It suggested that they were involved in Russian hacking of the Democrats in the November 2016 US presidential election.

The memo had been provided by Mr Steele to the late Senator John McCain along with other intelligence memos prepared by him prior to the election. An aide of Sen McCain allowed a Buzzfeed journalist unsupervised access to the memos. The journalist took photos of them and Buzzfeed placed them online in January 2017.

The central issue was whether the defendants could be held liable for Buzzfeed’s publication. Following a five day trial in July, Warby J has held that they could not be held liable because Mr Steele neither intended nor authorised Buzzfeed’s publication. This disposed of the claims. But the court also gave detailed consideration to the corporate claimant’s case that it had suffered serious financial harm within the meaning of the Defamation Act 2013 as a result of the publication, entitling it to sue in libel. The court rejected this argument on the facts, finding that the evidence of such harm was insufficient.

Gavin Millar, Edward Craven and Ian Helme were involved in this case.