Arron Banks sued Carol Cadwalladr in libel for a statement in a 2019 TED Talk published on the TED website. She then repeated the libel in a Tweet. The statement related to events surrounding his donations to Leave.EU.
The defamatory meaning was that on more than one occasion Mr Banks had 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.
Ms Cadwalladr maintained that she had not intended the second part of this meaning. Mrs Justice Steyn DBE accepted that, finding that she had intended to suggest that there were questions to be asked whether the source of his donations was foreign funding in breach of the law.
The judge found the initial publication of the statement in the TED Talk caused serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation as required by s.1 of the Defamation Act 2013. But this part of the claim was dismissed because, given her intended meaning, Ms Cadwalladr made out the public interest speech defence in s.4 of the Defamation Act 2013.
The claim on the initial publication of the Tweet failed because it had not caused s. 1 serious harm. But the court found that this was also lawful public interest speech in any event.
Mr Banks additionally argued that whatever the initial position, there was a significant change of position after 29 April 2020. This was when the National Crime Agency found no evidence of any offences by Mr Banks under electoral or company law in making the donations – a finding the Electoral Commission accepted. The judge accepted this and that this meant that the public interest speech no longer applied to protect the online publications after that date.
But the part of the claim in respect of continuing online publication also failed because the judge found that the continuing publication had not caused s.1 serious harm.
The Judge found that Mr Bank’s attempt to seek vindication through the proceedings was legitimate and it is neither fair nor apt to describe it as a SLAPP suit.
Sara Mansoori QC represented Mr Banks and Gavin Millar QC, Ben Silverstone and Aidan Wills represented Ms Cadwalladr.