Media & Entertainment Law: Gary Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd [2013] EWHC 4075 (QB) Nicola Davies J, 19th December 2013

C was a member of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Extradition Unit and had sued for libel in May 2007 over an article appearing in the Times entitled “Detective accused of taking bribes from Russian exiles”. The words complained of were held to bear the meaning that there were strong grounds to believe that he was dishonest, corrupt and had acted in a criminal manner. After the article was published there was a police investigation, and C was subsequently exonerated and returned to the Unit. The D was informed of the outcome of that inquiry in September 2007.

The D had pleaded justification and Reynolds privilege, but later abandoned the former. Despite the fact that C had, subsequent to the publication of the article, been cleared of any misconduct by a police investigation, the Times did not publish any kind of follow up piece about this, and continued to publish the original article on its website until October 2009. It also made no attempt to qualify the original piece to indicate that the investigation was now over.

The case had resulted in a very extended piece of litigation, and the claim went to the Supreme Court on the issue of the Reynolds defence.

Assessing the damages to be awarded at this hearing, Nicola Davies J held that the damage caused to the C had been particularly serious. Specifically, readers of the website were misled by the D, in that they were led to suppose that there were still strong grounds to believe that the C was a corrupt official. There was no attempt to express any regret for dragging the matter out over a number of years, exacerbating the damage to C. There was a particular need for vindication in this case because the newspaper had never acknowledged C’s innocence.

Damages of £60,000 were awarded, which included an amount of £15,000 attributable to aggravated damages caused by D’s conduct. The aggravation element of the award was also intended to act as a deterrent to those embarking on public interest journalism but thereafter refusing to publish subsequent exculpatory material concerning the subject of that journalism. The D had been aware, as early as September 2007, of its obligation to publish the result of the police inquiry, but had refused to do so.

The Judge did not accept that the various judgments handed down concerning the Reynolds defence, which stated that the C had been exonerated, provided sufficient vindication for the C. The manner in which the D had pursued its justification defence, as well as the aggressive manner in which it had pursued its correspondence with the C, had aggravated the damage.