Peter Cruddas and his libel battle against the Sunday Times

A High Court Judgement handed down last week by Mr Justice Tugendhat in favour of Mr Cruddas in his libel battle against the Sunday Times has crushed the newspaper and blown their defence completely out of the water.

Mr Cruddas instigated proceedings against The Sunday Times on the basis of defamatory material alleging that he was corrupt and that he was willing to breach UK Electoral Law. Given that Mr Cruddas was Treasurer of the Conservative Party he had no choice but to resign from his position in light of these allegations, and duly brought libel proceedings against the newspaper for the reputational damage such articles had allegedly caused.

The Sunday Times defended its position on the basis that its articles were only ever intended to imply that Mr Cruddas was acting ‘against the spirit of the law’, i.e. the meaning pleaded by Mr Cruddas was incorrect, a somewhat crass defence given that Mr Cruddas was a high ranking member of the Conservative Party, which is charged with enacting law in the country. As such, to claim a member of parliament is acting ‘contrary to the spirit of the law’ is, on the face of it, going to struggle to be proved as not being defamatory.

At a pre-trial hearing on 6th June, Mr Justice Tugendhat was asked to deal with the issue of meaning, and asked to apply libel law to each party’s alleged position on meaning, with the Sunday Times alleging a lawful meaning to the words published, and Mr Cruddas claiming the words were untrue and that they lowered him in the eyes of the public at large and were therefore defamatory. An application as to meaning of this nature, and in this kind of libel case, when the arguments are essentially centred on the imputed meanings of the words in dispute, is akin to asking the Court to make an early decision on the facts and merits of the case. And for Mr Cruddas it was a decision well made as Mr Justice Tugendhat came down firmly in Mr Cruddas’ camp, and duly struck out the defence of the Sunday Times, thereby finding liability in Mr Cruddas’ favour, and leaving The Sunday Times with no defence to his claim. Damages will be considered at a later hearing, but it is thought such damages will be substantial. In the intervening period Mr Cruddas was granted an injunction against The Sunday Times compelling them to remove the libellous articles from the website.

A crushing blow for The Sunday Times but also a good insight in to how specialist libel lawyers, such as us here at Pinder Reaux, can use interim applications in their clients favour to bring about swift, positive conclusions to libel actions.

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