Last Thursday, Richard Desmond,
owner of the Express and Star newspapers, lost a
highly-publicised defamation action against Tom Bower.
What is defamation?
Defamation occurs when a person makes a statement
about another that damages their reputation. The tort has two prongs: “libel” and “slander.”
Libel is defaming somebody in print; while slander is spoken
The alleged libel
“Rumours of a crisis [within Conrad Black’s firm
Hollinger] reached Richard Desmond …
Desmond shared a printing plant with the Telegraph,
which had led to an argument and a court case two years earlier between himself
and Black. At the end of the trial the judge … declared Desmond’s evidence …
unreliable and found in Black’s favour.
Now Desmond ordered the … Express to report that Hollinger was ‘”facing
its biggest crisis ever” after a credit facility was cancelled by its bankers’.
Black was horrified … To protect himself and suppress the truth, he sued
Desmond and the Express for libel. ‘There is no cash crisis, nor any prospect
of one,’ he said in a short statement.
To rapidly defuse the row, a mediator was appointed and Black and Desmond[Eventually] a settlement
were told to go into a room and hammer out a deal …
was agreed, accepting Black’s insistence that there was no financial crisis.
Victory against Desmond, a tough operator,
vindicated Black’s remorseless pursuit of challengers. Grinding his
critics into the dust had never failed.”
“[Desmond] ordered the … Express … run a … damaging story about … Black’s
(and Hollinger’s) financial dealings, wholly indifferent as to whether the story
was … true or false, in a vindictive and completely unjustified attempt to
damage … Black’s reputation …
[D]espite his reputation for being a tough
businessman and the fact that the story was actually true,
[Desmond] allowed himself to be ground into the dust
… [and] accept[ed] an abject and
Bower responded to Desmond’s complaint (that, inter alia, the passage made him look like a
“wimp”) by ascribing this meaning to the passage:
“[Desmond] climbed down … [during]
mediation … [and] allowed himself to be taken in by … Black’s
assurances of the financial health of Hollinger and submitted his newspaper to a
public settlement that [vindicated Black]…”
The jury decided Bower did not defame Desmond, which leaves Desmond with an
estimated legal bill of £1.25 million.
Moreover, later this year, Bower intends to publish a
biography about Desmond, called “Rough Trader.” He told The Guardian that the book is “the most devastating story of a businessman I have ever written.”
This does not bode well for Desmond, particularly in light of Bower’s previous
highly-critical biographies of Black, Tiny Rowland, Robert Maxwell, etc.
** Additional Information & Advice **
If you believe you have been the victim of libel or slander, you may want to speak
with a solicitor who specialises in defamation law. You can be matched with a
solicitor for free via solicitor matching services, which can also help you
to understand the best course of action for your situation and whether you are
ready to hire a solicitor.
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