On Monday 24 November 2014, the well-known London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen LLP (“HJA”) received an apology and substantial damages from The Times following the publication in June 2014 of a front page article in which the newspaper claimed the firm was being sued by a former client for negligence in relation to a MMR vaccine claim.
In this case, HJA issued proceedings for libel and malicious falsehood after The Times refused to take down the article from its website or publish a correction. A Statement in Open Court [doc] was read on Monday before Sir David Eady by HJA’s counsel Justin Rushbrooke QC. It states:
“The article stated that the Claimant was being sued by its former client Matthew McCafferty for substantial damages for negligence and ‘unjust enrichment as officers of the Court’ in relation to a claim relating to the MMR vaccine. This was incorrect. The Claimant was threatened with proceedings by Mr McCafferty’s lawyers, many years after it ceased to act for him, but no such proceedings have to date been issued. At the time of the article the Claimant had informed Mr McCafferty’s lawyers that any proceedings would be robustly defended. Furthermore it categorically rejects any suggestion that it was guilty of negligence, in particular the allegation that it pursued a case which it knew or should have known was hopeless, or that its lawyers improperly enriched themselves out of public funds.
“The true position is that in 1998 legal aid funding was granted to Hodge Jones & Allen for the purposes of investigating with experts a claim for damages on behalf of many children who were suffering from conditions such as autism following the administration of the MMR vaccine. Mr McCafferty instructed the Claimant in 2000 and had the benefit of these investigations. Whilst the possibility of a causal link between MMR and autism was subsequently widely discredited, on the basis of the expert evidence then available there was absolutely no reason to conclude at the time that such claims were hopeless.
The article also stated that the Claimant had lost the file for Mr McCafferty’s case, and suggested that it had failed to provide information that had been requested by his lawyers. In fact the Claimant had already provided a complete copy of all electronic documents on its case management system free of charge to Mr McCafferty’s lawyers. It has since managed to locate the original file of documents, and a copy of this has also been sent to those lawyers. Given the passage of time there was nothing untoward about the fact that the file could not be found initially.”
The Times’ agreed with this statement and apologised unreservedly for any damage caused to HJA or to its reputation by the article.
This is the second time in six months that the firm has won an apology and damages from the The Times newspaper for an article which was untrue. In April 2104 the firm settled with the newspaper following an article in The Times concerning the firm’s contribution to compensation proposals for Magdalene laundries victims. The newspaper subsequently apologised, paid damages, which the firm elected to give to charity, and made a contribution to the firm’s costs.
Patrick Allen, senior partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, said:
“Our success as a law firm depends on our skill, competence and integrity, so to have these called into question in such a high-profile manner was both disturbing and unacceptable. Naturally, I am pleased that this matter is now resolved but maintain that such an article should never have been published in the first place. It was particularly shocking that the article appeared on the front page, and only a matter of weeks after the settlement of our libel claim against the newspaper for the Magdalene Laundries article.”