A unilateral Statement in Open Court [pdf] was read on 3 March 2021 before Mr Justice Griffiths, after Dr Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist, accepted an offer of settlement in relation to false claims by the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline concerning her involvement with Operations Midland and Conifer.
These operations were police investigations relating to claims of historic child sexual abuse made against various public figures by Carl Beech, and by him and others against the late Sir Edward Heath. The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline published articles in July 2019, making several false and defamatory allegations about Dr Hanson, who had not been approached prior to publication. Despite this, and despite Dr Hanson’s prompt complaint following publication of the article, the Defendant refused to take down the online version of the article, and to apologise to Dr Hanson.
Proceedings were issued in November 2019, and there was a trial of preliminary issues on meaning in April 2020. Mr Justice Nicklin’s judgment was handed down on 1 May 2020 ( EWHC 1048 (QB)). He held that the natural and ordinary meaning of the words complained of was
(1) The Claimant, by:
(a) her support for Vicki Paterson, the psychotherapist who was a principal conduit through which Carl Beech’s claims of a network of child abusers were revealed;
(b) her subscription to the idea that Beech, as an alleged victim of abuse, must be believed; and
(c) her willingness to befriend and publicly associate with Beech by appearing as a co-speaker and sharing a platform with him at his charity exhibition, The Wall of Silence,
had demonstrated a lack of professional judgement and given unjustified credibility and legitimacy to Beech’s fantasies, whereas a proper analysis of the evidence would have revealed him to be a liar and a fraud and his claims to be poppycock, and in consequence shared some of the responsibility for ruining the reputations of blameless public figures and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on police investigations;
(2) By accepting a position on an independent panel of advisors on Operation Conifer, which was investigating Beech’s claims, having previously stated that she would not have “let her children near Ted Heath”, the Claimant had demonstrated a lack of impartiality and professional judgment, by prejudging Sir Edward Heath’s guilt.
The underlined words were statements of opinion and the rest were allegations of fact. Although these allegations were not, of themselves, defamatory the meaning as a whole was defamatory because this element was supplied by the opinion that was expressed .
It was just a few weeks before trial, after 18 months of ANL not admitting the claim, refusing to take down the online article and to provide an apology or other form of vindication, that the online article was removed and, finally, the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline published apologies in hard copy and online. Damages of £65,000 were paid.
There was a report on the case in the Press Gazette.
The Claimant was represented by Nigel Tait and Mathilde Groppo of Carter-Ruck, and Adam Speker QC and David Hirst of 5RB.