In a judgment handed down today ( EWHC 1417 (QB)) following a five day trial in January 2022, Steyn J dismissed the libel claim brought by controversial multi millionaire Brexiteer, Arron Banks, against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr.
The case arose out of a Ted Talk entitled “Facebook’s role in Brexit – and the threat to democracy” given by Ms Cadwalladr in April 2019. In the course of this talk she said
“And I am not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian Government.” (“the Ted Talk”)
Two months later, after Mr Banks’ solicitors had sent her a letter before action, Ms Cadwalladr tweeted
“Oh Arron. This is too tragic. Nigel Farage’s secret funder Arron Banks has sent me a pre-action letter this morning; he’s suing me over this TED talk. If you haven’t watched it please do. I say he lied about his contact with Russian govt. Because he did.“ (“the Tweet”)
The Judge rejected Ms Cadwalladr’s contention that the claim was a “SLAPP” case, designed to silence and intimidate her. She said that, although the claim failed
“his attempt to seek vindication through these proceedings was, in my judgment, legitimate. In circumstances where Ms Cadwalladr has no defence of truth, and her defence of public interest has succeeded only in part, it is neither fair nor apt to describe this as a SLAPP suit” .
The central issues at the trial were whether Ms Cadwalladr had made out her defence of “publication in the public interest” under section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013 and, if she had not, whether the publications had caused serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation.
The Judge concluded that Ms Cadwalladr had established a public interest defence in respect of the TED Talk from the original date of publication, 15 April 2019, until 29 April 2020.
In relation to the Tweet, Mr Banks had failed to establish this had caused serious harm to his reputation. In any event, she would have succeeded in establishing a public interest defence from the original date of publication, 24 June 2019, until 29 April 2020 .
The Judge held that there was a significant change of circumstances on 29 April 2020 when the Electoral Commission and Mr Banks issued a joint statement confirming that the Commission accepted the NCA’s conclusion that no offences had been committed by Mr Banks and there was no evidence to suggest that Mr Banks received funding from any third party to fund loans to Better for the Country on behalf of Leave.EU. At that point it was clear that Ms Cadwalladr had no evidence that Mr Banks had accepted foreign funding ( to ).
As a result of this change, Ms Cadwalladr had failed to established the public interest defence in respect of the continuing publication of the TED Talk from 29 April 2020. However, Mr Banks had failed to establish that this continuing publication caused serious harm to his reputation ().
As a result, the claim was dismissed.