Fullam v Newcastle Chronicle and Journal Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date24 March 1977
Judgment citation (vLex)[1977] EWCA Civ J0324-1
Date24 March 1977
Docket Number1975 F. No. 336

[1977] EWCA Civ J0324-1

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

On Appeal from the High Court of Justice Middlesbrough District Registry (Judge in Chambers)


The Master of the Rolls (Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Orr and

Lord Justice Scarman

1975 F. No. 336
John Francis Fullam
Newcastle Chronicle and Journal Limited
First Defendants
Susan Durkan
Second Defendant

MR. R. HARTLEY, Q.C. (instructed by Messrs. O'Rourke, Swainston, James & Scourfield, Solicitors, Middlesbrough) appeared on behalf of the Plaintiffs (Respondents).

MR. M. TUGENHAT (instructed by Messrs. Simmons & Simmons, Solicitors, London) appeared on behalf of the Defendants (Appellants).


Lord Justice Orr is unable to be present this morning, but he agrees with the judgments which we are about to deliver.


At one time John Francis Fullam was an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. As everyone knows, by the rules of that church, their priests are not allowed to marry. They must remain celibate so long as they remain in the priesthood. But from time to time a priest does give up his vows. He becomes a layman. He marries a wife and has a family. No one think any the less of a man who becomes "laicized", as it is called.


Anyone can change his career if he likes.


Mr Fullam was a Roman Catholic priest years ago. He was a curate in the Salford diocese near Manchester. Then in 1962 he gave up the priesthood and took to schoolteaching. Two years later he married in 1964 and had a child in 1965. He took a teaching post near Wakefield in South Yorkshire. Then in July 1973 he applied for a post at a school in Redcar. That was 80 miles north of his home at Wakefield. He was successful. He was appointed deputy Headmaster. It was a position which had occasioned some controvesy about his predecssor.


On 21st July, 1973 a local newspaper called the Journal, which circulated in the Newcastle district and Tees-side, published an article about Mr. Fullam's appointment, containing these words: "The man appointed to the controversial deputy headship at a Tees-side Roman Catholic School is a former Catholic priest Mr. John Fullam, who joins the staff of the Sacred Heart School, Redcar, in September, left his parish in the Salford diocese, and later married, said Mr Terry Casey, general secretary, of the National Association of Schoolmasters…Said Mr Casey: 'He is a renegade NAS man' He claimed that Mr. Fullam 'went off verysuddenly from the parish where he was a curate about seven years ago".


Mr Fullam alleges that that article was a libel on him. He complains of the words which describe him as a "renegade NAS man" Those words suggest that he was a turncoat who had left the National Association of Schoolmasters. That is a complaint that is properly to be left to a jury.


Mr. Fullam also alleges that the article also imputed that, whilst he was a priest and unmarried, he had associated with a woman and had become the father of her child: and that was why he went off very suddenly from the parish where he was a curate, and afterwards married her.


Now that imputation was very far-fetched. No one could possibly have derived it from the article itself. It would need someone with very special knowledge - and very limited knowledge to draw any such imputation from the article.


Now in this application we have a point about the pleadings, THE LAW. The essence of libel is the publication of written words to a person or persons by whom they would be reasonably understood to be defamatory of the plaintiff. But those words may give rise to two separate and distinct causes of action - see Grubb v, Bristol United Press (1963) 1 Queen's Bench 309: Lewis v. Daily Telegraph (1964) Appeal Cases 234. They are these:


First, the cause of action based on a popular innuendo. If the plaintiff relies on the natural meaning of the words (pleading what is called a "popular" innuendo so as to show what, in his view, is the natural and ordinary meaning) he must, in his Statement of Claim, specify the person or persons to whom they were published: save in the case of a newspaper or periodical which is published to the world at large, when the persons are sonumerous as to go without saying - or book, I would add.


Second, The cause of action based on a legal innuendo. If the plaintiff relies on some special circumstances which convey (to some particular person or persons knowing these circumstances) a special defamatory meaning other than the natural and ordinary meaning of the words (pleading what is called a "legal innuendo" so as to show what is that special defamatory meaning), then he must in his Statement of Claim specify the particular person or persons to whom they were published and the special circumstances known to that person or persons. For the simple reason that these are the "material facts" on which he relies, and must rely, for this cause of action. It comes straight within the general rule of pleading contained in Order 18, rule 7: and also within the particular rule in libel actions contained in Order 82, rule 3. In this second cause of action there is no exception in the case of a newspaper: because the words would not be so understood by the world at large: but only by the particular person or persons who know the special circumstances. This rule of pleading was not observed in Cassidy (1929) 2 King's Bench 331; or in Hough v. London Express Newspaper (1940) 2 King's Bench 517: because the defendant did not ask for particulars. But it was observed in Morgan v. Odhams Press (1970) 1 Weekly Law Reports 1239. The reports of that case do not make any reference to it, but we have been shown the order for particulars made by Mr. Justice Chapman on 10th October, 1966, and given on 25th January, 1967.


The pleadings in this case give a good example of those rules and of the need for them. In the opening paragraphs Mr. Fullam pleaded that the newspaper "published" the words and set them out. Then he set out a popular innuendo. He alleged that: the said words in their natural and ordinary machine meantand were understood to mean that the Plaintiff was a renegade NAS man and thereby unfit to be Deputy Headmaster of the said School". No complaint is, or could be, made of that allegation. The word "renegade" itself bears a defamatory connotation.


Next he set out a legal innuendo. He alleged in paragraph 5 that: "Further the said words by way of legal innuendo meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiffs: (a) had fathered a child whilst still a priest serving as a priest; (b) to serve as a priest had fathered an illegitimate child; (c) had wrongly continued after his marriage; (d) had wrongly withheld the fact of his marriage from his ecclesiastical superiors and parishioners; (e) that in the premises he was unfit to be Deputy Headmaster of the said school.


"Particulars pursuant to R.S.C. Order 82 rule 3 (1). (1) The Plaintiff was married on 15th February, 1964; (2) the Plaintiff's eldest son Anthony was born in May 1965".


The inadequacy of the pleading. Paragraph 5 seems to me to be utterly inadequate as it stands. No ordinary reader could ever derive those imputations about "fathering a child" etc. from the article. It would have to be some particular person with knowledge of some special circumstances. As Lord Blackburn said in 1882 in Capital & Counties Bank v. Henty 7 Appeal Cases at page 771: "There are no words so plain that they may not be published with reference to such circumstances, and no such persons knowing those circumstances as to convey a meaning very different from that which could be understood from the same words used under different circumstances".


The pleading in this case tells us the circumstances, namely, the marriage in 1964 and the birth of a son in 1965: but it does not tell us who were the persons who knew of thosecircumstances and derived the...

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