Grubb v Bristol United Press Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date21 March 1962
Judgment citation (vLex)[1962] EWCA Civ J0321-1
Date21 March 1962
CourtCourt of Appeal
Bristol United Press Ltd.

[1962] EWCA Civ J0321-1


Lord Justice Pearce

Lord Justice Upjohn and

Lord Justice Davies

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

(Interlocutory List)

MR FRANK WHITWORTH (instructed by Messrs Edwin Coe & Calder Woods, agents for Messrs Pardoe David & Shaw, Bridgwater) appeared as Counsel on behalf of the Appellant (Plaintiff).

MR NEVILLE FAULKS, Q. C, and MR DAVID HIRST (instructed by Messrs William Charles Crocker) appeared as Counsel on behalf of the Respondents (Defendants).


The Plaintiff appeals against an order of Mr Justice Megaw striking out the innuendoes pleaded in his Statement of Claim. He is claiming damages for libel in respect of two articles published by the Defendants in their newspaper.


The Plaintiff is Rector of a village in Somerset. Unhappydisputes between him and his parishioners culminated in a meeting of the parishioners, the Rector and the Rural Dean. Persons not on the electoral roll, including the Press, were asked to leave before the meeting started. On the next day, April 5th, 1961, the Defendants' newspaper published an article with large headlines. Paragraph 2 of the Statement of Claim alleges libel in respect of the headlines and part of that article. They are as follows: "SPAXTON LOCKS THE DOORS. THE VILLAGE CHURCH MENTS IN SECRET. Spaxton closed its doors in shame on the outside world last night. The annual vestry and parochial meeting was held in secret - by order of the rector, the Rev. Geoffrey Watkins Grubb. Four hundred people who live in the village near Bridgwater have signed a petition asking for Mr. Grubb's removal as rector. One of their main complaints is that he charges £20 for wedding bells. And at the start of last night's meeting, Mr. Grubb asked all those not on the electoral roll to leave. The rural dean, the Rev. P. M. Taylor, backed him up. The Press had no right to be present, he said". Paragraph 3 contains innuendoes as follows: "(d) that the conduct of the Plaintiff, which was likely to be discussed at the annual vestry and parochial church meeting, was such that its discussion would bring shame on the Plaintiff and/or the parish…. (d) that there was something unusual and improper in the Plaintiff not admitting to the said meeting persons who were not on the electoral roll of the church of the said parish (g) that fees of £20 were being demanded by the Rector for the ringing of bells at weddings for his personal profit".


The second alleged libel was part of a leading article published on the 6th April, 1961. Paragraph 4 of the Statement of Claim sets it out as follows: "A very quick solution must be found to Spaxton's troubles. While the present state of affairs exists the Church there will be an empty unspiritual shell offering neither solace nor spiritual leadership. InSpaxton as of this moment the lamp of Christianity does not burn". Paragraph 5 alleges innuendoes as follows: "(a) that the Plaintiff was incapable of providing or unwilling to give either solace or spiritual leadership. (b) that the Plaintiff was unfit to act as Rector of the said parish or as an incumbent of any living in the Church of England, (c) 4 that the Plaintiff was not leading a Christian life or behaving in a Christian manner".


The Defendants asked for particulars of the facts relied on in support of the innuendoes. The request was made under Order 19, rule 6, sub-rule (2), which was added to the rules in 1949 on a recommendation of the Committee on the Law of Defamation under the Chairmanship of Lord Porter. It reads as follows: "In an action for libel or slander if the Plaintiff alleges that the words or matters complained of were used in a defamatory sense other than their ordinary meaning, he shall give particulars of the facts and matters on which he relies in support of such sense".


Particulars were given. Those relating to the first group of innuendoes set out various matters, and in particular the origin of the unhappy dispute. These were also relied on (with certain additions) to support the second group of innuendoes.


The Plaintiff in this appeal is content that five of the innuendoes in paragraph 3 should be struck out, but seeks to reinstate (a), (d) and (g). He seeks to support all three innuendoes' in paragraph 5.


The learned Judge held that an innuendo involves some special facts, known to a potential reader or class of potential readers, giving to the words of the libel some meaning other than their natural and ordinary meaning. He found that In the present case the innuendoes were nothing but repetition of the actual libel. The particulars delivered, he said, arestatements of the unhappy history of the parish in question, none of which, if established to be within the knowledge of the potential reader, would give rise to any reasonable possibility of such person treating the words as having the meaning suggested in any of the innuendoes. He struck out all the innuendoes since he found in the facts alleged no support for any of them.


The Plaintiff contends that an innuendo need not rely on extrinsic facts at all, but may rely on intrinsic inferences to be drawn from the libel itself. In support of that contention he relies on a case recently decided by this Court, Loughans v. Odhams Press, 1962 1 All England Eeports, 404, and certain observations therein. Moreover, he claims that he can rely as a further fact on other parts of the article not pleaded as the libel. In such a case, he argues, he could properly comply with the demand for particulars by answering "The Plaintiff will not rely on any matters other than the words of the article itself". He claims that he cannot be put in a worse position when he has delivered particulars – many of which set out extrinsic facts not to be found in the libel itself or in the rest of the article. He contends that it is not for the Judge on an interlocutory application to assess the reactions of readers to those extrinsic facts or to condemn the particulars as not providing support for the innuendoes, thereby taking to himself the jury's functions.


Mr Faulks contended that, in so far as ghans' case is any ground for holding that innuendoes may be derived from the libel itself without the support of any extrinsic fact, it should not be followed since that would be out of accord with many cases in this Court and the House of Lords, and in particular with Capital and Counties Bank v. Henty, Law Reports 7 Appeal Cases, 741. Those cases were not cited to the Court in Loughans' case. If and so far as is necessary, he asks us to consider Loughans' case as decided per incuriamaccording to the principle laid down in Young v. Bristol Aeroplane Co., 1944 King's Bench, 718, and to follow Capital and Counties Bank v. Henty.


The words complained of in the present case are clearly capable of a defamatory meaning, and it would he for a jury at the trial to decide whether they did constitute libels. The question before us is whether the Plaintiff can add to his the clear claims in respect of the two libels in teir ordinary meanings eleven further alleged extensions or embellishments, each of which technically constitutes a separate cause of action, and can theoretically claim a separate question to the jury and a separate award of damages. In practice, it is quite likely that not much will ever be heard of them again, and the trial may well be concerned only with the natural and ordinary meaning of the words. Nevertheless, the presence of these eleven innuendoes might prove an embarrassment to the Defendants in the interlocutory stages, and cause difficulties to the Defendants and perhaps to the Judge and jury as well at the trial. Therefore, if they are not technically justified, it is reasonable for the Defendants to ask that they should be struck out.


The question of principle which we have to determine is whether the Plaintiff can maintain an innuendo which has no extrinsic facts to support it and which relies solely on inferences drawn either from the libel itself or from other parts of the same article which were not pleaded.


Mr Faulks, in a careful and able argument, has referred us to a large number of authorities in the House of Lords and in this Court.


Before 1852 an innuendo did not create a separate cause of action from the libel on which it was founded: Harvey v. French, 1 Crompton & Meeson, 11. Moreover, it could only be established if it was supported by some averment on the record.


In 1777 Lord Chief Justice de Grey, giving the unanimousdecision of the Judges in Rex v. Horne, 2 Cowper, 672: 98 English Reports, 1300, spoke of innuendoes at page 683:1306 His language is somewhat more empirical and less precise than that used in the more recent cases. He spoke of an innuendo both in the sense in which it crystallises the meaning of defamatory words, and that in which it extends the meaning by the addition of extrinsic facts. He said: "In the case of a libel which does not in itself contain the crime, without some extrinsic aid, it is necessary that it should be put upon the record, by way of introduction, if it is a new matter, or by way of innuendo, if it is only matter of explanation. For an innuendo means nothing mere than the words, 'id est', 'scilicet', or 'meaning', or 'aforesaid', as, explanatory of a subject matter sufficiently expressed before; as, such a one, meaning the defendant, or such a subject, meaning the subject in question. But as an innuendo is only used as a word of explanation, it cannot extend the sense of the expressions in the libel beyond their own meaning; unless something is put upon the record for it to explain. As in an action upon the case against a man for saying of another, 'He has burnt my barn', the plaintiff cannot there, by way of innuendo, say, meaning 'his barn full of corn'; because, that is not an...

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