Keays v Murdoch Magazines (UK) Ltd and Another

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date23 May 1991
Judgment citation (vLex)[1991] EWCA Civ J0523-11
Date23 May 1991
Docket Number91/0580

[1991] EWCA Civ J0523-11






Royal Courts of Justice.


Lord Justice Neill

Lord Justice Nourse

Sir John Megaw


Sara Keays
(Plaintiff) Respondent
(1) Murdoch Magazines
(2) Frankie Mcgowan
(Defendants) Appellants

MR. E. GARNIER (instructed by Messrs. Lipkin Gorman) appeared on behalf of the (Plaintiff) Respondent.

MR. D. BROANE QC (instructed by Messrs. Daniel B. Taylor) appeared on behalf of the (Defendants) Appellants.


This is an appeal from the order of Mr. Justice French dated 17th December 1990 whereby he dismissed an appeal by the defendants from the order of Master Creightmore dated 19th November 1990 refusing to order the trial of a preliminary issue in the action. Leave to appeal was granted by the judge. In refusing the order for the trial of a preliminary issue, both the master and the judge considered that the court was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in Morris v. Sanders Universal Products [1954] 1 W.L.R. 67.


The plaintiff is Miss Sara Keays. She is the mother of Flora Keays whose father is Mr. Cecil Parkinson M.P.


Murdoch Magazines (UK) Limited, the first defendants, are the publishers of "New Woman", a monthly magazine with a wide circulation and readership in England and Wales. At all material times Miss Frankie McGowan, the second defendant, was the editor of "New Woman".


By a writ issued on 19th January 1990 the plaintiff claimed damages including aggravated damages and an injunction in respect of an article published in the issue of "New Woman" dated October 1989 under the heading "Laughing all the way to the bonk."


In the amended statement of claim the plaintiff set out the passages in the article of which she complained and also included some words printed on the front cover of the magazine and on the contents page (page 3).


The theme of the article was indicated in the heading and was explained in more detail in some introductory paragraphs which appeared at the beginning of the article on page 48. These paragraphs, which were printed in purple letters, were as follows:

"You can see them any night in Stringfellows. Leggy blondes who are primped, preened…and giving the glad eye to any man who might be someone. They call themselves 'models', but you need those quotation marks. Their real job is the pursuit of fame, other people's. Their own. They're not fussy. Either will do.

For this is the Kiss 'n' Tell circus at its most blatant—a gaggle of bimbo girls with not much between their ears apart from the burning desire to be rich and recognised in the street.

Some of them make it big—their names linked week-by-week to a succession of minor pop stars and soap actors. Others make it really big—and become famous for being infamous. Personal appearances, video contracts, pop promotions…all can follow on from just one blockbuster story in the nationals.

But their ultimate heroines are the girls Fleet Street will pursue, literally, across the world with offers of money running into thousands. The pocket books of such women list politicians, industrialists, maybe even a member of the Royal Family.

In this month's New Woman, we take a look at the world of Kiss 'n' Tell—the ultimate invisible industry—to find out who's paid what to whom…and what they got for their money."


The remainder of the article, which was set out in the righthand column on page 48 and on the three succeeding pages, described the activities of a number of women, including Fiona Wright, Pamella Bordes and Vicki Hodge, who had received substantial sums from newspapers in return for accounts of details of the sexual relationships which these women had had with a number of prominent men. The article also contained references to Koo Stark, who had turned down offers of very large sums in return for a story about her private life, and to two other individuals (one unnamed) who had also resisted similar offers from the press.


On page 51 of the article there were four paragraphs which referred specifically to the plaintiff. These paragraphs were in the following terms:

"But money is not the sole incentive for everyone. Sara Keays, for example, grows angry if you apply the phrase 'Kiss 'n' Tell' to the sale of her revelations about leading Tory Cecil Parkinson. The idea that her story was auctioned off to the highest bidder offends her. Their affair—followed by the birth of daughter Flora, now aged five—was the greatest political sex scandal in Britain since Profumo.

Back in 1985, Fleet Street papers reached for their cheque books, tested their pens, and made their best offers for the serialisation of her book, A Question of Judgement. It was to be a story of foul deeds in high places, touching the very door of Number 10 Downing Street. What would the editors bid for such a prize? The highest offer was reckoned to be £135,000. Yet Miss Keays turned it down. Instead, she chose to go with the Daily Mirror, which had offered her considerably less.

It takes bravery to judge Miss Keays' motives on any given subject. But was it coincidence that the Mirror is a Labour-inclined paper—and that serialisation was timed to coincide with the Conservative Party Conference? Parkinson's embarrassment was certainly maximised by the way events turned out.

There remains one aspect of her story which puts Miss Keays firmly in the company of Fiona Wright, Vicki Hodge and the rest. The man involved is famous—and has a reputation to protect. It's a reminder that Kiss 'n' Tell is a thoroughly British pastime. And class has a lot of to with it. If Fiona Wright had slept with someone of average income doing a dull job no one would be remotely interested."


Following the publication of the article Miss Keays consulted solicitors. On 17th November 1989 they wrote on her behalf to the editor of "New Woman". They said that they were acting for Miss Sara Keays, referred to the article, and continued:

"The article suggests to the ordinary reader that our client, although pretending to be superior to the other adventurers described in the article, is the same or worse. The article suggests that not only did our client stoop to make money from describing private matters, but being a person motivated by bitter malice (worth even more than money to her), timed the publication of her book and its newspaper serialisation so as to hurt and embarrass her former lover.

Contrary to the scurrilous falsehoods published by you, our client is not and never has been an adventurer and always conducted herself with complete discretion. Our client wrote her book (which quite obviously you have never read because it does not remotely resemble a so-called 'kiss and tell' memoir) to place certain facts on record, to protect her own reputation for the sake of her daughter and other members of her family. It is entirely wrong of you to describe our client as a base and venal person and to attribute vengeful motives to her which indeed you have no means of justifying."


Some correspondence then ensued in which Miss McGowan denied, inter alia, that the defendants had suggested that Miss Keays was an adventurer, but no agreement could be reached between the parties. On 19th January 1990 the writ was issued.


A few days later the statement of claim was served. This pleading has now been amended but both in the original and in the amended form the plaintiff set out the alleged meaning of the article as follows:

"The said words in their natural and ordinary meaning, when read in the context of the article as a whole, meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff had had an affair with and a child by Mr. Cecil Parkinson, calculating that she could publish 'her revelations' about him in a 'Kiss 'n' Tell' book in due course which, despite her disingenuous denials, places her in exactly the same category as such women as Fiona Wright, Vicki Hodge and Pamela Bordes, who had affairs with or had prostituted themselves to famous men in order to [make] money by selling their explicit memoirs to the tabloid press."


The defence was served on 26th February 1990. It was denied that the words complained of bore the meaning alleged in the statement of claim and the plaintiff's entitlement to damages was also denied.


On 15th March 1990 the summons for directions was issued. On 24th April the defendants served a notice under the summons for an order for the trial of a preliminary issue as to whether the words complained of by the plaintiff are capable of bearing the meaning pleaded in paragraph 4 of the statement of claim.


The application for the trial of a preliminary issue was made under R.S.C. Order 33, rule 3. That rule provides:

"The Court may order any question or issue arising in a cause or matter, whether of fact or law or partly of fact and partly of law, and whether raised by the pleading or otherwise, to be tried before, at or after the trial of the cause or matter, and may give directions as to the manner in which the question or issue shall be stated."


The summons and the application were heard by Master Creightmore on 19th November 1990. He refused the application. The defendants appealed to Mr. Justice French who dismissed the appeal on 17th December. We have a transcript of the judge's judgment. He said this:

"This is an appeal from a decision of Master Creightmore on the Summons for Directions refusing the Defendant's application for an Order for the trial of a preliminary issue as to whether the words complained of are capable of bearing the meaning alleged in paragraph 4 of the Statement of Claim....

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