Lucas-Box v News Group Newspapers Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date30 October 1985
Judgment citation (vLex)[1985] EWCA Civ J1030-7
Docket Number85/0641
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date30 October 1985
Imogen Lucas-Box
Appellant (Plaintiff)
Associated Newspapers Group Plc and Others
Respondents (Defendants)
And Between:
Imogen Lucas-Box
News Group Newspapers Limited
Respondents (Defendants)

[1985] EWCA Civ J1030-7


Lord Justice Ackner

Lord Justice Mustill


Lord Justice Nourse






(Mr. Justice Saville)

Royal Courts of Justice

MR. GEOFFREY P. SHAW (instructed by Messrs Levene, Phillips & Co.) appeared on behalf of the Appellant/Plaintiff.

MR. CHARLES GRAY (instructed by Messrs Swepstone, Walsh & Son) appeared on behalf of the Respondents/Defendants in the Second Action.

MR. RICHARD RAMPTON (instructed by Messrs Allen & Overy) appeared on behalf of the Respondents/Defendants in the First Action.


This is the judgment of the Court.


Miss Lucas-Box. the appellant, is the plaintiff in two libel actioins. In the first, she sues News Group Newspapers Limited in respect of an article appearing in the issue of the News of the World for Sunday February 6th 1983. In the second action she sues Associated Newspaper Group plc, its editor and one of its journalists in respect of an article appearing in an issue of the Daily Mail for 29th January 1983. Both articles arise out of the arrest of Luciano Petrone on 27th January 1983, by anti-terrorist detectives. The arrest took place in the early hours of the morning outside the plaintiff's flat in Walton Street, Chelsea, where Petrone had been living with the plaintiff. Petrone was wanted by the Italian police in relation to certain serious robberies and the murder of a police constable in Rome. Shortly after his arrest extradition proceedings were brought by the Government of Italy in respect of those alleged offences and early in 1985 he was extradited to Italy.


Although the subject matter of the two articles was the same, each article dealt with it differently and each is alleged to have a different defamatory meaning.


News of the World


We deal first with the article in the News of the World. The statement of claim against the News Group Newspapers Limited sets out the following extract from the article:



BRITAIN has become a sanctuary for right-wing extremists on the run from police forces in Europe.

A News of the World investigation has discovered that a number of Fascist and Nazi-style runaways have been given shelter in this country.

And Shadow Home Secretary Roy Hattersley wants to know why they are being allowed in.

A key figure in the puzzle is Imogen Lucas-Box, 25, the jet-setter who was living with Italian Terrorist suspect Luciano Petrone until his arrest in London ten days ago.

Petrone, now in custody pending extradition proceedings, had been staying at her flat in Walton Street, Chelsea.

He is wanted for questioning about the murders of two Italian policemen, the 1980 Bologna railway station bombing which killed 84 people, and a £10 million bank robbery in Marbella, Spain, last month.

Miss Box has told the News of the World she knows of no Italian terrorists.

But when we called at her flat we were met by 25-year old Massimo Morsello, a leading member of an extreme Fascist group.

In streets nearby, and at Bow Street Court where Petrone appeared after his arrest, we spotted two other members of the same gang.

Morsello and the others, Amadeo Francisci and Marinella Rita, fled Italy after the Bologne [sic] bombing.

The Italian authorities have tried unsuccessfully to extradite them…..".

In paragraph 4 of the statement of claim it is averred:

"The said words, in their natural and ordinary meaning, meant and were understood to mean that the plaintiff had knowingly assisted Italian terrorists and lied to the News of the World by denying that she knew any terrorists, alternatively that it was reasonably to be suspected that the plaintiff had done so."


The original defence, served on 24th March 1983, admitted the publication of the article, but denied that except where the plaintiff was expressly referred to, the words referred or were understood to refer to her. It was further denied that the words in their natural and ordinary meaning bore or were understood to bear, or are capable of being understood to bear the meanings alleged in the statement of claim or either of those meanings or any meaning defamatory of the plaintiff.


The Daily Mail


The statement of claim sets out in full the article appearing on page 6 of the issue of the Daily Mail for 29th January 1983. Under the headline "DANGER MEN AND THE HIGH SOCIETY GIRLS" the article read:

"IT CAME as no surprise to the anti-terrorist detectives who arrested Luciano Petrone at a Knightsbridge flat to discover that one of Europe's most wanted men was living with a well-educated English girl with an enviable pedigree.

Imagine Lucas-Box looks every inch the debutante she is reported to have been—aristocratic, beautiful, rich and well connected.

She's the kind of Tatler lady who should be on the arm of a merchant banker.

Luciano Petrone, say the Italian police, is a ruthless killer, responsible for the death of two policemen—a bomb outrage at Bologna railway station and wanted for alleged bank robbery in Marbella where incidentally Imagine has another apartment.

The lives of the privileged middle-class English girl from the Home Counties and Italy's most wanted international terrorist from the slums of Rome should never have become intertwined.

Yet, increasingly, the girls involved with fugitives like Petrone are prosperous, well brought up, well-mannered and wealthy.

Heiress Rose Dugdale, who was jailed for six years for helping her IRA terrorist boy-friend Eddie Gallagher; Ulrike Meinhof, the industrialist's daughter who was the driving force behind the murderous German Baader-Meinhof gang; baronet's daughter Vicki Hodge, who stood by East London hard man John Bindon for a year before he was acquitted of a clubland stabbing…all fit the new mould of the danger man and the high society girl.

"More recently, there was Patricia Ford, the beloved only daughter of a Government administrator, who helped double Broadmoor killer Alan Reeve to escape, followed him to Holland where he killed a Dutch police-man, and has since married him.

Patricia, now a radical Trotskyite, went to a smart private school, had a black nanny, joined the Brownies, went to church every Sunday and adored hockey.


Just what is the attraction for the daughters of privilege of relationships that in the end seemed destined to end in heartbreak, and for the men involved often either prison, bloodshed or death?

Dr. Glenn Wilson, psychologist at the University of London, believes that this fatal fascination is a yearning for a role in a fantasy—a kind of star part in an exciting world that belongs more realistically on the movie screen or between the covers of a thriller.

'They meet these men, who seem to them to come from another world."

They also have money which they spend like water. They know how to get things done. They know their way around nightclubs and bars. They reek of danger, which has always been an aphrodisiac.

To a certain kind of woman, it is devastatingly attractive. Contrast that kind of man with the Hooray Henries who are all a lot of these girls know and it's easy to see why they fall.

As Dr. Wilson explains:

'Many girls brought up in comfortable, conventional homes see these men as living a thoroughly abandoned buccaneering existence—rather like Errol Flynn.'

They are attracted to their hyper-masculinity. There is this idea that psychopathy is a very masculine thing and it is appealing to many women, in the same way that Marilyn Monroe's hyper-femininity was attractive to many men.

Combine that with the fact that most of these characters have a degree of macho charm and a lot of women will fall for them.

Besides every so often one of them pulls it off -like Fidel Castro, for example.

There is also the element of that age-old aphrodisiac—danger. 'The betting is that if the girl doesn't get shot herself, then her boyfriend will', says Dr. Wilson. 'And even if he doesn't, he'll ditch her at some point because he is a very cold-blooded person, completely lacking in empathy'.

The fact that Imagine Lucas-Box, who insists that she had no knowledge of Petrone's alleged terrorist activities, changed the spelling of her Christian name from the more mundane Imogen and named her three children Scherzando Blaze, Faberge Magic and Tahitian Indigo is perhaps some indication of the unconventional life she sought.

And frequently it is a fantasy shared by the man who inevitably sees himself as the hero of the piece. The dashing photograph of Luciano Petrone posing for the camera with a cigarette dangling from his lips could have come straight out of a Hollywood publicity office.

Having a beautiful well-bred girl on his arm is a vital part of that image, as was the £19-a-bottle champagne that Petrone bought minutes before he was arrested.

Certainly for the girls involved it is much more exciting than marrying a stockbroker and living comfortably in suburbia. The very fact that they have had a good education means that they have had access to many different types of political propaganda which they would never previously have encountered.


This is doubtlessly why so many of the guerilla organisations of the world are run by the daughters of nice middle-class homes.

In Germany the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang was formed when Ulrike Meinhof sprung her boyfriend Andreas Baader from jail. In Italy the Red Brigade is full of girls, some now serving life sentences for their part in 17...

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