Nigel Waterson v (1) Stephen Lloyd MP (2) Rebecca Carr

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division
JudgeMr Justice Tugendhat
Judgment Date08 December 2011
Neutral Citation[2011] EWHC 3197 (QB)
Docket NumberCase No: HQ10D04868
Date08 December 2011

[2011] EWHC 3197 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

The Honourable Mr Justice Tugendhat

Case No: HQ10D04868

Between:
Nigel Waterson
Claimant
and
(1) Stephen Lloyd MP
Defendant
(2) Rebecca Carr

Desmond Browne QC & David Hirst (instructed by Irwin Mitchell LLP) for the Claimant

Richard Rampton QC & Ian Helme (instructed by Goodman Derrick LLP) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 22 November 2011

Mr Justice Tugendhat
1

In this libel action Mr Waterson, who was Member of Parliament for Eastbourne between 1992 and 2010, sues his successor, now Mr Lloyd MP and Ms Carr (together "the Defendants"). She was Mr Lloyd's agent in the period up to and during the General Election held on 6 May 2010. It is not in dispute that, amongst the literature widely distributed by and on behalf the Defendants, on several different occasions, there are a number of documents consisting of a single folded sheet which had the appearance of a free local newspaper. One is headed "SUSSEX COURIER Your Free Local Newspaper New Issue, March 2010". That is the first publication complained of. Another, issued in April and May 2010, is headed "EASTBOURNE AND WILLINGDON EXPRESS". That is the second publication complained of.

2

In early 2010 it was common knowledge that the latest possible polling day for a general election would be 6 May 2010.

THE MODE OF TRIAL AND THE APPLICATIONS

3

Each party has applied to the court for an order that judgment be entered summarily in his or their favour. The main questions that I am asked to answer are: what is the meaning of each of the two publications Mr Waterson complains of? In respect of each, is it a statement of fact, or a comment or opinion?

4

It is common ground that the trial of this action should be by judge alone. It follows that I am able to entertain the applications for summary judgment that each of the parties makes, and to determine the meaning of the words complained of as the trial of a preliminary issue.

5

The Defendants do not plead a defence of truth (or justification, as it often called). That means that if I find that either or both of the publications complained of is defamatory, and is a statement of fact, then there is no defence, and I must enter judgment for Mr Waterson.

6

On the other hand, if I find that the publications are comment (or opinion) Mr Rampton submits that the Defendants are bound to succeed, and so that I should enter judgment for the Defendants. But in response to the Defendants' application, Mr Browne submits that there is a further issue that I cannot resolve at this hearing, so I should not in any event enter judgment for the Defendants.

THE FIRST PUBLICATION COMPLAINED OF

7

In the "Sussex Courier" on the front page and in a typeface 4 centimetres high there was printed the headline "EXPENSES SCANDAL MP FACES DEFEAT". Underneath there is the text in three columns each of about twelve lines said to be "by Jonathan Walsh Chief Political Correspondent". Mr Waterson does not complain of the first five paragraphs (these explain why it is said he was facing defeat). He does complain of the three following paragraphs on that page, which read as follows:

"The Borough of Bromley is where Mr Waterson and his family live, more than sixty miles from his constituents.

Taxpayers have paid almost £70,000 during the last four years towards the cost of Mr Waterson's Kent family home. The MP also claimed for food, cleaning, utility bills and over £1000 to have his garage re-decorated at the taxpayers' expense.

Mr Waterson has also claimed for the cost of glossy brochures, featuring the photo—opportunities for his visits to Eastbourne".

8

There is a further passage complained of on the second page of the "Sussex Courier" under the title "Expenses Scandal: Eastbourne Residents Speak Out".

The words complained of reads:

"Local residents have delivered their verdict on the MPs' expenses scandal.

Eastbourne Conservative MP Nigel Waterson has come under fire in recent months for his own scandalous expenses claim.

Mr Waterson claimed almost £70,000 for the mortgage on his large family home in Kent, which is over 60 miles away from his constituents.

He also claimed over £1000 to have his garage re-decorated.

It is clear that Mr Waterson's expenses claim has upset many people in Eastbourne".

9

There then follow two paragraphs of which Mr Waterson does not complain. Under these there are what are presented as "Latest letters to the paper Eastbourne Herald" (the Eastbourne Herald really is a local newspaper). Mr Rampton submits that the words complained of must be viewed in the context of those quotations. They read as follows:

[1] "The electorate is fed up with the entire House of Commons, our MP included…It is time for Eastbourne to vote for a new Member of Parliament".

[2] "Why does Mr Waterson need a large house in Beckenham?"

[3] "I for one would prefer my local MP to live in Eastbourne full-time and offer us taxpayers value for money. Eastbourne deserves more than second best and perhaps it's time we got it".

[4] "Why are you allowed to claim £70,000 of taxpayers' money for the mortgage on your home in Beckenham, Kent…why are you allowed to claim taxpayers' money to fund your 'Sea Vews' magazine"?…you do not seem to enjoy mixing with the ordinary voter".

10

Mr Waterson attributes to the words set out in para 8 above both a natural and ordinary meaning, and an innuendo meaning. An innuendo meaning is the technical term for a meaning that would only be understood by a reader who knows facts not stated in the words complained of (in this case those facts are set out in paras 8(1) to (3) of the Particulars of Claim), and the reader interprets the words in the light of those facts. The meanings Mr Waterson attributes to the words are as follows (the numbers refer to his Particulars of Claim, and the underlining indicates a proposed amendment which is not opposed):

"7. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words complained of in paragraph 6 above meant and were understood to mean that the Claimant's conduct in making the various expenses claims listed had given rise to legitimate outrage, and that the cause of such scandal was his grave abuse for his own financial advantage of the Parliamentary rules governing such claims.

8. Further, or in the alternative, the words complained of in paragraph 6 above meant and were understood to mean that the Claimant was one of a number of notorious Members of Parliament, whose conduct had rightly become a subject of recent scandal, because their claims were unlawful and/or in breach of the Parliamentary rules, or such that they were liable to repay the amounts they had received.

Particulars of Innuendo

8(1) In or about July 2009 the Daily Telegraph published over a number of days details of expenses claims made by individual Members of Parliament between 2004 and 2009. The details published became an unprecedentedly notorious matter of national scandal, and it emerged that a very large number of Members of Parliament had made unlawful claims or claims for payment to which they were not entitled under the Parliamentary rules or claims which though within the rules were essentially were improper.

8(2) As the scandal increased, on 19 May 2009 the Prime Minister asked Sir Thomas Legg to investigate MPs' claims, and on 19 June 2009 Scotland Yard announced that a number of MPs would face criminal charges of false accounting.

8(3) Following the articles in the Daily Telegraph a large number of MPs of all parties repaid monies to which they had not been entitled, either voluntarily or as a result of rulings by Sir Thomas Legg.

8(4) The above facts and matters were known to a very large but unquantifiable proportion of the readers of the words complained of".

THE SECOND PUBLICATION COMPLAINED OF

11

There are three passages complained of in the "Eastbourne and Willingdon Express". They are as follows:

On page 2:

Under the heading "Courier Comment: It's Time for Change"

"We've seen the scandal of MPs abusing their expenses"

Under the headline "Eastbourne Needs a New MP"

"Local Residents were angry to discover that Nigel Waterson claimed £70,000 in just four years for his large Kent family home, sixty miles from his constituents…"

Under the headline "NIGEL WATERSON'S ROLL OF SHAME"

"In just four years claimed £70,000 for his family home sixty miles away in Kent".

On page 4:

Under the headline "IT'S A TWO HORSE RACE"

"Voting Labour here in Eastbourne and Willingdon will just let our expenses scandal MP off the hook".

12

The meaning which Mr Waterson attributes to those words in their natural and ordinary meaning is:

"10(1) The Claimant's conduct in making an expenses claim in relation to his home in Kent was a shameful abuse of the Parliamentary rules for his own advantage, and had given cause for legitimate public indignation and anger, and

10 (2) He would escape his just deserts for such scandalous conduct in relation to his expenses, unless the electorate voted for the First Defendant".

13

Mr Waterson also pleads in respect of the second publication an innuendo meaning in the same terms as that pleaded in respect of the "Sussex Courier".

14

It is common ground that the MPs' expenses scandal was very widely discussed in 2009 and 2010. There is no dispute as to the facts set out in the Particulars of Innuendo (set out in para 8 of the Particulars of Claim), so far as they go. It is also accepted by the Defendants that the £1000 was not just for painting the garage, but for the house as well as the garage.

THE DEFENCES

15

But Mr Rampton for the Defendants...

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2 cases
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