Slim v Daily Telegraph Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date17 January 1968
Judgment citation (vLex)[1968] EWCA Civ J0117-2
Date17 January 1968
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Horace Cornelius Slim Vitamins Limited and Henry Charles Herbert Graves
Plaintiffs Respondents
The Daily Telegraph Limited and anr.
Defendants Appellants

[1968] EWCA Civ J0117-2


The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Diplock and

Lord Justice Salmon

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

Civil Division

From Mr. Justice Paull

SIR PETER RAWLINSON, Q. C, and MR H. DAVIDSON (instructed by Messrs Simmons & Simmons) appeared as Counsel for the Appellants.

MR D. HIRST, Q. C. and MR L. BRITTAN (instructed by Messrs Lovell White & King) appeared as Counsel for the Respondents.


THE MASTER Of THE ROLLS, Mr. Slim is a solicitor. For many years he was Town Clerk of Hammersmith but he retired in 1958., On 1st January, 1959, he became legal adviser to Vitamins Limited, who have a factory in Hammersmith. Mr. Graves is the Chairman of Vitamins Limited,


Upper Mall is a narrow way in Hammersmith by the River Thames. It has several private houses alongside it but at one point it passes the factory of Vitamins Limited. Its width along this stretch is only 9 or 10 ft. The public have a right of way along it on foot, but not with vehicles. Some years ago the Hammersmith Council put up a notice forbidding people to cycle along it. It was signed by Mr. Slim as Town Clerk, Later on it was replaced by a simple notice: "No cycling".


Vitamins Limited assert that they have used this stretch of Upper Mall as an access for their vehicles to their factory, Mr. Slim, as their legal adviser, has been trying to establish that they have a legal right of way for vehicles along it., Many of the local residents deny that they have any such right. One of the local papers saw a spokesman for the firm and published this report: "He would not say whether his firm intended to use the road for heavy vehicles to and from the factory".


At this point Mr. John Herbert, who has lived nearby in Hammersmith for many years, wrote to the Daily Telegraph a letter which they published on 30th March, 1964. Mr. Slim complains that it is a libel on him:






Rotherhithe is not the only part of London's riverside which is in danger of losing some of its most pleasant features.


Upstream at Hammersmith the peace of Upper Mall is threatened by a claim of Vitamins Ltd, a factory nearby, to the vehicular right of way. If this is approved, this narrow stretch of the riverside with its period houses may become a thoroughfare for heavy lorries and a dangerous place for a walk.


This is not a parochial matter, for the charm of Upper Mall is enjoyed by people from all over London. Its special character is already recognized. Section 30 of the London County Council (General Purposes) Act, 1953, prohibits the driving andparking of cars on Upper Mall, but this it seems is not sufficient protection.


The local Council are still pondering on the firm's claim, but what gives cause for concern is that already at the western end of Upper Mall a Council notice forbidding even cycling has been removed. If this has made local residents a little cynical, they must be forgiven.


For many years this notice was signed by one Horace Slim, the reigning Town Clerk, It is now the same Mr. Slim, as legal adviser to Vitamins Ltd. who claims the right to drive lorries along this very path.


Yours faithfully,


John Herbert.


London, W.6"


Following that letter, other residents wrote to the Daily Telegraph objecting to the use of this walk by lorries and commercial vehicles. In reply, Mr. Graves, the Chairman of Vitamins Ltd., wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph which they published on 14th April, 1964:






In recent weeks my Company has been accused of an intention to use its right of way to the south of Linden House in Upper Mall, Hammersmith, for purposes of lorry access.


My Company has never had such an intention, nor has this ever been its practice, as all those inquiring of it have been informed.


We therefore associate ourselves with the general sentiments expressed in recent correspondence; but we regret that we should have been wrongfully and recklessly implicated by, inter alias, neighbors who have not had the courtesy to discover our intentions before rushing into print.


I would further point out that the only lorries using its right of way are:


1. Those of the Hammersmith Borough Council engaged in construction work: and


2. Those regularly delivering beer, and no doubt other supplies, to the Corinthian Yacht Club,


At no time during the past 30-odd years has my Company in any way abused its privileges of right of way at the point concerned. On the contrary, through repeated efforts to obtain planning permission to rebuild on its freehold site, it has sought vastly to improve riverside facilities and appearance, and has offered all facilities for extension of the riverside walk.


Yours faithfully,


H. C. H. Graves,


Chairman, Vitamins Ltd.,


London, W.6".


It is to be noticed that in that letter Mr. Graves disclaims any intention to use lorries, but he does not mention other commercial vehicles. This provoked Mr. Herbert to reply in a letter which they published on 23rd April, 1964. Mr. Graves and Vitamins ltd. complain that it is a libel on them:


"Right of Way Risks on the Riverside Attitude of Company.




Residents of Upper Mall, Hammersmith, and others who use it as a riverside walk will be pleased to hear Mr. H. C. H. Graves's news that Vitamins Ltd. do not intend to use it as a right of way for their lorries: His protestations of injured innocence would be more convincing, however, if his Company was really acting in the spirit of his letter.


Cars belonging to his employees are already being driver along the western end of Upper Mall, and in particular that part which has been for pedestrians only for 50 years - there is still in fact a Council 'No cycling' notice. Residents of Upper Mall who have protested have been told by the drivers that the land belongs to Vitamins Ltd. and that they must move their cars from in front of their houses if those belonging to the Company's employees cannot get past.


It is not surprising, therefore, that no-one has asked what the intentions of the Company were because they were obvious: to establish the vehicular right of way in front of the London Corinthian Sailing Club willy-nilly, without even waiting for a decision from Hammersmith 3orough Council.


It need hardly be said that the use of cars on this narrow pathway is just as much to be deplored as that of lorries. How can Mr. Graves pretend to associate himself with the sentiments of those who wish to preserve the character of Upper Mall, let alone keep it safe as 'a riverside walk, when he countenances such action?


All he has to do to put everyone's mind at rest is to tell his employees to desist from using Upper Mall as a thoroughfare.


Yours faithfully,


John Herbert.


London, W.6",


On 24th June, 1964, Mr. Slim, Vitamins Ltd. and Mr. Graves brought an action for libel against the Daily Telegraph and Mr. Herbert. To my mind the issue should have been a simple one. The letters were undoubtedly defamatory, but the matter was clearly one of public interest. The defendants were protected if the letters were fair comment. Otherwise they were liable.


So the simple issue should have been: Fair comment ornot? But it became submerged in pleadings which covered 83 pages, in correspondence which filled 300 pages, in evidence which covered six days, in argument which covered two or three days, and a judgment which filled 35 pages, Eventually the Judge tried to cut his way through it. He thought that the sole question was whether the words bore the meanings put upon them by the plaintiffs. and he held they did. He held that the letter of 30tb March- 1964, bore the imputation that Mr. Slim had brought improper pressure to bear on the Council employees and was not fit to remain a solicitor. The Judge awarded him £3,500, He held that the letter of 23rd April, 1964, bore the imputation that Mr. Graves, and, through him, Vitamins Ltd., were insincere and hypocritical: and also the Company had been guilty of improper conduct by seeking to establish this right of way "willy-nilly", He awarded Mr. Graves £1,500 and the Company £500,


The reasoning by which the Judge reached this conclusion can be best understood if I set it out in the form of a dialogue between the Judge and Counsel, greatly shortened: Plaintiff's Counsel: The letter of 30th March, 1964, in its natural and ordinary meaning, conveys two derogatory imputations against Mr. Slim, The first is that he was inconsistent (he is a man who runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds). The second is that he was dishonest (he is a man who went behind the scenes and used "back-door influence" with the employees of the Hammersmith Council). I do not complain, says Counsel, of the first imputation of inconsistency. That is a fair comment to make on a matter which I agree is of public interest. But I do complain, says Counsel, of the imputation of dishonesty. That was not true and it was not a fair comment.


The Judge (to Plaintiff's Counsel); I think you are entitled to limit your complaint to the imputation of dishonesty. Then he turns to defendants' Counsel.


The Judge (to Defendants' Counsel): Do you suggest that Mr. Slim was in any way dishonest, such as using back-door influence orthe like?


Defendants' Counsel: We do not suggest that Mr. Slim was guilty of any such conduct.


The Judge: In those circumstances I think that the defenses of justification and fair comment cannot arise., The sole question is whether the words bore the imputation of dishonesty. I ask myself as a lawyer: Were the words capable of bearing that imputation? My answer is...

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