The Review Roles of the Court of Appeal: Grobelaar v News International

Publication Date01 Nov 2001
AuthorPaul Robertshaw
The Review Roles of the Court of Appeal: Grobelaar v
News International
Paul Robertshaw*
The Grobelaar Story
Bruce Grobelaar is a 43 year old Zimbabwean who came to England as a
professional goalkeeper. He played 628 matches for Liverpool over 13 years,
during which Liverpool won the League title six times; he then transferred to
Southampton. His general reputation was: outstanding but erratic.
In a sensational scoop The Sun newspaper accused him of match-fixing, by
deliberately letting in goals for bribes. How the evidence for this was obtained was
central to the legal processes that followed, and will be referred to below. As a
result of this publicity he was investigated. Detectives searched his family home
and removed 12,000 documents, examined records from 52 telephones and
interviewed 700 witnesses. They found bank accounts linking him with an alleged
briber, Mr Lim, and also records of phone calls linking him with other suspects –
some made at half-time and others made immediately after games ended. Mr
Grobelaar was arrested in March 1995 and later charged, with others, and tried at
Winchester Crown Court. The jury was unable to agree a verdict, and a second trial
was ordered. The jury was again ‘hung’ on one charge, but acquitted on the other.
The Football Association however found him to have broken its Rules against
betting activities, so he was suspended and fined. Since then he has coached a team
in South Africa.
In 1999 Grobelaar turned the tables and sued The Sun for libel. The jury found
for him and awarded him £85,000 – about halfway between the parameters set
by the trial judge Gray J – and without exemplary damages; in addition the
Costs awarded against The Sun were £400,000. The Sun appealed and in a
decision that is unprecedented the Court of Appeal unanimously and with three
full judgments
struck down the jury’s verdict on the facts as perverse, leaving
Grobelaar with Costs to pay of £1.5 M.
Leave to appeal to the House of Lords
was refused by the Court of Appeal.
Context and Accusations
The reader is encouraged to read the facts in detail set out in the judgments. The
necessary abbreviation here has its own risks, particularly in considering a case
where neither this author nor the appellate judges have heard the evidence adduced
to the jury and where the jury’s verdict on that evidence is moot. Moreover, some
of the context I have picked up is from newspaper reports of the case – that too has
its own risks.
ßThe Modern Law Review Limited 2001 (MLR 64:6, November). Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. 923
* Paul Robertshaw, School of Law, Cardiff University.
1 Simon Brown, Thorpe, Jonathan Parker LJJ.
2Grobelaar vNews International [2001] WL 1489, 18 January 2001, [2001] 2 All ER 437.

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