William Alexander Spicer v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division
JudgeMr Justice Saini
Judgment Date06 July 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] EWHC 1778 (QB)
Docket NumberCase No: QB-2018-006666
Date06 July 2020

[2020] EWHC 1778 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS LIST

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Mr Justice Saini

Case No: QB-2018-006666

Between:
William Alexander Spicer
Claimant
and
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
Defendant

Robert Sterling (instructed by Carruthers Law) for the Claimant

Gervase de Wilde (instructed by Legal Services for the Metropolitan Police) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 26 th June 2020

Approved Judgment

Mr Justice Saini

This judgment is in 7 parts as follows:

I. Overview — paras. [1–6]

I. Overview

1

This is my judgment in respect of two applications made in proceedings for defamation brought by the Claimant (“Mr. Spicer”) against the Defendant, the Commissioner for Police of the Metropolis (“the Commissioner”). In broad terms, the first application raises the issue as to whether it is an abuse of process for a defendant advance a defence of truth when the claimant argues that this defence is in substance a form of collateral attack on the result of earlier criminal proceedings, in which the claimant was acquitted. The second application concerns claimed deficiencies in the Reply served on Mr. Spicer's behalf. Complaint is made about the failure of Mr. Spicer in his Reply to address (beyond bare denials) the facts and matters pleaded in the Commissioner's Defence (on the issues of truth and privilege). The applications were heard by way of a SKYPE hearing.

2

The proceedings arise out of an article headed “Two guilty of killing a woman while racing their cars”, published on 26 January 2017 (“the Article”). In the body of the Article, the reader was told that Mr. Spicer was one of the two racers, and that he had been found guilty by a jury. However, the reader was also told that whilst both men had faced a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, as well as one of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, Mr. Spicer had been acquitted of both those charges, and convicted of careless driving. It was the other man, Farid Reza, who was convicted of causing death and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. The reader was told that, for his offending, Reza was sentenced to five years and three months' imprisonment for the killing and three years concurrent for the serious injury, as well as being disqualified from driving. Mr. Spicer, it was reported, was fined £1,000, given nine penalty points, and ordered to pay costs of £500.

3

The Article was published on the Metropolitan Police website, for which the Commissioner is responsible in law. In the now common way, the meaning of the Article was determined by Warby J following a trial of the issue of meaning in a judgment handed down on 7 June 2019: [2019] EWHC 1439 (QB) (“the Meaning Judgment”). Warby J found the meaning was as follows:

“The Claimant (1) took part with an acquaintance, Farid Reza, in a car race in the streets of Kingston upon Thames, in which they showed off by driving their high-performance cars at speeds of almost 70mph along public roads in an urban area at around 9pm, to see who had the fastest car; (2) did so with three friends in his car; (3) when Mr Reza's car struck and killed a pedestrian, Hina Shamin, failed to stop but drove past the accident and away from the scene; (4) was for those reasons reasonably suspected of being jointly responsible with Mr Reza for causing the death of Hina Shamin, and of causing serious injury to a young boy who was one of Mr Reza's passengers, by dangerous driving; (5) was arrested for, charged with, tried for and convicted of those offences (Reza being convicted of both); but (6) was guilty and convicted of careless driving.”

4

The fuller background facts are set out in that judgment and I will not repeat them. I will need to refer in due course to Warby J's judgment in more detail and to the terms of the Article (which was appended by Warby J to his judgment). I will also need to refer to certain passages in the summing up of the trial Judge, His Honour Judge Marks QC, in the criminal proceedings, because they provide the foundations for one of Mr. Spicer's principal arguments in support of his abuse of process application.

5

Following the Meaning Judgment, Mr. Spicer incorporated the meaning found by Warby J into his Amended Particulars of Claim dated 17 June 2019. The Commissioner filed and served a Defence dated 8 July 2019, which included at paragraph 9 a case that the Article in the meaning found by the Court is substantially true, and at paragraph 10 a case that the Article was published on an occasion of absolute or qualified privilege. Mr. Spicer filed and served a Reply dated 12 September 2019.

6

The two applications before me arise out of these responsive pleadings (that is, the Defence and the Reply):

i) As to the Defence, Mr. Spicer made an application dated 28 February 2020, for an order that paragraph 9 of the Defence be struck out as an abuse of process on the basis I have outlined above (“the Abuse of Process Application”); and

ii) As to the Reply, the Commissioner made a cross application dated 6 May 2020 for an order pursuant to CPR r3.4(2)(a) and/ or (b) and/ or (c), that, unless Mr. Spicer amends his Reply to cure certain deficiencies, the relevant paragraphs of the Reply which it is said consist of essentially bare denials (in response to the truth and privilege defences) should be struck out (“the Pleading Application”). This application has been modified as regards the privilege aspect, as I explain towards the end of this judgment at para. [80].

II. The Pleadings

7

The precise nature of the Commissioner's pleaded case is central to both applications. I will accordingly set out the relevant paragraphs of the Defence in full followed by a description of the response in the Reply.

8

Paragraph 9 of the Defence (which is the subject of the Abuse of Process Application) and paragraph 10 of the Defence (relevant to the Pleading Application) are as follows:

Substantial truth

9. The Article in the meaning found by the Court at paragraph 7 (which is the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of) is substantially true for the purposes of s2 of the Defamation Act 2013.

PARTICULARS OF TRUTH

The race

9.1 In an interview with Acting Detective Sergeant Sekhon and Detective Constable Haffenden on 13 April 2015 (“the Interview”), the Claimant admitted that he knew Farid Reza by sight as an Asian man who owned a computer shop on Pehrhyn Road, and that he recognised the high-performance white BMW, M3, registration YH61WOD, driven by Mr Reza on 30 March 2015, as Mr Reza's vehicle. This amounts to an admission that Mr Reza was an acquaintance of the Claimant.

9.2 Just before 21:00 on 30 March 2015, the Claimant was driving through Kingston-upon-Thames Town Centre in a high-performance BMW, 330d, registration LP64CHV, with three friends (“the Friends”) in the vehicle with him. The Claimant knew that the said vehicle was powerful and capable of accelerating quickly to very high speeds.

9.3 At 20:58 the Claimant was driving along Fairfield North before turning left into Wheatfield Way. At Fairfield North, the Claimant's vehicle was ahead of Mr Reza's vehicle, which was about 5 seconds behind.

9.4 When the Claimant reached College Roundabout, Mr Reza's vehicle was just behind the Claimant's vehicle.

9.5 The Claimant left College Roundabout and joined Penrhyn Road in lane 1, closest to the pavement, while Mr Reza was just half a car length behind the Claimant in lane 2.

9.6 As both the Claimant and Mr Reza passed Kingston Crown Court, the Claimant's vehicle in lane 1 was behind that of another driver in a silver Vauxhall (“the Vauxhall”), and Mr Reza's vehicle passed both the Vauxhall and that of the Claimant.

9.7 The Claimant pulled out from behind the Vauxhall from lane 1 into lane 2 and overtook the Vauxhall. The Court will be asked to infer that he did so because he wanted to keep up with Mr Reza, whose vehicle had overtaken his own, and was racing him.

9.8 In the Interview, the Claimant admitted that the friends asked him how fast his own vehicle went after seeing Mr Reza's similar vehicle, and suggested that the Claimant's vehicle was faster than Mr Reza's.

9.9 The Claimant accelerated harshly away from the Vauxhall in pursuit of Mr Reza, going from 38 mph to 58 mph over 3 seconds.

9.10 The Claimant continued to accelerate to 69 mph in his pursuit of Mr Reza, and the Claimant's vehicle maintained close proximity (of about 20 metres or approximately two car lengths) to Mr Reza's vehicle, and travelled at approximately the same speed, as the two vehicles travelled together along Penrhyn Road.

9.11 In the premises, the Claimant took part took part with an acquaintance, Mr Reza, in a car race in the streets of Kingston upon Thames, in which they showed off by driving their high-performance cars at speeds of almost 70mph along public roads in an urban area at around 9pm, to see who had the fastest car, and did so with three friends in his car.

The accident and its aftermath

9.12 Mr Reza's vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian, Hina Shamin, on Penrhyn Road, and then crashed into a 418 double-decker bus, before spinning and coming to rest on the pavement with its rear against a brick wall and its bonnet facing the road. One of the five children in the vehicle with Mr Reza, a young boy, suffered a serious injury as a result of the collision.

9.13 The Claimant's vehicle was close to Mr Reza's vehicle when Mr Reza struck Ms Shamin, and the Claimant's vehicle was subject to a “High G” force event around the site of the collision, but continued past the...

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1 cases
  • William Spicer v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis
    • United Kingdom
    • Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
    • 6 May 2021
    ...to s 15 and Sch 1 of the DA 1996. 24 In 2020 Saini J considered two applications: Spicer v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2020] EWHC 1778 (QB). The first was an application by the Claimant to strike out the defence of substantial truth as an abuse of process. It was said to be ......

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