Libel proceedings against Boris Johnson struck out.

Boris Johnson v Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT Transport Union

These Libel proceedings arose from a mayoral election leaflet, which had the headline: “Not Ken Again”, which linked Mr Crow with the former Lord Mayor, Ken Livingstone. A section of the leaflet, stated that a vote for Livingstone would be a return to

  • “council tax rises, broken promises, cronies, scandals, waste, Bob Crow.”

Mr Crow said that the words had the following meanings:

  • “1. Claimant’s policies, leadership of the RMT and association with Mr Livingstone (a) seriously damaged his election prospects, and (b) has caused and will cause harm to the interests of Londoners;
  • 2. The Claimant was part of and supported a culture of political immorality, involving broken promises, cronyism, scandals and waste; and
  • 3. The Claimant was part of a corrupt, scandalous, unaccountable and wasteful group of cronies.”

The judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, said that the fact he was the leader of the RMT, and was a well known public figure, meant that

  • “a particularly wide latitude for freedom of expression has to be allowed.”

With regards to the first meaning, the Judge held

  • “there were a number of candidates at the election, as on previous elections, and as everyone knows, whether or not Mr Livingstone ought to be elected as Mayor of London was not a question it could be said there was a right or wrong answer, which all right thinking people should give.  “So, in my judgement, the first meaning pleaded by Mr Crow is not capable of being defamatory.”

The Judge thought the second and third could in certain circumstances be defamatory, however, he felt that they were referring to Mr Livingstone, and not Mr Crow.

As a result, the libel proceedings were struck out.

It is clear that it is much more difficult to bring a claim arising from the rough and tumble of political debate. No one reading the article would have thought that it referred to Mr Crow, and therefore, it was surprising that he sought to bring the claim.

If you require advice as to libel proceedings call Carruthers law or fill in one of our enquiry forms.

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