Liberty Fashion Wears Ltd v Primark Stores Ltd & Ors [2015]

In the case of Liberty Fashion Wears Ltd v Primark Stores Ltd & Ors [2015] EWHC 415 (QB), the Defendant a clothing store, retailed clothing which had been produced at a factory in Bangladesh within a building owned by the Claimant.The building collapsed in April 2013 resulting in a terrible tragedy where over one thousand people were killed.

As a consequence of that tragedy, the Defendants, along with other retailers who also had manufacturing ties to Bangladesh, formed a group which they named Accord whose aim was to implement safety measures within Bangladesh clothing operations including requirements for inspections to be made with improvement work subsequently undertaken. The rules for the Accord group were that their members should not do business with those suppliers who refused to work with them and follow the Accord group’s aims and requirements.

Shortly after the collapse of the building the Claimant, in June 2013, removed workers from another of its buildings. It had also at that time asked the University of Bangladesh Engineering department to prepare a report on the structure of the building which on the 29th June they produced. In their report they remarked on the unsoundness of parts of the building and gave recommendations with a caution advised for its current use. Both the Defendants and Tesco could not accept this as they believed that there could be a structural collapse at any time.

The Defendants and some of the other companies asked the Claimant to let them have a plan of the remedial works to be undertaken on the building before September 2013. The Claimant put forward a plan around the middle of September and to the Defendants consternation the plan implied that the building was safe before any remedial work had been undertaken.

At the same time the Claimant had approached the Accord Group’s membership to ask them to pay the worker’s wages so as to avoid any unrest and also they placed an advertisement in a Bangladesh newspaper attacking both Tesco and the building surveyors demanding compensation for having to close the building.

Primark issued a press release on 17th June 2013 and in October 2013 the Accord Group published a reply in a Bangladesh newspaper and it then appeared on the Accord Group’s website which was the second publication complained of.

Solicitors acting for Liberty on the 28th July 2014 sent a letter before action to the Defendants with a copy of the claim form they had issued, dated 13th June 2014. The letter detailed the Defendants press release of the 17th June 2013 and the Accord Group’s statement on their website together with alleged defamatory statements which they said the Defendants had published.

The Claimant failed to file further particulars on the 27th October and did not give any reason and they did not apply for any form of extension. Further, in December 2014 their Solicitors informed the Defendants they no longer acted in the matter and the Defendants had not received any notification of any new lawyers being appointed.

HHJ Parkes observed that the Claimant was a company incorporated in Bangladesh, producing clothing within that country whose customer base contained names within this country but that they did not have an established reputation within this jurisdiction.

He found that the words complained of by the Claimant had not been widely seen and that any publication of those words within this jurisdiction had been minimal. There were 151 page views worldwide of the release, it was not known what was within the jurisdiction, with 21 page views on another website.

The 151 page views all seem to have taken place after 6 May 2014 coincidently when the claim was being prepared so likely to be the solicitors for the Claimant.The Accord statement had 152 page views within the jurisdiction the judge thought a substantial number of those page views would be the parties and their advisers.

HHJ Parkes noted that the Claimant had not made any complaint about the Primark or Accord statement until 13 months and 10 months after publication, despite the fact that for the first few months, at least, the parties were in constant contact. The Judge commented as to the Claimants failure to respond promptly and then its failure to provide an explanation as to why, which suggested that they were not overly affected by what had been said, if they had any concerns they would have brought proceedings against the Defendants sooner.

Further the costs and time involved in bringing proceedings would outweigh what award a successful Claimant would have received.

HHJ Parkes struck out the claim in accordance with the principles laid down in the case of Jameel v Dow Jones Inc [2005] where the Court of Appeal reasoned that pursuing a libel action could be an abuse of process.

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