Meadows Care Ltd & Anor v Lambert | Meaning
The High Court has thrown out a defamation claim, after deciding the meaning. The claim brought by two children’s care home providers against a council boss over what he said during a Rochdale Community Forum meeting in May 2012, after nine men were convicted of the sexual abuse of more than 40 girls.
The Claimants issued proceedings against the Defendants arising out of statements made by the Councillor at a meeting on 30th May 2012.
The words spoken were
“Don’t send any more ‘vulnerable’ kids to us… The legislation surrounding private care homes is totally inadequate. They do not do what it says on the tin. They do not protect vulnerable children, they do not rehabilitate them back into the community, they do the opposite. If these homes were secure units then it would be safe, no one would get in and no one would get out. They would get full access to medical care and full access to social services. But there is no control, they don’t even lock the door to keep them in, they go missing, they call the police and its up to the police, local authority and health services to pick up the problems… The council doesn’t know anything about the children who are sent to Rochdale and we do not know what is going on inside those care homes and we have no right to find out. Host councils do not ask if the needs of the child are being met by the contract that they sign with the private care home operator. Rochdale borough, at the moment, is the wrong place to send these children, yet host authorities are doing exactly that.
The Claimants considered that the statements were directed at themselves. That the meaning of the statement was
“the Claimants and each of them own and operate care homes which are dangerous, unsafe and damaging to both vulnerable children in their care and society and therefore no children should be placed with them and they should not be allowed to operate”.
The Defendants stated that the words were opinion and there was no defamatory statement of fact. Also that nothing in Cllr Lambert’s remarks could sensibly have been understood as an allegation of culpable behaviour or incompetence on the part of the Claimants or their staff.
The Judge agreed and found that the meaning of the article was
“Private care homes, of which there are 41 in Rochdale, do not protect vulnerable children and do not re-integrate them into the community; they do the opposite. This is because:
(1) The legislation governing private care homes is totally inadequate; there should be a parliamentary review of it.
(2) Rochdale has no role in the life of any child sent here by another authority.
(3) If children were sent out of their own community to a secure home they would be safe. No one could get in, they could not get out, and they would have full access to educational, medical and social services.
(4) By contrast, where children go missing from a private care home the local council in that area picks up the social problems and the local health authority picks up the medical problems. Home authorities are washing their hands of the issue because they are not asking whether the welfare needs of the child are met by signing a contract with a provider outside their own area.
(5) Rochdale is in any case the wrong place for another local authority to send a troubled and vulnerable child in the current climate (following the grooming case).”
He found that that the words complained of did not bear any meaning defamatory of the Claimants; that they were an expression of opinion and that the claim had no prospect of success at a trial.