Richard Rufus v Paul Elliott EWHC 3355 (QB)

Former professional footballer, Richard Rufus (the Claimant) who was at the time assisting Charlton Athletic Football Club through their community trust programme, brought a libel action against Paul Elliott (the Defendant), a former professional footballer who had been involved with anti-racism in football and who also a trustee of the “kick-it out” group, in respect of a press release issued by him.

The Claimant and the Defendant had been friends. They had also been previously in a business relationship.  The Claimant believed that the press release issued by the Defendant was defamatory in that it alluded to an earlier article which had appeared in the Sun Newspaper and was headlined “A football anti-racism champion has sparked a race row after calling another black man n…..” this had referred to an earlier argument between the Claimant and the Defendant.

The Defendant’s press release inferred that the Claimant behaved disloyally by releasing a text message sent by the Defendant to the Claimant which included the offensive word used in the Sun Newspaper headline.  The Claimant in the meantime said it was not him who publicised the text message.

The Defendant argued that as the word used was so offensive it would not be defamatory to the Claimant to say that he had publicised the text.

The Judge referred to the case of Mawe v Piggot (1869)  “the argument on behalf of the Priest was noted to be that amongst certain classes who were themselves criminal, or who sympathised with crime, it would expose the Priest to great odium to represent him as an informer or prosecutor” but the judgment was “that is quite true, but we cannot be called upon to adopt that standard”. 

In the case of Mycroft v Sleight (1921) which was also referred to by the Judge, it was noted that “a charge of trickery or of underhand disloyalty or of hypocrisy is a very different matter” the words in that case were found to be defamatory finding that the Defendant intended towards the Plaintiff “with conduct which I think would be condemned by a just, fair-minded and reasonable citizen”.

It was acknowledged that the meaning was that the Claimant had publicised the text, that “right-thinking” people are aware of the failings of others and that, when communicating with others in private who were once friends, even the most upright of citizens may say what should not have been said. Therefore, “right-thinking” people should consider the consequences of such disclosure “that the former friend would lose his office, was both disloyal and wrong”

The press release “is capable of having the meaning attributed to it in the Particulars of Claim and that the statement is capable of being defamatory of the Claimant.

The matter will proceed to trial where the meaning and other matters will be decided.

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