Starr v Ward [2015]

In Starr v Ward [2015] EWHC 1987 (QB) (10 July 2015) the Claimant, a well-known comedian brought an action against the Defendant for slander and libel for interviews she gave to the BBC on the 14th November 2011 and an ITV programme broadcast on the 3rd October 2012. Also the Defendant sued as to a publication of her memoir on “Fan Story”and for the publication of her eBook.

In the ITV interview the Defendant had said,

  • “I was horribly, horribly humiliated by Freddie Starr who had a very bad attack of wandering hands and had groped me and I didn’t like him because he smelled like my step-father and it frightened me and freaked me out and I rebuffed him and he humiliated me in front of everyone in the dressing room.”

Mr Justice Nicol referred to these words as ‘the ITV words’. They were spoken to the interviewer by the Defendant but the words were not broadcast when the programme was aired on the 3rd October 2012.

The Claimant claimed that,

  • “the ITV words meant that the Claimant was a paedophile who had groped and thereby sexually assaulted the Defendant when she was a fourteen year old schoolgirl and that he had humiliated and frightened her”.

The Defendant had been sexually abused by her step-father and shoplifted. She was sent to an approved school where she came across Saville who she said sexually abused her and other girls at the School. They were given cigarettes and she went on one of his TV shows, ‘Clunk Click’ on the 7th March 1974 with four other girls where she met the Claimant who was appearing as a guest. The Defendant claimed that he “felt her bottom. She protested vigorously”.

The Defendant in 2008 wrote about her experiences “on a website called ‘FanStory’.” She did not mention the Claimant by his name.

On the 14th November 2011 she took part in an interview by Liz MacKean for a BBC programme about Saville, which did not broadcast, where she spoke the following words:

  • “That’s when the other guests on the show would come in, generally after the show had finished they would come in and they clearly saw girls and, well, kids, male and female, as being there to be used. I had a famous person who would try, he smelled awful, he smelled of sweat and alcohol and it made me heave just to be near him, so I certainly didn’t want him to do anything to me.”

The Claimant relied on the words spoken by the Defendant as a claim for slander. He pleaded that the words were defamatory of him in an innuendo meaning. He alleged the Defendant had told the interviewer that he was the person she referred to and she had, as a 14 yr schoolgirl, visited Saville’s dressing room, the words she had spoken to the BBC interviewer were in response to the question asked ‘What sort of things happened in Jimmy Savile’s dressing room?’

The Claimant in media interviews denied meeting the Defendant or Saville on BBC properties. He had met Saville on two occasions but at different times. On the 8th October 2012 Channel 4 news acquired an “episode of ‘Clunk Click’” made on the 7th March 1974 where the Claimant was shown as a guest of the show and the Defendant could be identified from the audience. They also broadcast part of the interview of the 2nd October 2012 where the interviewer of the programme “ ‘Exposure: the Other Side of Jimmy Savile’ (‘Exposure’). “ included ‘the ITV words’ referred to by Mr Justice Nicol.

The Claimant also complained of the words used in a Panorama broadcast on the 22nd October 2012 with footage of the Claimant on the Saville programme ‘Clunk Click’, where reference was made to the Defendant’s earlier BBC interview which had not been broadcast. The Claimant said the programme,

  • “had the natural and ordinary meaning that he saw children in Jimmy Savile’s dressing room as being there to be sexually abused, and that he had tried to abuse the Defendant when she was a fourteen year old schoolgirl”.

The Defendant on the 13th October 2012 published an eBook which included reference to a popular comedian with the initial ‘F’. The Claimant alleged that although he was not named in the eBook he was identifiable as a popular comedian with the initial ‘F’ and further as a result of the ITV and afterwards BBC programmes.

  • “The Claimant alleges that the eBook words meant that he was a paedophile with a sexual liking for underage girls; that he groped and thereby sexually assaulted underage girls; that he, with Jimmy Savile, encouraged a group of underage girls to drink alcohol while blatantly choosing which of them to humiliate; and that he humiliated the Defendant in front of other girls”.

The Defendant took issue with the meaning attributed by the Claimant and the facts which the Claimant relied upon for the innuendo meanings of the ITV and BBC words.

  • “For each of the publications, the Defendant pleads in the alternative that the words were true in the meanings which she sets out.In the further alternative, the Defendant says that she is entitled to rely on the same privilege as was established in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 2 AC 127 (‘Reynolds’), or that each of the publications was on an occasion of qualified privilege since there was a duty and interest relationship between herself and those to whom each publication was made. She says also that the claims (except the ones based on the BBC and ITV broadcasts) are an abuse of process.”

In June evidence was heard from the Claimant and an old school friend of the Defendant who, on the 7th March 1974 recording of ‘Clunk Click’, was with the Defendant and another school friend, ‘Witness C’.

Mr Justice Nicol considered the two applications made by the Claimant, to amend his Particulars of Claim and extend the period of limitation for slander in respect of the BBC words. With regard to the extension of time for the slander claim he could not see any evidence before him as to why the Claimant had delayed and noted “ ‘Time is always “of the essence” in defamation claims’.” He continued that it was for the Claimant to show the Court “that the equitable jurisdiction which he invokes under s.32A ought to be exercised”. Mr Justice Nicol said this was not done and would not consider an extension to the time limit.

On the amendment to the Particulars of Claim, Mr Justice Nicol concentrated on the ITV words as the claim in respect of the BBC words was now out of time.

With regard to the ITV words he noted that the Defendant was relying upon the common law defence of ‘justification’. The Defendant in her evidence stated that her allegations were true, the footage of the ‘Clunk Click’ programme showed both her and the Claimant. She had given evidence “she said that she recognised it as the first stage in what was called a ‘goose’. The next stage of a goose was that the man would grab or touch the woman or girl’s breasts. That, too, had often happened to her”. When she objected she said “Freddie Starr then said ‘I wouldn’t touch you anyway. You’re a titless wonder.’ She says she was frightened. She was also humiliated. Her breasts were small. She was self-conscious of them. To have attention drawn to them in this manner was deeply hurtful”.

The Claimant denied he ever touched the Defendant. Mr Justice Nicol noted however that he had said that he had never appeared on television with Saville which he later acknowledged as being an error. Mr Justice Nicol on hearing the Claimant’s evidence considered that he did not have any real memory of that night.

After hearing the evidence of the Defendant’s school friends including witness C, Mr Justice Nicol considered the Defendant’s account of what happened as true. In his summary of conclusions he noted:

  • “The interview which the Defendant gave to ITV did name the Claimant. He sues her for this in slander. He has accepted that he cannot establish any financial loss in consequence, but that in itself is not an obstacle to this claim since the Defendant’s words imputed that he had committed a criminal offence (indecently assaulting a woman) and was likely to disparage him in his profession as a comedian and entertainer. However, she has proved that it was true that he groped her (an under-age school girl) and humiliated her by calling her a ‘titless wonder’. His behaviour and smell also frightened her because it reminded her of her step-father who had sexually abused her as a child. Because her words were true, this claim fails”.

In Summary the claim in slander based on the Defendant’s interview to the BBC was out of time ie more than one year after broadcast.

The claim in libel of a clip from the BBC ‘Panorama’ interview was only recognisably the Claimant because the BBC included footage of the Claimant ,not authorised by the Defendant and so she was was not liable for the broadcast.

The interview to ITV did name the Claimant. The Claimant sued in slander. As the Defendant’s words were true the claim failed.

The clip from the ITV interview was broadcast three times. The Defendant authorised its broadcasting so she was a co-publisher of those broadcasts. However because her words were true, the claim also failed.

The Claimant had sued the Defendant for publication of her memoir on Fan Story only after 8th October 2012. He couldn’t prove it was still available after this date so the claim failed.

The Claimant sued for the publication of the eBook. The allegations were the same as in the ITV interview. They were true. She also alleged that the Claimant had encouraged her to drink alcohol. This was not true but that fact did not seriously injure his reputation. The readership of the eBook, was very small and did not name the Claimant but referred only to ‘F’, a popular comedian. There was not the evidence that these matters would have been sufficient to identify the Claimant. The judge found the claim as to publication of the eBook did not represent a real and substantial tort.

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