Umeyor v Nwakamma (Rev 1) 
In Umeyor v Nwakamma (Rev 1)  EWHC 2980 (QB) (16 October 2015), the Claimant claimed damages against the Defendant for defamation in respect of a publication on or about the 14th March 2014, which the Claimant considered to be libellous. The Claimant and the Defendant had been members of the same Society which served the interests of the Mbaise community within the London area.
In his capacity as President of the society between 2008 and 2013 the Claimant travelled to the Mbaise State in Eastern Nigeria to hand over a donation from the society to its American equivalent society who were operating a medical mission in the region.
The dispute between the parties came about when, allegedly, the Claimant did not produce adequate paperwork relating to the donation. The Claimant was then removed from his post within the society apparently unconnected to matters surrounding the dispute. He then sought reinstatement and it was some months later when the Defendant responded, that the alleged defamation surfaced.
Mr Justice Jay examined the issues that had arisen and the defences which may arise:
- The defamatory meaning of the words
- Had the publication caused or was likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the Claimant
Truth:The Defendant must prove what the statement imputes is mainly true.
Honest opinion: Under s.3. of the Defamation Act 2013, the Defendant must prove that the words complained of were a matter of opinion and in general or specific terms, the basis of the opinion. Further, an honest person could have held that opinion based on what was apparent at the time of publication.
Qualified privilege: “whether the words were published on an occasion of common law qualified privilege” did the Defendant, being the treasurer, have a duty to publish them or was under express or implied authorisation from the Executive Committee.
Mr Justice Jay noted that issues arose as to quantification of general damages for damage to reputation and the resulting injury to feelings. He considered Meaning, Imputation and Serious Harm which had been referred to in the closing argument of Defendant’s counsel who had submitted that the words complained of fell into Chase Level 2 from the Court of Appeal case of Chase v NGN (2002) which meant that looking at the words in context, what the Defendant had said was, there were reasonable grounds to suspect the Claimant had forged the two documents or had knowledge they were forged.
Mr Justice Jay considered the meaning
“In my judgment, the Defendant was quite clearly stating that the Claimant had submitted documents which he had either forged himself or had procured others to forge. The imputation was that the Claimant had done so dishonestly, with a view to personal gain.”
Further, he was satisfied the words complained of would at the very least cause the Claimant serious harm to his reputation which would invariably lower the Claimant’s esteem and reputation in the eyes of the 15 members of the Union, of which he had been President and to elders within the membership.
“An allegation of forgery is almost always serious, and is particularly so in the context of a man who recently held the highest office in the Union.”
With regard to Truth, Mr Justice Jay considered that the burden was on the Defendant to prove “the impugned documents are forgeries” which burden could be discharged by proving that the documents are not genuine.
Mr Justice Jay noted the Defendant’s demeanour when confronted with the circumstances as to the publication of “ the impugned documents” and he observed that the Defendant knew he had gone too far as it was apparent he had not received authorisation from the Executive Committee to call the Claimant a forger and he had sought to convince the court that he had which Mr Justice Jay rejected. He found that the Defendant could not prove “that the disputed documents were, or are, forgeries, with the imputation that the Claimant has acted dishonestly”.
With regard to Honest Opinion, Mr Justice Jay considered it was reasonably apparent that the Defendant had grounds for thinking the documents were forged and was honest in his belief. The Claimant could not persuade him otherwise. He continued that, in his statement the Defendant had stated they were forgeries and for the defence of Honest Opinion to succeed he would have to demonstrate that it was a statement of opinion not fact. Mr Justice Jay considered that the Defendant had drawn upon “his own deductions about their authenticity, without any special knowledge or expertise” and was making a statement of fact, not of opinion.
In his judgment he considered the Defendant had failed “the first condition of the defence of honest opinion” but that he would have satisfied the second and third conditions as his opinion “would have been honestly held and sufficiently grounded on stated facts, viewing the document as a whole”.
Mr Justice Jay discussed Qualified Privilege and that the defamatory statements had not been published within the course of a Union meeting but sent by email. He had to consider whether they could be viewed as being part of the Union business or had the Defendant been acting on his own volition. If he had acted with the authority of the Union he could have concluded this was part of their legitimate business and “A similar conclusion might be drawn if the Defendant’s role as Treasurer expressly or impliedly mandated such a publication. Whereas proof of these matters may not be sufficient for the defence to be made out, they certainly are necessary”.
He concluded that the Defendant did not act with the authority of the Union committee or within his own duty as Treasurer, which had been contended by the Defendant’s counsel. Mr Justice Jay considered the difficulty with this was that the Defendant was clearly acting in his personal capacity, as Treasurer he was entitled to raise concerns and seek explanations but not to call him a forger.
Mr Justice Jay concluded that all the defences had failed and therefore he had to consider damages. He weighed up all the issues observing that the defamatory statement had been unwisely worded which he believed the Defendant had regretted and, it would have only required a small change to make it acceptable.
Defendant’s counsel thought the damages should be nominal. Mr Justice Jay considered the Claimant having his name linked with forgery was serious and could not be disregarded.
He awarded general damages of £2,000 with judgment for the Claimant.