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Cooke v MGN Ltd [2014] EWHC 2831


Lack of “serious harm” in defamation claim under Defamation Act 2013.

Facts

The defendants published an article which suggested that various landlords made significant profit from renting poor quality social housing on a street which was featured in a television programme called “Benefits Street.” The claimants were a housing association which owned three properties on the street and its chief executive. The claimants complained that although the factual assertions concerning them were true, those assertions, read in context, were defamatory.

Issue

Section 1(1) Defamation Act 2013 provides that a statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause “serious harm” to the reputation of the claimant. The question of whether the claimants had suffered or were likely to suffer such harm was considered by the court as a preliminary issue.

Held

The word “serious” in section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 was not defined and it was for the judge in contested claims to determine whether serious, and not merely substantial, harm to the claimant’s reputation had been or was likely to be caused. It was not sufficient to demonstrate serious distress or injury to feeling. In the instant case, the requirement of serious harm in the 2013 Act was not satisfied. The statements in the article did not fall into the category of statement which were so obviously likely to cause serious harm that the likelihood could be inferred from the words used. Although the words used were capable of being defamatory there was no specific evidence that the article had caused serious harm to the claimants’ reputations and none could be inferred. The claim was therefore dismissed.

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