Business F1 loses £75k libel appeal

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Business F1 magazine and its owner and editor, Tom Rubython, have lost an appeal against libel damages of £75,000 awarded against them in a case brought by Tony Purnell, the former chief of the Jaguar Formula One team.

The magazine and Rubython had appealed on the basis that the jury which awarded the damages, at a hearing before Mr Justice Gray at the High Court on 4 May last year, should have been directed not to include any element for vindication when deciding on the total to award.

The case arose from an article which appeared in Business F1 magazine in April 2005 under the headline "Purnell bribed top journalist to puff achievements" which falsely alleged that he had bribed the journalist to inflate his achievements at the Jaguar F1 team.

The magazine and Rubython sought to use a justification defence, but it was struck out at a hearing on 14 March last year by Mr Justice Eady, who held that even if it were to be assumed that all of the factual assertions made in the defendants' witness statements were true, the evidence for the claimant was so strong that a jury would be perverse if it were to conclude that a bribe was in fact paid.

The case then went to a jury trial on the issue of damages. Mr Justice Gray told the jury at the trial on 4 May that an appropriate award for both general and aggravated damages would be between £25,000 and £60,000. But the jury awarded £75,000.

It was argued during the appeal that the fact that the justification defence had been struck out was sufficient vindication for Mr Purnell, but this contention has now been rejected.

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