Cops filmed smashing car with baseball bats have libel case against Channel 4 News thrown out

Six police officers from the Enfield Crime Squad filmed smashing up a car with baseball bats while arresting a suspect have had their libel claim against Channel 4 News thrown out.

The six also sued journalist Simon Israel, not over the footage itself, but because he said: “Channel 4 News understands that the officers justified the violent arrest on this road because intelligence suggested Mr Billinghurst carried weapons and had threatened the police before. But the inquiry found no evidence that such intelligence even existed and that the victim had no history of violence.”

They claim that this statement gave the impression that they mislead a police displinary panel.

The claimaints also sought aggravated damages because Channel 4 News refused to retract the broadcast or withdraw it from the site after it was first published on 2 November 2011.

The Sun first published the video footage on 23 May 2011 and reported: “The men [i.e. the arresting officers] claim they believed their suspect was armed and had previously threatened to shoot an officer.

"He was supposed to have had links to a gang and his brother had been killed while being chased by the police. There was intelligence that he had threatened to shoot a police officer in revenge."

Gavin Millar QC for Channel 4 News said the claimants were invited (both by Channel 4 and the Met) "to state their case as to whether the explanation attributed to them in The Sun was an explanation they had given. But since they have not so far taken that opportunity, there is no real prospect of them denying that they did in the past give that explanation, or, if they do deny it, there is no real prospect of their denial being believed."

Mr Justice Tugendhat said he saw no prospect of the claimants defeating the Reynolds responsible journalism defence that Channel 4 would have used at trial, so threw the claim out.

The claimants are not named in the Channel 4 broadcast and the judge said he thought the grainy nature of the footage made it "very unlikely" that they could prove publication to "a substantial number of persons who did not already know much more about the allegations against them,and about the outcome of the Misconduct Hearing, than is stated in the broadcast."

A spokesman for Channel 4 News said: "This judgement is an important victory for freedom of speech and reporting on matters in the public interest. The six police officers in question have already been found guilty of disreputable conduct for using excessive force to stop a car suspected of being stolen. It is disappointing that they chose to bring the proceedings in respect of a report of the investigation."

Read the full judgment here.

 

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