A man suing the Evening Standard over claims he lead a criminal network involved in murder and drug trafficking has won a battle to strike out parts of the paper’s defence.
David Hunt, who claims the Standard portrayed him as the leader of an East End gang, however failed in a bid to persuade Justice Tugendhat to strike out other elements.
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Hunt had applied for the High Court judge to strike out a defence claim he had “a bad reputation for being part of an organised crime group and for violent criminal behaviour”.
Catrin Evans, for the newspaper, which pleads justification, had argued that Hunt’s reputation could be raised as evidence in mitigation of damage and was an issue to be considered as part of the defence.
Hunt failed to have struck out aclaim that he had a reputation with law enforcement agencies as “head of one of the most notorious organised crime groups in the country”.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, for Hunt, argued the plea of general bad reputation was “wholly unparticularised” and that it should identify the community or location within which his reputation was allegedly to be bad.
Evans said these points were answered in the defence itself and added that Hunt had put his reputation at issue by describing himself in his claim as “a businessman with substantial interests in commercial property in the London area”.
Justice Tugendhat said: “It is not in dispute that he has such substantial interests: the words complained of say as much. It is whether he is a businessman that is in issue.
“It is common for a claimant to give evidence as to his status, although that is rarely a matter of dispute …
“Damages in libel are required, amongst other reasons, to repair the damage to a person’s reputation and the injury to his feelings… It is unheard of (in my experience) for a claimant not to give evidence of his status at the start of a libel action.
“If he failed to do so, there is a risk that any damages might fail to reach a figure which would provide the vindication that he has brought the proceedings to secure.”
In his judgment, Evans was correct on this point, the judge said. However, he struck out six paragraphs of the defence and part of a seventh.
These dealt with allegations concerning the alleged criminal activities of a one-time associate of Hunt who died almost two years ago, a dispute over land in which death threats were allegedly made, claims that criminal proceedings against Hunt and his brother were dropped because the alleged victims were too frightened to make statements, and allegations of witness intimidation.
Tomlinson had argued that all these were either irrelevant or contained no evidence or material which linked them to the claimant.