Big Brother contestant appeals after libel action thrown out

Former Big Brother housemate Lisa Jeynes has been given permission to appeal against a judge’s decision to dismiss her claim that she was defamed by a newspaper which she says portrayed her as a man pretending to be a woman.

Jeynes, 38, who featured in the 2003 series of Big Brother, wants to sue over publications which appeared on the cover of Love it! magazine and in the News of the World in May last year.

Her complaint focuses on the words: “BB’s Lisa ‘the geezer’. My fake boobs fell out on date with James Hewitt!”

She claims that the innuendo – against a background of rumours in 2003 that there was to be a transsexual contestant in Big Brother – was that she was really a man posing as a woman, a transgender or transsexual.

The defendants, News Magazines Ltd and News Group Newspapers, which deny libel, had argued that the words complained of taken in their proper context could not bear Jeynes’s “far-fetched” meaning

Mr Justice Eady dismissed her claim at a hearing in the High Court on 25 April this year, saying that no reasonable reader could conclude that the words complained of bore the meaning alleged and adding: “That would be to read far too much into those words.”

He refused Jeynes permission to appeal on the basis that her case had no prospect of success.

But at a hearing on 14 November Lord Justice Sedley allowed Jeynes’ application for permission to appeal.

He said Lord Justice Pill had refused permission to appeal after considering the papers, because he agreed with Mr Justice Eady’s reasoning and conclusion that there was no prospect of a successful appeal.

But, said Lord Justice Sedley, he did not share that view, which he thought was largely a matter of impression.

The application to strike the action out, he said, was made not on the basis that there could be nothing defamatory in suggesting that a woman was actually a transsexual or a man, but on the footing that the words could not reasonably be read as making any such imputation.

Adrian Davies, for Ms Jeynes, argued that was not just the use of the word “geezer” that carried the sting, but the use of it in association with the words “fake boobs”.

Secondly, he argued, it could not possibly be thought that even in isolation from the article the words were incapable of suggesting that the claimant was not really a woman – yet this is what the judge found.

In addition, as Lord Nicholls had said in Charleston v News group Newspapers Ltd ([1995] 2 AC 65), an unobjectionable text could not always cure a defamatory headline.

Lord Justice Sedley went on: “It seems to me that meaning is quintessentially a matter for a jury, especially, if I may say so, in matters of demotic literature and popular culture such as we have here.

“The task of a judge on a strike-out application concerned with possible meaning is to sever only what on any rational view is fanciful, absurd or factitious.

“I accept, stressing that I have of course considered only one side of the argument, Mr Davies’ submission that the meaning and innuendo pleaded by him are arguably not within this class.

“If that is right then the claimant will be entitled to put them before a jury for its verdict.”

It would be for a full court to say whether the claimant was right in saying that this was such a case, or whether the defence had been right in saying that on no rational view could it be.

Mr Justice Eady was told in April that Jeynes, of Teasel Avenue, Penarth, South Glamorgan, a one-time shop manager turned model, was now living on benefits following an accident.

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