Associated Newspapers has lost an appeal against a £65,000 libel award made to a friend of former Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
The Daily Mail printed a story on 2 October 2008 headlined, “Met Boss in new ‘Cash for a Friend’ Storm”. The newspaper claimed that Andrew Miller’s IT company benefited from his friendship with Blair when it came to the award of a lucrative Met Police contract.
Miller sued the Mail for libel and won an award of £65,000, following a five-day trial in May 2012.
Associated Newspapers appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal and during a two-day hearing, claimed that the original judge had made several mistakes when considering the case.
In its appeal, the Mail argued that it only needed to prove that the conduct, when viewed in context, could provide “reasonable grounds for suspicion”.
However Lord Justice Maurice Kay dismissed the appeal saying: “ In my view the judge reached the right conclusion. The observable facts at the date of publication did not provide reasonable grounds for suspecting that Mr Miller was a willing beneficiary of improper conduct and cronyism on the part of Sir Ian Blair. I would therefore dismiss the appeal.”
Summing up the facts of the case, Kay said:
(i) Mr. Miller and Sir Ian Blair were long standing friends.
(ii) Impact Plus, a company which had been established by Mr. Miller and of which he was managing director, had developed a consultancy system designed to provide advice and support to persons responsible for overseeing major projects involving a substantial element of information technology.
(iii) On his appointment as Deputy Commissioner in February 2000 Sir Ian Blair became responsible on behalf of MPS for the oversight and delivery of the C3i programme.
(iv) On a social occasion in 2000 Mr. Miller warned Sir Ian that he might encounter difficulties in ensuring that the C3i programme, then a PFI project, was delivered successfully.
(v) In the course of a meeting with Ms Beaton in 2000, the purpose of which was to establish broader business contacts with MPS, Mr. Miller mentioned that he was a friend of Sir Ian Blair.
(vi) In 2001 the C3i programme ceased to be a PFI project and came under the direct control of MPS.
(vii) In September 2002 Sir Ian Blair made a telephone call to Mr. Miller out of the blue, in the course of which he said that he wanted to find a consultant to assist him in overseeing the C3i programme and asked Mr. Miller whether he could recommend any organisations capable of meeting his requirements. Mr. Miller told him that Impact Plus could provide consultancy services of that kind. Sir Ian told Mr. Miller that invitations to tender would be issued in due course and that an invitation would be sent to Impact Plus.
(viii) Advance notice of a future invitation to tender given in such general terms would not normally give a potential bidder any practical advantage in producing a tender and did not do so in this case.
(ix) On 28th October 2002 the Procurement Department of MPS sent invitations to tender for the provision of specified consultancy services to four companies, one of which was Impact Plus. The invitation stated that bids should be received by 7th November 2002 and that any enquiries should be directed to Mr. Kinch.
(x) Impact Plus considered that the specification in the invitation to tender was inadequate to meet the needs of MPS. As a result, Mr. Miller telephoned Sir Ian Blair to seek his approval for the submission of a different bid. Sir Ian cut him short and told him to speak to Mr. Atherton. Mr. Samphire spoke to Mr. Atherton about submitting a revised tender. He told Mr Atherton that the MPS specification did not adequately cover the work Impact Plus believed was necessary. Mr. Atherton then allowed Impact Plus to submit an alternative bid which he made clear would be assessed on its merits. Impact Plus submitted a bid proposing additional work at greater cost. It was commonplace for consultants in that field to submit a bid for additional work or work other than that specified in the invitation to tender, if the specification was thought to be inadequate.
(xi) The only other bidder, Willis, submitted a bid based on the specification in the invitation to tender. It was not told that Impact Plus had submitted a modified bid.
(xii) On 12th November 2002 the bids were evaluated by Mr. Atherton. In his view both met the necessary requirements, but each had disadvantages: the bid from Willis stuck rigidly to the specification, but did not demonstrate added value and intellectual input; the bid from Impact Plus was significantly over-engineered and was difficult to support in terms of value. Mr. Atherton suggested that Sir Ian meet both suppliers.
(xiii) Interviews were arranged for 28th November 2002 (Willis) and 3rd December 2002 (Impact Plus). On 25th November 2002 Sir Ian Blair telephoned Mr. Miller and told him that he should attend the interview with Impact Plus.
(xiv) Sir Ian Blair, Ms Beaton and Ms Walker were present at both interviews, which Sir Ian chaired. Mr. Miller and Mr. Samphire attended the interview on behalf of Impact Plus. It was not unusual for Mr. Miller to attend a presentation to an important potential client.
(xv) The contract was awarded to Impact Plus on terms which limited the amount payable in respect of the first phase.
For a full copy of the ruling click on this link.