New twist in Lynn Barber's Telegraph review libel battle

The long-running libel battle between the Daily Telegraph and academic Dr Sarah Thornton took another twist when a High Court judge refused the paper’s request to amend its defence to a malicious falsehood claim.

The Telegraph sought to insert into its defence a statement to the effect that the words which Thornton complained about were comment, not fact, and therefore could not be described as false.

Thornton claims to have been defamed by a reference to giving “copy-approval” made by Lynn Barber in a review of her book, Seven Days in the Art World, from November, 2008.

Justice Tugendhat held in a decision on 16 June last year that the review was not defamatory, or the criticisms not serious enough to qualify as defamatory, giving summary judgment on the issue to the newspaper.

The newspaper’s latest application related to Dr Thornton’s malicious falsehood claim which is ongoing.

Tugendhat said the paper had pleaded a defence of ‘honest comment’and was now seeking to re-introduce much of the same material into the defence for the malicious falsehood claim.

The judge, who referred to the case as having an “unhappy history”, said: “The question raised by the proposed amendment is this: is it the law that the words complained of cannot be regarded as false if they are comment which an honest person could express on the basis of the contents of the book which are identified?”

The judge rejected the newspaper’s application, and invited the parties to submit a draft timetable so that he could make directions which should lead to the early trial of the action.

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