Policeman's libel claim dismissed

The Daily
Mail and Evening Standard recently succeeded in justifying allegations
against a claimant policeman who investigated the concocted allegations
of sexual assault made against Neil and Christine Hamilton.

Miller, a former detective chief inspector, sued Associated Newspapers
for libel regarding articles published in the Daily Mail and the
Evening Standard on 11 September 2001. The headline in the Mail was,
“Hamilton sex case shambles to cost public £1m”, and in the Standard,
“Yard admits it should not have arrested Hamiltons”.

The articles
reported on an internal police investigation into the allegations of
sexual assault made by Nadine Milroy-Sloan against the Hamiltons in

In 2003, Milroy- Sloan was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice and given a three-year prison sentence.

articles claimed the internal police report had found the Hamiltons
should never have been arrested and that the investigation was a fiasco.

were two issues at the trial: the precise meaning of the alleged
defamatory words and whether the words were justified. The decision on
the meaning that the articles bore had a significant impact on the
scope of the newspapers’ justification defence. Miller argued that the
articles accused him of conducting grossly incompetent inquiries,
thereby wasting public money. The newspapers contended that the
articles only meant there were reasonable grounds to suspect that
Miller along with other officers was responsible for important failures
and had a leading role.

Mr Justice Eady agreed with the
newspapers. The articles did not mean that Miller alone was responsible
for the incompetence of the inquiry and readers would understand that
others were involved.

However, as the only senior figure
identified, readers would infer that he was responsible to a
significant extent for whatever failures there were. Therefore, for the
newspapers’ justification defence to succeed, it was not necessary for
them to prove Mr Miller was solely responsible but only to demonstrate
some failures in the exercise of his responsibilities.

After more
than three weeks of evidence, Mr Justice Eady found that the
newspapers’ justification defence was successful. Miller did have a
leading role and responsibility for the investigation and was among
those responsible for important failures, which included delays,
management failures and poor decision-making and led to the Hamiltons
being arrested, which should never have happened.

Miller’s application for permission to appeal Mr Justice Eady’s decision on the merits was refused.

a later, separate, hearing, Mr Justice Eady ordered Miller to pay costs
to Associated Newspapers on the indemnity basis. This means that, when
it assesses the costs, the court will resolve any doubt as to whether
the costs were reasonable in favour of the newspapers. As a result, the
costs are likely to be much greater than if they had been awarded on
the standard basis. The newspapers’ costs are estimated to be in the
region of £1.25m.

However, whether these costs will be
recoverable is a moot question. It is understood that Miller was being
represented under a conditional fee agreement, with the result that his
legal team will not be paid and Associated Newspapers may not be
either, unless Miller had taken out after-the-event insurance or there
are other arrangements.

Jennifer McDermott is a partner in the Media and Internet Litigation Group, Addleshaw Goddard

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