Reynolds defence allowed in Times 'crime lord' libel battle

The libel battle between The Sunday Times and a man who is suing the newspaper claiming that it has portrayed him as a "crime lord" advanced a further stage when a judge refused to strike out some particulars of the defence in which the publisher seeks to rely on Reynolds privilege.

Mr Justice Eady held that Times Newspapers Ltd, the newspaper's publisher, was entitled to use material which was relevant in order to demonstrate that the story it had published was the result of responsible journalism.

The judge also allowed the newspaper to append documents obtained from the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to its defence, as long as they supported its decision to publish the allegations, under paragraph 13.3 of Practice Direction 16 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

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David Hunt is suing The Sunday Times over an article headlined "Taxpayers fund land purchase from crime lords" which appeared on 23 May, 2010.

He claims the story means that he is a "crime lord" who controls a vast criminal network involved in murder, drug trafficking and fraud.

The newspaper pleads justification (truth) and Reynolds privilege, that it was responsible journalism on a matter of public interest.

It also alleged that Hunt had avoided prosecution by assaulting and intimidating witnesses.

The newspaper's particulars referred to police intelligence reports containing details of investigations into Hunt.

It sought to support its Reynolds defence by appending to its defence nearly 130 pages of redacted documents obtained from the police and Soca.

The issues were whether the court should strike out the newspaper's plea plea of justification alleging that Hunt had used a company to launder the proceeds of his criminal activities, including income from prostitution carried on at his property; whether it should strike out certain of the pleas the newspaper relied on to support of its Reynolds defence, and whether it should be allowed to append the redacted police and Soca documents to its defence.

Hunt argued that Reynolds privilege did not attach to the police intelligence reports as they merely recorded unsupported beliefs of his involvement in criminal activities and failed police investigations.

It was held that the plea of justification was legitimate and that the starting point was that the subject matter of the article was of public interest.



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