The Sunday Times has won a legal battle against a London businessman after he sued them over a 2010 article claiming he was a “crime lord” involved in murder, drug trafficking and fraud.
According to a High Court judgment published today the story alleged that David Hunt had threatened to murder a rival property developer during a court battle to claim a share of a £20 million government investment fund.
The paper also said that Hunt, known in underworld circles as the “Long Fella”, was the head of “a vast criminal network” that Scotland Yard had deemed “too big” to tackle. It claimed that Hunt had been responsible for intimidating witnesses against him when he was prosecuted for assault in 1999. The case collapsed when the alleged victim withdrew his witness statement, the Sunday Times alleged.
Hunt said The Sunday Times allegations were “heartbreaking” and had “crucified” him as well as having a negative impact on his business relationships. He said he has legitimate businesses interests in waste management and entertainment venues.
Mr Justice Simon found in favour of The Sunday Times, upholding the paper’s defence that it had published the story in the public interest.
The judge described the story, by Michael Gillard, as “a serious piece of investigative journalism which was expressed in forthright, but not extravagant, terms”.
The Sunday Times could have been liable for damages of at least £40,000 if it had lost the case, with the judge saying these could have risen to £250,000 if Hunt “had been a man of good character”
Martin Ivens, acting editor of The Sunday Times, said: "The Sunday Times welcomes the judgment of Mr Justice Simon. This expensive and risky libel battle against a notorious crime figure in East London was made possible by the courage of investigative journalist Michael Gillard and several witnesses. Hunt has been brought to justice by a libel action where the authorities have failed for more than two decades. The judgment highlights the role of journalism for the public good."