The first libel jury trial for nearly 3 years has resulted in a victory for the claimant. After a five day trial a High Court jury unanimously found in favour of graduate student and part time university tutor Luke Cooper and awarded damages of £35,000 against the Evening Standard and £25,000 against the Daily Mail.
The claim arose out of stories alleging that the claimant he was involved in violence at a demonstration against education cuts. He was described him as a ringleader in an attack on a Conservative party building during the demonstration in London in November 2010.
Mr Cooper, told the jury that his reputation was “as badly trashed” as Millbank Tower during the demonstrations in November 2010. He complained that the first story, in the Evening Standard, meant he was a ringleader who planned with others to hijack a peaceful march while the second, in the Daily Mail, portrayed him as one of the “hardcore” who organised the riot at the Conservative party’s headquarters.
In addition, he complained that the accompanying “out-of-context” picture, which was taken from a photo-sharing website and showed him in a pub a couple of years earlier, was chosen to give the impression of a man grinning at the havoc wreaked.
There was an issue about an interview with Mr Cooper by an Evening Standard journalist Benedict Moore-Bridger. He was accused by Mr Cooper of “deliberately falsifying” part of an interview with him to make it seem like he was a ringleader in the attacks. Mr Cooper was quoted by the paper as saying “The reason we attacked Tory HQ is we want to send a really strong message to this government that we are not going to let higher education be brutalised“. He denied saying “The reason we attacked Tory HQ“.
Mr Moore-Bridger denied falsifying the quotation. He told the jury “It is frankly insulting to say I deliberately falsified anything. I don’t do that and I have never done that.”
Mr Justice Eady told members of the jury on Thursday to apply the test of a “regular newspaper reader” when deliberating over their verdict. After deliberations lasting more than four hours, the jury foreman told Eady they had found unanimously that the allegations contained in the articles were not likely to be substantially true. The jury made an award of damages totalling £60,000 against the two newspapers.
Mr Justice Eady granted a permanent injunction gainst repeitition of the libels and ordered the two newspapers to pay costs. He ordered an interim payment of £450,000 within 28 days in respect of the base costs of the Claimant’s lawyers (who were acting on a Conditional Fee Agreement). In a statement outside court, Mr Cooper said:
“My only wish throughout these proceedings was the repudiation of the allegations made against me after the Millbank occupation. Today’s verdict is an important vindication for me personally and means I can draw a line under the affair .. The jury verdict demonstrates that they saw through the falsehoods both papers peddled about me and the anti-cuts movement, which continued right up until yesterday.”
The remarkable sequence of nearly three years without a libel jury trial has been broken. The claimant has succeeded in a close fought contest in which the jury had to discharge its traditional function of deciding issues as to meaning and fact. Clause 11 of the Defamation Bill effectively abolishes trial by jury in defamation cases. As the bill passes through its legislative stages MPs and peers might like to give careful consideration to cases of this kind. Do they want issues between newspapers and members of the public to be decided exclusively by judges? The impending abolition of jury trial has not been the subject of much debate so far, this case may bring it back into focus.
On our calculations this was the sixth concluded libel trial of 2012 and the third involving the “Daily Mail”. So far the claimants have won three (Cairns, Bento and Cooper) and the defendants two (Rothschild and Thour) with one reserved judgment awaited (Miller).
Representation: William McCormick QC, instructed by Louis Charalambous of Simons Muirhead and Burton for the Claimant; Adrienne Page QC and Yuli Takatsuki, instructed by Keith Mathieson of RPC for the Defendants.