In the case of Economou v De Freitas ( EWHC 1853 (QB)) the claimant sued over publications in various media in November and December 2014 which, he claimed, referred to him and were the responsibility of the 60-year-old financial planner.
Mr de Freitas, the father of 22-year-old Eleanor de Freitas, who killed herself in April 2014, denied libel and told Mr Justice Warby that he reasonably believed that publication was in the public interest. The judge dismissed Mr Economou’s claim at the High Court on 26 July 2016.
In June, Mr Economou, 37, was cleared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of harassing Mr de Freitas, whose daughter took her own life days before she was due to face court on a charge of making a false rape claim.
Ms de Freitas, a trainee accountant who suffered bipolar disorder, had accused Mr Economou of rape in 2013. No case was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Mr Economou then brought a £200,000 private prosecution against Ms de Freitas for making false claims, which was taken over by the CPS, but she killed herself three days before the start of her trial on a charge of perverting the course of justice.
Mr Economou said in his defamation claim that he believed Mr de Freitas’s purpose was to “lash out” against him in public because he blamed him for his daughter’s death and wanted to take revenge.
The shipping agency company secretary said he was left close to a nervous breakdown and was shunned by a number of people. But Mr de Freitas said he had not named Mr Economou and it was highly unlikely that his reputation had been caused any serious harm. He had not acted from a desire for revenge or with any other malicious intent, he said, adding that his focus was on the role and conduct of the CPS and its decision to continue the prosecution of his daughter.
“I believed this was not only about my family, but also about other families who would face similar issues,” Mr de Freitas told the judge. “We wanted to bring some good out of this tragedy and enable lessons to be learned. We did not want other women or their families to suffer as we and Eleanor had or for there to be a repeat of these tragic circumstances.”
The judge, who heard that Mr Economou was never charged with rape, stressed that nothing said in court should be taken as impugning the presumption of innocence to which he was entitled, and added that it was also to be noted that Ms de Freitas was never tried or convicted on the charge of perverting the course of justice.
Mr Justice Warby said in his ruling:
“Mr Economou has pursued this case with sincerity but, as I find, in anger and with elements of vengefulness. Defamatory imputations can cause injury to feelings which is out of all proportion to the harm they cause to reputation. That, so far as the earlier publications are concerned, is this case. So far as the later publications are concerned, and more generally, Mr Economou has made the error of seeing this case from his own perspective as a victim, paying too much attention to the impact on him and his feelings, and giving insufficient consideration to the other perspectives, indeed the other rights and interests, that demand and deserve consideration” .
Commenting on the judgment, Mark Manley of Manleys solicitors, who represented Mr de Freitas during the majority of the action, said:
“It is good to see the court has ruled that in voicing frustration about a system which David considered let down his daughter, David de Freitas did not generate a libel against the claimant.
This judgment concludes a tragic and deeply upsetting series of allegations, brutally-fought courtroom battles, the most recent of which – a denial of an allegation of libel against a bereaved father – at least now provides some respite for David and his family.”
Mr Economou was refused permission to appeal but will re-apply directly to the Court of Appeal.
He was ordered to make an interim payment of £400,000 on account of costs, which will be held in a joint solicitors account, not to be paid out pending the outcome of any appeal.
The judge said that included a reduction of 10% to reflect Mr Economou’s “modest degree of success on some of the issues“.
After the ruling, Mr Economou said:
“I am very shocked by the outcome of this trial. The judge ruled that Mr de Freitas’s statements were seriously defamatory and caused me serious harm. We essentially proved our case but the judge ruled that his rights to free speech were more important than my vindication. Something is very wrong here. We are talking about a rape accusation. This is as serious as it gets. This will set a disturbing precedent for all future cases unless I appeal and I shall be appealing and seeking a second opinion on the judgment.“
Mr de Freitas said: “I am delighted with the result. It vindicates my public interest defence.”
This article originally appeared on the online subscription service Media Lawyer and is reproduced with permission and thanks.