Court-ordered statement

Anna Turley has won her libel action against Unite the Union and Stephen Walker, the editor of The Skwawkbox.

Following a 6 day trial at the Royal Courts of Justice, Mr Justice Nicklin awarded Ms Turley £75,000 in general and aggravated damages.

Ms Turley sued Unite and Mr Walker for libel in respect of an article which appeared on The Skwawkbox on 7 April 2017 with the headline “Exclusive: Progress MP ‘joins Unite’s Unwaged section’ for GenSec Vote”.

Mr Walker wrote the article. Knowing the broad gist of what he intended to publish, Unite gave The Skwawkbox a statement for inclusion in the article, which was defamatory of Ms Turley. The wording of Unite’s ‘for publication’ statement was “the equivalent of throwing a substantial amount of fuel over a very small fire”.

The article complained of falsely alleged that ‘there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant chose to join the Community Section of Unite at a concessionary subscription rate knowing that the section was restricted to unwaged persons and that, by joining it, she submitted an application that she knew was false in this respect, and accordingly acted dishonestly in submitting it.’

The Judge rejected the Defendants’ defences of ‘truth’ and ‘publication on a matter of public interest’.

He found that there were “no reasonable grounds to suspect [Ms Turley] of any form of dishonesty in relation to her joining Unite Community”.

While the subject matter of the article was a matter of public interest, Mr Walker’s belief that publishing it was in the public interest was not “reasonable”. He did not have any evidence to support a central statement in the article, namely that the Claimant had ‘made a false declaration’ when applying to join Unite Community. He also had failed to give Ms Turley “an adequate or fair opportunity” to provide a response to the allegations he intended to publish.

The Judge also rejected the Defendants’ argument that Ms Turley had been dishonest in her conduct of the claim.

The size of the damages award of £75,000 reflects the seriousness of the allegation made against Ms Turley. The Judge held that such an award was necessary to vindicate her reputation in the public’s eyes and to compensate her for the damage to her reputation and the distress caused by the publication and the allegations put to her during the trial.