This week, the High Court threw out a defamation claim brought against the Daily Telegraph by tennis player Robert Dee who claimed the paper had defamed him by dubbing him the “world’s worst tennis pro”.
This is the latest in a string of high profile media cases, which has included the decision by Mr Justice Tugendhat to reverse a gagging order preventing reporting of England football captain John Terry’s affair with the girlfriend of his team mate Wayne Bridge.
What’s interesting here is that more than 30 other media outlets decided to settle defamation cases brought against them by the tennis player. Dee won a range of payments and apologies from across the global media, including a £12,500 settlement from the BBC, plus costs of £28,000 and £15,000 in damages from the Daily Mail.
The Daily Telegraph was the only outlet prepared to challenge the claim in a bid to have it struck out. The newspaper instructed solicitor advocate David Price of David Price solicitors.
The original article, which was published in April 2008, stated: “Robert Dee, 21, of Bexley, Kent, did not win a single match during his first three years on the circuit, touring at an estimated cost of £200,000.”
Addleshaw Goddard, which acted for Dee, argued that the article had exposed its client to ridicule and was detrimental to his ability to work in the future.
Mrs Justice Sharp rejected the argument that the claim would succeed in a higher court, concluding: “It wouldn’t be immediately apparent how the claim would be likely to restore or enhance the claimant’s reputation in any event.”
“The incontestably true facts are that the claimant [Robert Dee] did lose 54 matches in a row in straight sets in his first three years on the world ranking ITF/ATP tournaments on the international professional tennis circuit, and that this was the worst ever run,” she added.
The newspaper, she continued, had “no additional obligation” to prove Dee “is objectively the worst professional tennis player in the world”.
This fight is far from over.
In a statement Dee said he was considering whether to appeal the decision. The statement read: “It’s disappointing that the court has decided that my case against the Telegraph isn’t strong enough to proceed to a full trial. It’s particularly disappointing in light of the fact that the court accepted that the Telegraph was “having a laugh” at my expense and that the article could be defamatory.”
The Daily Telegraph, however, intends to request indemnified costs at the costs hearing next month. When the legal costs of the claimant are laid bare it will be interesting to see how the court reacts.