One Brick Court defends Elton John libel claim against The Times

One Brick Court’s Manuel Barca QC has successfully defended the publisher of The Times against a libel claim brought by Elton John.

The singer instructed Carter Ruck partner Nigel Tait to bring the claim after a report mentioned John in relation to tax avoidance schemes. Ron Thwaites QC and William McCormick QC, both of Ely Place, acted for John. Times Newspapers’ in-house lawyer Pia Sarma turned to Barca to defend the claim.

The article was published on 21 June 2012 and made three references to John in the context of him being a former client of an accountant mentioned in the piece.

The article, which was about film finance schemes acting as tax breaks for investors, also carried a picture of the pop star.

Thwaites said that by mentioning his client in association with the accountant, the “imputation is to be inferred from the repeated references” that he was engaged with tax avoidance.

But Barca argued that the references were “fleeting” and in each case made it clear the association was in the past.

Barca said it would be “wholly unreasonable” for a reader to infer that John was tainted by association and that the purpose of mentioning John was to introduce the accountant by way of background.

The Times later issued a correction to state that the subject of the article was not actually John’s former accountant, but Tugendhat LJ said that factual error did not alter the libel claim.

Tugendhat LJ said: “I accept that some readers might infer something to the discredit of the claimant to be investigated by reason of his alleged association. But I accept Mr Barca’s submission that a hypothetical reader of The Times who inferred that would be outside any definition of the reasonable reader which a jury could apply without perversity. There is simply nothing to support the inference other than the alleged association.

“In my judgment the submissions of Mr Barca are to be preferred. The words complained of are not capable of bearing the meanings attributed to them by the claimant or any other meaning defamatory of him.”