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Press Release Could Be Defamatory: Rufus Vs Elliot

A press release that implied that a person mentioned in the release had been disloyal to a former friend is capable of being defamatory, according to a recent decision in the case of Richard Rufus (in bankruptcy) v Paul Elliot [2013] EWHC 3355.

The case concerned a libel claim brought by Richard Rufus, a former professional footballer, in relation to a press release issued by Paul Elliot, also formerly both a professional footballer and a trustee of an anti-racism campaign group called ‘Kick It Out’. Mr Elliot and Mr Rufus had been friends and business colleagues. The men were the subject of an article in a newspaper on 18 February 2013 with the heading “A football anti-racism champion has sparked a race row after calling another black man “n******”. The article reported that Mr Elliott had sent the text message to Mr Rufus after a business venture had gone wrong. On 23 February 2013 Mr Elliot resigned from his position as a trustee of ‘Kick It Out’. He also issued a press release which stated “earlier this week, a former friend and business colleague, made public a SMS text message I sent him, in which I used a term which is widely known as being derogatory in my community”. The press release went on to acknowledge that the use of the term was inappropriate and contradicted Mr Elliot’s position as a ‘Kick It Out’ trustee. Mr Rufus subsequently issued a claim against Mr Elliot for libel in relation to the press release. Mr Rufus said that, by way of innuendo, the press release implied that Mr Rufus had acted dishonestly, had betrayed Mr Elliot and had deliberately harmed Mr Elliott’s reputation by making public the private text message.

Mr Elliot made an application seeking a determination that the words in the press release were not capable of bearing a defamatory meaning and for an order striking out the claim. The application was unsuccessful. The Hon. Mr Justice Dingemans said, in his view, right-thinking members of society could take the view that sending a private communication to the public, with the inevitable consequence that a former friend would lose his office, was both disloyal and wrong and although he did not consider it to be the most serious of libels, the press release was capable of being defamatory.

If you need further information about this case or about litigation generally, please contact Julian Johnstone, Partner in Druces LLP’s Commercial Litigation team or Rachel Brown, Solicitor.

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