Can An Apology Amount To A Defamatory Comment?

The case of Burleigh v Telegraph Media Ltd [2020] EWHC 2359 (QB) explores whether an apology can amount to a defamatory comment.

Whilst this case involved the publication of an apology in a newspaper, it is important to keep in mind that in accordance with the Defamation Act 2013 a comment only needs to have been published to at least one other person (other than the claimant) for it to fall within defamation.

Burleigh v Telegraph Media Ltd

Background

Ms Burleigh (Claimant) was a writer working for the Daily Telegraph (Defendant). She published an article titled “the mystery of Melania” which was centred around Melania Trump.

It came to light that the article contained a number of false statements. As such, the Daily Telegraph published an apology both online and in print.

The Claimant alleged that the apology insinuated that she had negligently and/or maliciously written the piece that contained serious and defamatory falsehoods about Mrs Trump.

Whilst the apology did not identify the Claimant as the author of the article, she argued that there were readers who would have known it was referring to her as the article’s author. As a result, the Claimant claimed that the apology was defamatory.

The Defendant denied that the apology was defamatory and insisted that the meaning was simply to apologise for the inaccurate information contained within the article.

The Court ordered a preliminary hearing to determine whether the apology was in fact defamatory at common law.

What did the Court decide?

The Court held that the apology was not defamatory at common law.

It was decided that the apology neither alleged, nor implied any culpable failure by the Claimant and did not suggest that there was any negligence on her part.

Comment

Whilst the apology in the case of Burleigh v Telegraph Media Ltd did not amount to defamation in the circumstances at hand, the Court did make it very clear that it would be possible for a published apology to fall within the scope of defamation.

Burleigh TelegraphHow can we help?

Ruby Ashby is an Associate in our expert Dispute Resolution team.

For any queries relating to the topics discussed in this article, please call Ruby or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or contact us via our online form.

 

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