Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers has failed in an attempt to persuade a judge to strike out a defamation case brought by Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor.
The company had argued that the case should be struck out because Taylor had no real prospect of succeeding in the claim, or alternatively because his case was an abuse of process as it failed to show that he had suffered a real and substantial tort.
But Mr Justice Tugendhat rejected both applications. The case is now due to go to trial with a jury on 18 October.
Taylor is suing over an article which appeared in the Daily Mail on March 13 last year under the headline “McGuire’s exit rocks the players’ union”.
The report included the statement that Taylor had publicly admonished McGuire in front of other PFA staff in a “petty dispute” over a legal bill.
Taylor claims the article bears the defamatory meaning that he acted in a petulant and wholly unreasonable manner by rebuking McGuire in front of PFA staff members.
Associated Newspapers, the newspaper’s publisher, denies that the words are defamatory, and in addition pleads justification.
Mark Warby QC for Associated Newspapers, had argued that on the basis of admissions made in the pleadings and in correspondence, and assuming that what Taylor’s witnesses said in their statements was true, the words complained of in the meaning Taylor attributes to them were substantially true, and there was thus no issue to be left to the jury.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said: “Mr Warby accepts that what he has to establish is that a reasonable jury properly directed could not fail to conclude that the meaning pleaded by the claimant … is substantially true.
“In my judgment he has failed to do this. I cannot conclude that the claimant has no real prospect of success in this action.
“There are some cases where what is said in the witness statements served before trial enable a judge to conclude that the party serving the witness statements has no real prospect of success. This is not such a case.
“In the circumstances there is little advantage to be gained, and a risk of prejudicing the trial, if I were to set out in detail why I reached the view that I have.”
The application that the case should be struck out as an abuse of process “adds little”, the judge said.
“As noted above, the case for the defendant is not that the meaning complained of is, taken by itself insufficiently serious to be permitted to go forwards, but that the difference between the meaning complained of and what admittedly occurred is too narrow.
“In my judgment what the claimant’s witness statements (and replies to requests for information) show to have admittedly occurred is not so clear as to enable me to say that the proceedings are an abuse of process.
“In other words, it cannot be said at this stage that on the claimant’s own admissions he has behaved in such a way that it would be an abuse of process for him to seek vindication in respect of allegations which he denies.”