The Sun's story alleging an affair between singer Tulisa Contostavlos and footballer Danny Simpson was defamatory of both, the High Court has ruled.
Last month, Gavin Millar QC admitted in the High Court that a front page story from November 2012, which featured an interview with Simpson's partner, was defamatory of the footballer.
But he argued the story, headlined "Tulisa has stolen my bloke.. and I'm 3 months pregnant", would not have led the average reader to conclude that she had known about Simpson’s relationship with Stephanie Ward, nor that she was pregnant. He also suggested the allegations made against Contostavlos were presented as the opinion of Ward, who described her as a "homewrecker", and not as fact.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said in his judgment that it was “a tribute to Mr Millar’s skill that he could advance the argument at all”.
He said: “In my judgment the submissions of Mr Millar are unrealistic. When I read the words complained of on receipt of the papers, and before reading any submissions, it did not occur to me that there could be an argument that the words complained of are not defamatory of [Contostavlos].”
Tugendhat said, in his view, the article meant: "[Contostavlos] entered into a romantic relationship with [Simpson] knowing that he was in a stable, long term and committed relationship with Stephanie Ward, and knowing that he lived with Ms Ward and their young daughter as a family, and that in doing so she knowingly encouraged the [Simpson]’s betrayal of his family, and thereby engaged in conduct likely to cause the breakdown of [his] relationship with Ms Ward and their daughter."
Millar admitted the article was defamatory of Simpson, in that he would have known about his own relationship with Ward, but suggested that the average reader would not have inferred that he knew she was pregnant again or that the fact he had a young child worsened the claims against him.
Tugendhat said: “In my judgment NGN's submissions are again unrealistic. A reasonable reader would understand that the second claimant knew that Ms Ward was pregnant. As described in the words complained of, she was his domestic partner, with whom he had already had one child, and with whom he was living in a family home.”
This judgment was delivered after a preliminary hearing in the libel action Contostavlos and Simpson are taking against News Group Newspapers (The Sun).
Because Tugendhat ruled that the words complained of were defamatory and also were presented as fact, rather than just the opinion of Ward, the case will continue rather than being thrown out.
Contostavlos and Simpson submitted the claim form against The Sun in February, and also named 12 other defendants. According to Tugendhat, in all but two of the cases, including that of News Group Newspapers, the claims have been resolved or not pursued.
Last week, Press Gazette revealed that Simpson is suing the Mirror for its front page on the same story.