Judge rejects main thrust of Blair nanny's libel claim

Rosalind Mark, former nanny to the children of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, has suffered a major setback in a libel action launched against the Daily Mail.

The High Court has struck out a main plank of her claim on the basis that, to the ordinary reader, it was not capable of bearing the defamatory meaning she claimed.

And in doing so, Judge John Previte QC has given fresh guidance on the so-called "ordinary reader" test.

The article at the centre of the case was published in the Daily Mail on 6 March, along with a picture of Mark, under the headline "Blairs step up legal battle over book by their former nanny".

It reported that Cherie Blair had won a High Court injunction halting publication by The Mail on Sunday of material from the book.

Mark claimed that the article bore the meaning that she had lied when she denied authorising the publication of material from the book by The Mail on Sunday and when she claimed to be devastated by the paper’s planned article, and meant that the truth was that she had willingly co-operated with the The MoS in the disclosure of the material.

However, the judge ruled that these meanings were "legalistic meanings which no reasonable reader would understand the words to bear".

He said: "In my view it is important, when considering the meaning of an article of substantial length which deals with very prominent people and important issues, to bear in mind that an ordinary reader, assumed to read the article once only, will focus on the important issues and will not have the inclination or patience to unravel the confusing details of the story.

"The hearing of this application involved close scrutiny of the words and assertions and, while I accept that the particular words of which complaint is made have to be considered in the context of the whole article, it is wrong to indulge in close analysis of the words in order to tease out some possible defamatory meaning.

"No reasonable reader reading the article once would do any such thing. The reasonable reader would be concerned with the thrust of the article, not with scrutinising precisely what each party to the dispute was asserting."

The judge said there were other aspects of the article about which Mark had not complained which were capable of being defamatory and it was open to her to seek permission to amend her claim to rely on any of those meanings.

By Jean Morgan

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