Actor Noel Clarke was “cancelled” and faced a “trial by media” after allegations of sexual misconduct were published by The Guardian, the High Court has heard.
The 47-year-old is suing Guardian News and Media (GNM) over eight articles, including one from April 2021 which said 20 women who knew Clarke in a professional capacity had come forward with allegations of misconduct.
In a statement at the time he “vehemently” denied “any sexual misconduct or criminal wrongdoing”.
On Thursday he appeared at the High Court for a preliminary hearing in his libel claim against the publisher.
Adam Speker KC, for Clarke, said the “overall impression” of the articles was “plainly one of guilt”.
The barrister said the first article in the claim included the “absolutely toxic allegation” of Clarke being a “sexual predator”.
He told the court in London: “They knew exactly what message they were sending by calling him a sexual predator, in the first two words of the headline.”
Speker later said the overall impression of the articles was “gotcha”.
He said: “He [Clarke] had had a very distinguished career… then the dam breaks, the women break their silence and they say ‘j’accuse’.”
The court heard that Clarke, best known for his roles in Doctor Who and Kidulthood, had his membership suspended by Bafta after the allegations emerged, while TV channels cut ties.
Speker said in written submissions: “This trial by media, conducted by the most-read newspaper for people in the film and entertainment industry, led, unsurprisingly, to Mr Clarke being immediately ‘cancelled’ in various ways.”
The court was later told the police had decided no criminal investigation would be launched over the sexual offence allegations against Clarke.
Scotland Yard said in a statement in March 2022 that there had been a thorough assessment by specialist detectives, but it was determined the information would not meet the threshold for a criminal investigation.
Speker said one of the articles published by The Guardian was about the response of women’s rights activists to this decision.
He said: “It does not say that ‘the police have investigated, perhaps we should reconsider whether our investigation hit the right points’… It clearly sends the message that he is guilty and the police were wrong not to investigate.
“The message that comes out is that he got away with it, he beat the rap.”
Speker later accepted that Clarke’s denials were included, but it “comes nowhere near close” to mitigating the impact of the article.
He told the court: “There is nothing he could say and nothing he does say that minimises what the natural and ordinary reader would have taken from the articles: that he is a sexual predator and is guilty of the charges.”
Gavin Millar KC, for GNM, said the articles would be read as reporting “reasonable grounds to suspect” Clarke had abused his power, bullied or sexually harassed women, rather than a direct allegation of guilt.
He said in written submissions: “The appropriate meaning is therefore a general charge, essentially of abuse of power to subject women to sexual harassment and other related misconduct.
“In this context, no reasonable reader would assume an allegation is true merely because it has been made.
“The weight of allegations may support their credibility, but it would still be unreasonable to infer that allegations that are clearly stated to be disputed are true because they have been made by more than one person.”
Millar said a normal reader “will not automatically assume that the defendant was adopting or endorsing an allegation by reporting it” but would understand the claims against Clarke were a matter of public interest.
The barrister said the first article, which initially reported the allegations by the 20 women, “does not contain allegations of guilt of misconduct”.
He continued: “The fact that a piece of writing contains both an allegation of misconduct and a counter-allegation denying the alleged misconduct may well lead the reader to understand that there are grounds to investigate or suspect the claimant of misconduct, rather than that the claimant is actually guilty of anything.”
Millar later said that the use of the phrase “sexual predator” was “plainly a comment, and a colloquial one, about the specific conduct referred to”.
Mr Justice Johnson will make a decision on the meaning of the articles at a later date.
Newspapers including The Times have reported that Clarke is seeking £10m in damages.
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