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November 24, 2023updated 01 Dec 2023 11:30am

Dyson ‘offered to settle’ Mirror libel claim but was ‘forced’ to trial

Dyson told the court he had offered to settle the case with an apology and correction.

By PA Media

UPDATE: Mirror strikes victory for honest opinion as Dyson loses £1m libel bid

Sir James Dyson must wait to find out whether he has been successful in his libel trial against the publisher of the Daily Mirror.

The inventor, 76, gave evidence at the Royal Courts of Justice across two days in a trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over an article published in January 2022.

In the Daily Mirror article, columnist Brian Reade referred to the engineer as “the vacuum-cleaner tycoon who championed Vote Leave due to the economic opportunities it would bring to British industry before moving his global head office to Singapore”.

He continued: “Kids, talk the talk but then screw your country and if anyone complains, tell them to suck it up.”

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Sir James subsequently brought a claim against MGN for libel, describing the allegations in the article as a “vicious and vitriolic” personal attack.

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MGN is defending the claim, including on honest opinion.

At the end of the trial on Thursday, Mr Justice Jay said he was going to give a decision in writing at a later date, suggesting the ruling may come before Christmas.

“I am going to think carefully about it,” he said.

During the second day of his cross-examination on Wednesday, Sir James was asked about the January 2019 announcement that the Dyson company would be establishing a global headquarters in Singapore.

The inventor said he did not believe he had been hypocritical, adding: “I don’t think it was a vote of no confidence in Britain because since Brexit I have continued to invest in Britain… I have continued to do so.”

Dyson: Mirror ‘didn’t bother to reply’

Adrienne Page KC, for MGN, asked Sir James why he “felt like you have to spend £1m on a lawsuit”, when he had a significant public status, including an article under his name in The Telegraph newspaper rebutting the allegation he had behaved hypocritically.

He said: “This was a vicious and vitriolic attack on me personally… We got in touch with you [MGN] and you didn’t bother to reply.”

He continued: “We offered to settle with an apology and a correction at an early stage… I am forced to continue to defend my reputation which you have severely damaged.”

Page asked Sir James: “Would you describe yourself as thin-skinned?”

The inventor replied: “No.”

Sir James Dyson arriving at the Royal Courts Of Justice, central London, for his libel trial against Mirror Group Newspapers on 21 November 2023. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Sir James Dyson arriving at the Royal Courts Of Justice, central London, for his libel trial against Mirror Group Newspapers on 21 November 2023. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

In his written evidence for the case, Sir James said the allegations “represent a personal attack on all that I have done and achieved in my lifetime and are highly distressing and hurtful”.

He continued: “Most importantly, they undermine all the work I have done trying to help young people with an interest in engineering to gain the necessary training as well as practical experience and employment opportunities in this field.”

Mirror lawyer accuses Dyson of ‘huge exaggeration’

After reading parts of this evidence to the court, Page suggested it was “a huge exaggeration” and that Mr Reade’s article was an expression of his opinion.

Sir James denied any exaggeration, adding: “It is not the opinion of an honest man.”

Justin Rushbrooke KC, for Sir James, said in written submissions that the articles, both in print and online, “constituted a serious and unjustified slur on Sir James’s reputation, business and personal”.

He added that an “honest opinion is supposed to give latitude but it is not a licence for a journalist to mislead the reader”.

Rushbrooke also pointed out that the word “screwed” could be seen as meaning “underhand and discreditable”.

But Page told the court the words in the article were “substantially correct” and that Sir James could not dictate how the commentator posed them.

She added that the article “is pitched to a lay audience, against a notorious background to 2019 and he is doing it pithily”.

On how the reference to having “screwed the country” could be viewed, the court heard that this may not necessarily be limited to the potential impact on the Dyson corporation.

In written submissions, she added that Sir James’s approach to the legal claim “has been markedly unreasonable, wholly disproportionate and abusive”.

In a statement, a Dyson spokesperson said Sir James had brought the legal claim “as a last resort”, adding that the allegations in the article “were vicious, vitriolic and attacked his personal character in the very worst way”.

But an MGN spokesperson said: “The Mirror will vigorously defend the honest opinions of our columnists which we consider in this case to be essentially indisputable.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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