Armstrong v Times Newspapers Ltd: QBD 30 Jun 2006

The claimant, a professional cyclist, sought damages in defamation, saying that the defendant newspaper had implied that he had taken performance enhancing drugs. The case was to be heard by judge alone. The court considered how to deal with the task of identifying the meanings involved.
Held: ‘the over-arching question is what overall impression The Sunday Times article made on me when considering what impact it would have had on the hypothetical ordinary reasonable reader reading the article once in June 2004.’ Knowing in advance that this was the required approach for a judge when deciding an issue of meaning, I deliberately read the article complained of before reading the parties’ respective statements of case or the rival skeleton arguments. What I propose to do, in an attempt to resolve the dilemma which I mentioned at the outset of this judgment, is to indicate straightaway what impression the article had on me when I came to it afresh as a Sunday Times reader would have done in June 2004. I will thereafter, as a separate exercise, address the detailed textual arguments which have, inevitably, been addressed to me by both sides. I will at that stage consider whether such a more detailed analysis casts doubt on my initial impression. The hypothetical ordinary reasonable reader would have understood The Sunday Times article as a whole, read once in conjunction with its headline, photographs and their captions, to mean that Mr Armstrong had taken drugs to enhance his performance in cycling competitions. The Sunday Times article of 13 June 2004 bears the meaning for which Mr Armstrong contends.


Gray J


[2006] EWHC 1614 (QB), Times 07-Jul-2006




England and Wales


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A libel defence of justification which was based on ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ must focus on conduct of claimant that gives rise to suspicion. It was not permissible to rely upon hearsay. Defendant may not plead as ‘grounds’ material which . .
CitedLewis v Daily Telegraph Ltd HL 1964
Ascertaining Meaning of Words for Defamation
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CitedHartt v Newspaper Publishing PLC CA 26-Oct-1989
The possible variety of meanings of the words complained of in a defamation action is already factored into the single meaning rule. Neill LJ said: ‘The court should give to the material complained of the natural and ordinary meaning which it would . .
CitedSkuse v Granada Television CA 30-Mar-1993
The claimant complained that the defendant had said in a television programme that he had failed to act properly when presenting his expert forensic evidence in court in the trial of the Birmingham Six.
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CitedGillick v British Broadcasting Corporation and Another CA 19-Oct-1995
Words which were broadcast were capable of meaning that the Plaintiff’s behaviour had contributed to deaths. She was a campaigner against the giving of contraceptive advice to young girls.
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CitedCharman v Orion Publishing Group Ltd and others QBD 14-Oct-2005
The court decided the issue of what meaning the words complained of would have been understood to bear. The ordinary reader of an article may well not think in legalistic terms such as ‘strong grounds to suspect’ or ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ . .
CitedGillick v Brook Advisory Centres and Another CA 23-Jul-2001
The claimant appealed after closing her action for an alleged defamation by the respondents in a leaflet published by them. She challenged an interim decision by the judge as to the meaning of the words complained of.
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CitedJameel and Another v Times Newspapers Limited CA 21-Jul-2004
The defendant had published a newspaper article linking the claimant to terrorist activity. The defendants argued that no full accusation was made, but only that the claimant was under investigation for such behaviour, and that the article had . .
See alsoArmstrong v Times Newspapers Ltd and others QBD 17-Dec-2004
Eady J said: ‘repetitive and loose talk about questions can convey the impression there are reasonable grounds to suspect.’ . .

Cited by:

CitedAjinomoto Sweeteners Europe Sas v Asda Stores Ltd CA 2-Jun-2010
The claimant sold a sweetener ingredient. The defendant shop advertised its own health foods range with the label ‘no hidden nasties’ and in a situation which, the claimant said, suggested that its ingredient was a ‘nasty’, and it claimed under . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 15 July 2022; Ref: scu.243159