A local newspaper circulating in Teesside, where the claimant had been appointed deputy headmaster of a school, published an article in 1973 saying of the claimant that he was a former Roman Catholic priest who had left his parish in the Salford diocese and later married and it was claimed of him that he ‘went off very suddenly from the parish where he was a curate about seven years ago’. In fact he had given up the priesthood in 1962, married in 1964, and his wife had a child in 1965.
Held: Where an innuendo is relied on the claimant must generally specify the persons who are said to know the ‘special facts’ that would lead them to the identification or meaning relied on. Only a reader with special knowledge of the facts, either of the date of the claimant’s marriage or of that of the birth of his child, could derive an adverse impression from the article and that it was unlikely that readers with such special knowledge lived in the area of the newspaper’s circulation. That being so, the claimant was bound to identify readers whom he alleged knew of those facts.
Scarman LJ said that sometimes facts relied upon to support an innuendo may be sufficiently widely known to enable the claimant to rely on a presumption or inference that some readers will have known them, and ‘there may well be cases in which it would not be necessary to plead more than the fact of publication by a newspaper and the extrinsic circumstances, leaving it to be inferred that there would be readers with knowledge of the facts.
For instance, the facts may be very well known in the area of the newspaper’s distribution – in which event I would think it would suffice to plead merely that the plaintiff will rely on inference that some of the newspaper’s readers must have been aware of the facts [about his wife and child] which are said to give rise to the innuendo.’
Lord Denning MR stated that it was ‘just possible’ that someone ‘had jumped to the conclusion that before he left the Salford diocese, and while still a priest, he [the claimant] had married and fathered a child. But such a person would be so rare and so exceptional that the case on legal innuendo would not stand a chance unless that person was called’.
Lord Denning MR, Scarman LJ
 1 WLR 651
England and Wales
Cited – Budu v The British Broadcasting Corporation QBD 23-Mar-2010
The defendant sought to strike out the claimant’s action in defamation. It had reported that the police had withdrawn an employment offer to claimant after doubting his immigration status.
Held: The claims should be struck out. The articles . .
Cited – Baturina v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 31-Mar-2010
The claimant sought damages in defamation in respect of an article published by the defendant newspaper. She was the wife of the Mayor of Moscow, and was required to disclose on a public list assets held by her. The defendant said that she owned a . .
Cited – Wright v Caan QBD 27-Jul-2011
The claimant sought damages in defamation and malicious falsehood and in respect of a conversation with a journalist and the defendant’s website. The defendant had made offers of support to her business venture in a television program. After she . .
Cited – McAlpine v Bercow QBD 24-May-2013
The claimant alleged defamation in a tweet by the defendant. The court now decided as a preliminary point, the meaning of the words: ‘Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*’. There had been other but widespread (mistaken) allegations against . .
Cited – Economou v De Freitas QBD 27-Jul-2016
Failed action for defamation on rape allegations
The claimant had been accused by the defendant’s daughter of rape. He was never charged but sought to prosecute her alleging intent to pervert the course of justice. She later killed herself. The defendant sought to have the inquest extended to . .
Cited – Monroe v Hopkins QBD 10-Mar-2017
The claimant, a transgender chef and food blogger claimed in defamation against the defendant journalist in respect of two tweets. The court now set out to decide the meanings, whether they were defamatory by nature, and whether the serious harm . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Litigation Practice, Defamation
Updated: 02 May 2022; Ref: scu.405999