Christopher John Quinton v (1) Robin Heys Peirce (2) James David Cooper* (Eady J; [2009] EWHC 912 (QB); 30.04.09)

Eady J rejected the claims of injurious falsehood and infringement of the Data Protection Act 1998 brought by the Claimant, Mr Quinton, against the Defendants, Mr Peirce and Mr Copper. Only the part of the judgment relating to injurious falsehood only is summarised below.

Mr Quinton was the Conservative district council candidate for Woodcote, Oxfordshire, in the elections of May 2007. He was defeated by the Liberal Democrat candidate, Mr Peirce. Four years earlier, in the elections of May 2003, the positions had been reversed and Mr Peirce was ousted by Mr Quinton. The Second Defendant, Mr Cooper, was Mr Peirce’s election agent.

Mr Quinton alleged that an election leaflet published by Mr Peirce contained a number of untrue factual statements and was published maliciously. The criticisms centred upon planning policy and its implications for potential housing developments in and around Woodcote.

The parties advanced different meanings in their pleading as to the statements made in the leaflet. Eady J noted that the general approach, supported by authority, was to focus upon the natural and ordinary meaning that would be conveyed to the ordinary reader of the election address (following Ajinomoto Sweeteners v Asda, reported above). Eady J further held that it was logical in the present context to adopt the “single meaning” rule since, unless the court made a finding on meaning, it would not be possible to decide whether the words were true or false.

Eady J rejected the Defendant’s submission that there should be blanket immunity for statements made in the course of election campaigning. There was no authority for this position and, in addition, there was no reason to apply a different principle here to that in defamation, where no specific privilege arose from the fact that statement was made in such a context.

Eady J concluded that the leaflet was not false or inaccurate, or at least did not significantly misrepresent the essential facts. Although Mr Pierce was partial, biased and hard-hitting, he was not dishonest in his representations in the leaflet. Mr Peirce may not have liked Mr Quinton personally, but that dislike was not to be equated with malice. Eady J noted that the hurdle of establishing malice was high (Spring v Guardian Assurance [1993] 2 All ER 273 referred to). In relation to Mr Cooper, it had not been demonstrated that his role was in any way infected by malice. Thus the claim based on injurious falsehood was dismissed.

Eady J went on to consider the question of pecuniary loss. He concluded that the words were calculated to cause Mr Quinton pecuniary loss, as they were likely to put his council allowances in jeopardy. However, in relation to actual financial loss, Mr Quinton had not discharged the burden of proving causation; although the leaflet may have played a significant part in swinging the election Mr Peirce’s way, there were other factors at work and it was not possible to say that the leaflet had caused Mr Quinton to lose his seat.