Times Newspapers has been ordered to pay £60,000 in damages by a High Court judge in relation to an online article not being updated to reflect the findings of an investigation by police.
The case, Gary Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL), started with a libel claim in 2009 by Flood, a police officer, in response to an article published by the Times in print and online in June 2006, which contained allegations of bribery.
That December, a report by the Directorate of Professional Standards said it was "unable to find any evidence to show that [DS Flood] … has divulged any confidential information for monies or otherwise". According to a court ruling, this finding "was not communicated to the parties until 5 September 2007".
"Thereafter, there was an exchange of letters and emails between the solicitors acting for DS Flood and for TNL as to what, if anything, should be done in relation to the article on TNL's website. In the event, it remained on the website unaltered". An update to the online article was added in October 2009.
In 2009 Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the Reynolds defence covering 'responsible journalism' "succeeds in respect of the print publication and website publications made up to 5 September 2007", but found this would not apply to the online version after that date.
In 2010 the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by the Times in relation to the "continued publication" online, but upheld a cross-appeal by Flood, ruling that the Reynolds defence also did not apply to the original versions of the articles. The Times appealed again, this time to the Supreme Court, which ruled "that publications up to 5 September 2007 were protected by Reynolds privilege".
However, a decision on the Times's appeal regarding the online publication after the 5 September 2007 date, was "adjourned, to be pursued, if appropriate, after judgment had been given in respect of the first limb of the appeal".
According to today's ruling "the defendant subsequently withdrew its appeal to the Supreme Court on that issue".
In conclusion, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies stated: "once it is known that there is material which exonerates, in whole or in part the subject of the journalistic investigation, consideration should be shown for the position of the subject by publishing exculpatory material".
"On the facts of this case no such consideration was demonstrated by TNL, in particular, The Times and its then Legal Manager Alistair Brett towards the claimant during the period 5 September 2007 to 21 October 2009."
She adds that "following the conclusion of the police investigation the claimant was entitled to expect the defendant to amend the article and to publish, at the very least, the outcome of the investigation".
Times Newspapers is also accused of "a dogged refusal to take a course which was professional, responsible and fair", describing certain actions as "conduct which serves to aggravate the award of damages."
A total of £60,000 in damages was awarded to Flood. This includes £45,000 "for the period 5 September 2007 to 21 October 2009, to reflect the distress, anxiety and suffering of the claimant, the damage to his reputation and the need for proper vindication".
The additional £15,000 was awarded "to represent the aggravation of those damages by reason of the conduct of the defendant and to serve as a deterrent to those who embark upon public interest journalism but thereafter refuse to publish material which in whole, or in part, exculpates the subject of the investigation."
The Times had not responded to a request for comment on whether it would seek to appeal the damages ruling at the time of writing.
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