Express Newspapers to pay 'substantial damages' to Jimmy White

Snooker player Jimmy White has obtained ‘substantial’ libel damages from Express Newspapers. Jimmy White brought legal proceedings against Express Newspapers in respect of a story published by the Daily Star Sunday in June 2012 titled “Jimmy’s aide in betting probe”. The story suggested that Mr White had been cheating and also implied that he had dishonestly provided inside information to his friend, John Callaghan so that he could place winning bets. In 2014 both Mr White and Mr Callaghan applied for a determination pursuant to CPR 53 PD para 4.1 that the words complained of were not capable of bearing the meaning pleaded by the Claimants. The Court invited the parties to agree that the issue of actual meaning be decided as a preliminary issue. Consent was given by both parties to that course of action. Mr Justice Tugendhat held that the article clearly meant that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Callaghan had used insider information from Mr White to place winning bets. A reader therefore would have believed that both men may had acted dishonestly. Mr Justice Tugendhat accepted that there were “no words alleging actual guilt” but the reader would have believed that there were “grounds to suspect dishonestly” following the Star’s investigation. Mr Justice Tugendhat rejected the submission that the words were not defamatory of Mr White. Mr Justice Tugendhat also commented on the fact that the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association had in August 2012, said that it could not find any evidence of inappropriate betting activity in relation to statements in the article in question or by Mr White. The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association concluded that no further action would be taken. Express Newspapers made an offer of amends in respect of the meaning that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that an aide of Mr White had used insider information communicated to him by Mr White to place winning bets and so reasonable grounds to suspect Mr White had acted dishonestly to enable the aide to place winning bets. Mr White accepted the offer of amends and The Daily Star Sunday made an apology in which it accepted that their story was untrue, apologising to Mr White “for any distress and embarrassment the article may have caused him.”  The Queen’s Bench Division made no order for costs on the basis that no ruling had been made that the words complained of had not been capable of bearing the meaning attributed to them by Mr White and Mr Callaghan. The hearing which began on 7 March 2016 was about determining the amount of compensation that Mr White should receive. The main issue in the hearing was a determination regarding the snooker players’ special damages claim for the loss of a sponsorship contract with his image rights company and not Mr White as an individual. Express Newspapers relied on the case of Collins Stewart v The Financial Times Ltd and Prudential Assurance v Newman Industries (No 2) and contended that the losses under the contract were not recoverable because they were losses of the company and not the Claimant. On the first day of the hearing, Mr White, his manager, his accountant and a representative from the sponsor all gave evidence and were cross examined. The claim was settled on the second day of the hearing, 8 March 2016 and the Court did not rule on the special damages issue. Mr White’s Barrister said that it was now agreed with Express Newspapers that Mr White should receive substantial damages however, the exact figure has not been disclosed. His Barrister stated that the settlement would enable Mr White “to get on and do what he does best”. Mr Justice Tugendhat stated whilst referring to Mr White: “Having heard him give his evidence, he impressed me as a sportsman of the highest integrity and it is to be regretted that even to the extent that it was; his integrity was called into question by this article”.  Mr White had told the judge: “The story caused considerable distress to me. I got accused of being a cheat”. Mr White further stated: “One thing I have never done in my life is cheated when playing snooker which I love. I even call my own fouls. I was hurt bad and it caused lots of stress to my family.”  As reported by leading media law barristers chambers 5RB, the case raised an interesting issue that was perhaps disappointingly not judicially determined, as to the recoverability by a celebrity in a defamation action of losses ostensibly to a separate legal entity, namely his image rights company.