KC v MGN LTD

Facts

The court was required to determine the amount of compensation to award the claimant (C) in respect of a defamatory article published by the defendant newspaper (M).

C was the father of a child known as Baby P, who had died following neglect. C had not been involved. M published an article falsely stating that C was a sex offender and had been convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl. Following correspondence between the parties, M made an offer of amends and subsequently published an apology. C accepted M's offer to make amends, but the parties were unable to agree the appropriate level of damages.

Held

(1) It was common ground that where an offer to make amends had been made and accepted, but the quantum of damages remained in issue, the judge should follow the two-stage process identified in Turner v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2006] EWCA Civ 540, [2006] 1 W.L.R. 3469 and Nail v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2004] EWCA Civ 1708, [2005] 1 All E.R. 1040 for the purpose of calculating damages, Turner applied and Nail followed. M's apology and admission would only lead to a discount in the amount damages payable at the second stage of that assessment (para.21 of judgment). (2) The first stage of the assessment involved a consideration of the factors to be taken into account in an award of damages following the trial in a defamation case. It was inconceivable that anyone who knew C personally could be unaware that he was the father of Baby P. The article had also included two items of personal information about C which were true, and that would have added fuel to the suspicion that the false accusations were true. With the possible exception of murder, or cruelly causing the death of a child in circumstances such as Baby P's, it was difficult to think of any charge more calculated to lead to revulsion and condemnation of a person's fellow citizens than the rape of a 14-year-old girl, Lillie v Newcastle City Council [2002] EWHC 1600 (QB), (2002) 146 S.J.L.B. 225 considered. M had a circulation of about half a million copies and an estimated readership of 1,200,000. The appropriate starting point was £150,000 (see paras 22-37, 40-41 of judgment). (2) In offer of amends cases where the two-stage process had been applied, the discount had never been less than a third nor more than a half. The promptness of the apology, its terms, and the prominence given to it were relevant factors, as was the treatment of a claimant in negotiations. M had not delayed in dealing with M and in publishing an apology. The negotiations that took place were reasonable both in duration and in the tone adopted by M. The apology was clear, unqualified and effectively in the terms put forward by C's solicitors. It was placed prominently on the second page of the newspaper. It was important that an unqualified offer of amends should give a tortfeasor a healthy discount, but not a discount so great as to lead to defendants libelling claimants with equanimity, knowing that they would be able to buy their way out of trouble with an apology, Nail considered. In light of those factors, the appropriate discount was 50 per cent. Therefore the appropriate level of compensation was £75,000 (paras 42, 44, 46-47).

Compensation assessed.

Comment

Following the publication of a newspaper article falsely stating that the father of a child known as Baby P was a sex offender and had been convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl, the court determined the appropriate level of damages as £75,000.