Journalist Carole Cadwalladr wins High Court libel battle against Arron Banks

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Journalist Carole Cadwalladr wins High Court libel battle against Arron Banks
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A journalist has won her High Court libel battle against arch-Brexiteer Arron Banks after she made remarks in a TED talk about his relationship with Russia.

Mr Banks, a major donor to the Leave.EU campaign in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, sued Carole Cadwalladr for libel over a statement in the April 2019 talk and a tweet she later posted with a link to the talk.

During the talk, which has been viewed more than five million times, Ms Cadwalladr referred to Mr Banks and the “lies” that he had told “about his covert relationship with the Russian government”.

Mr Banks sought damages and an injunction to restrain continued publication of the remarks, but Mrs Justice Steyn at the High Court dismissed his claim on Monday.

“I am so profoundly grateful and relieved,” said the journalist. “Thank you to the judge, my stellar legal team and the 29,000 people who contributed to my legal defence fund.”

Arron Banks (PA Archive)
Arron Banks (PA Archive)

The judge found the tweet from Ms Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who writes for the Observer, did not cause harm to Mr Banks’ reputation, while there was a public interest defence for her comments in the TED talk.

That defence fell away in April 2020 after a National Crime Agency statement, but the judge concluded the continued publication of the TED talk did not “cause or is likely to cause serious harm to his reputation”.

Mr Banks claimed the journalist had “crossed the line” with untrue allegations of a “secret relationship with the Russian government in the context of illegal foreign money”. He was questioned about a visit to the Russian ambassador’s residence in London in November 2015, a meeting with a Russian businessman, and a lunch at the ambassador’s residence in November 2016 after President Trump’s victory.

Ms Cadwalladr, who has investigated Brexit referendum campaign funding and alleged misuse of data, defended her reporting on public interest grounds.

The NCA, which conducted an investigation after an Electoral Commission referral, found no evidence of criminal offences. But the judge found Mr Banks had made a “wholly inaccurate” public statement in 2017 and it was “reasonable” for Ms Cadwalladr to suspect he had told further lies.

In a statement after the ruling, Keith Mathieson, partner and head of the media team at law firm RPC, which represented Ms Cadwalladr, said: “Today’s judgment is an important vindication not just of Carole, but of the right of everyone to express themselves freely on matters of public interest.

“The judge undertook a highly detailed and careful examination of what Carole said in the statements Mr Banks sued on and rightly found that Carole was entitled to say what she honestly and reasonably believed based on years of investigation.

“The judgment gives significant support to the public interest defence in the law of defamation and the protection it offers journalists, bloggers and others to contribute to public debate on serious issues.”

Mr Banks indicated he may appeal against the ruling, saying in a tweet: “Congratulations to Carole on winning today, it leaves open for the journalist the excuse that she thought what she said was correct even though she had no facts.

“There are important points of law at stake here and we will likely appeal.”

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