Noel Clarke ‘satisfied’ after ruling in libel battle with the Guardian publisher

Actor Noel Clarke has said he is “satisfied” after a ruling in an early round of his High Court libel battle against the publisher of the Guardian newspaper.

The 47-year-old is suing Guardian News and Media (GNM) for libel and data protection breaches over eight articles, including one from April 2021 which said 20 women who knew Mr Clarke in a professional capacity had come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

In a statement at the time he “vehemently” denied “any sexual misconduct or criminal wrongdoing”.

At a hearing last month, lawyers for Mr Clarke and the publisher made submissions over the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the articles – how they would have been understood by an average reader.

Mr Clarke’s barrister told the High Court in London the “overall impression” of the articles was “plainly one of guilt”.

However, lawyers for GNM said the articles would be read as reporting “reasonable grounds to suspect” Mr Clarke had abused his power, bullied or sexually harassed women, rather than a direct allegation of guilt.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Johnson said that seven of the articles “mean that there are strong grounds to believe that the claimant is guilty of various forms of sexual harassment” with the eighth meaning “grounds to investigate”.

The judge also ruled all of the articles could be defamatory, which had not been disputed by GNM over seven of the pieces.

Following the judgment, Mr Clarke said: “I have always disputed the content of the eight Guardian articles and I am satisfied that the High Court has now found that all eight articles issued by the defendant were defamatory in law.

“I look forward to now receiving the Guardian’s defence and progressing my claim for defamation in the High Court next year.”

BAFTA Breakthrough Brits 2015 – London
Noel Clarke had his Bafta membership suspended following the Guardian’s reports (Ian West/PA)

In his 15-page ruling, Mr Justice Johnson found each article would be read as statements of fact, rather than opinions.

He added: “I accept the claimant’s submissions that in each of the first seven articles, the allegations made against the claimant are advanced in clear terms, and that there are features of the articles that lend credibility to the allegations that are made, most notably the sheer number of women who are said to have made similar complaints.”

The judge continued: “As against that, each of the first seven articles make it clear that the claimant denies the allegations that are made.

“The reports of the denials are not tucked away in small print at the end of the article. They are given prominence… I do not agree that, in any of the articles, the denials are reported in a way that suggests that no credence can be attached to them.”