Noel Clarke sexual misconduct articles could be defamatory, judge rules in preliminary hearing

A judge has found that articles by The Guardian that made allegations of sexual misconduct against the actor Noel Clarke could be defamatory.

The preliminary judgment clears the way for Mr Clarke to continue his libel and data protection claims against the newspaper's publisher Guardian News and Media (GNM).

It comes following a hearing last week, when lawyers for the 47-year-old said he had faced a "trial by media" after The Guardian published eight articles - including its April 2021 investigation that said 20 women who knew Mr Clarke in a professional capacity had come forward with allegations of misconduct.

Adam Speker KC, for Mr Clarke, told the court the "overall impression" of the newspaper's coverage was "plainly one of guilt".

Gavin Millar KC, representing GNM, said the articles would be read as reporting "reasonable grounds to suspect" the actor had abused his power, bullied or sexually harassed women, rather than a direct allegation of guilt.

But Mr Justice Johnson ruled that all eight articles could be defamatory and that "each amounts to a statement of fact rather than an expression of opinion".

He also found that seven of the articles "mean that there are strong grounds to believe that the claimant is guilty of various forms of sexual harassment". The judge added: "The eighth article means that there are grounds to investigate [Mr Clarke]."

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In a statement on Wednesday, 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."

A Guardian spokesperson said: "We welcome this judgment on meaning. The Guardian's investigation was deeply reported and researched, and we intend to defend our journalism robustly."

Mr Clarke, who was best known for his roles in Doctor Who and Kidulthood, had his Bafta membership suspended after the allegations emerged, while several TV channels also cut ties.

Scotland Yard said in a statement in March 2022 that, following a thorough assessment by specialist detectives, officers had decided that the information they received did not meet the threshold for a criminal investigation.