Brexit campaigner Arron Banks has lost his libel lawsuit against Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, in a decision welcomed by the investigative reporter as a “victory for public interest journalism”.
The ruling comes after Banks sued Cadwalladr over claims made on two separate occasions – during a TED talk in 2019 and on Twitter in the same year – about the UKIP donor’s purported links to the Kremlin, which suggested the businessman had told untruths about his relationship with the Russian government.
During the TED talk, viewed by more than five million people, Cadwalladr said: “I am not even going to get into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian government.”
On Twitter, the journalist later said: “Oh Arron. This is too tragic. Nigel Farage’s secret funder Arron Banks has sent me a pre-action letter this morning: he’s suing me over this TED talk. If you haven’t watched it please do. I say he lied about his contact with the Russian govt. Because he did.”
In suing Cadwalladr, Banks said the claims made by the journalist at the TED talk and on Twitter had caused serious harm to his reputation in a manner that breached the 2013 Defamation Act.
However, the court said that while the comments made by Cadwalladr had damaged Banks’ reputation, the investigative journalist’s reporting had also been in the public interest, as it ruled in favour of Cadwalladr’s public interest defence.
Carolyn Pepper, a partner at Reed Smith, said: “The success of the public interest defence here is one which will be celebrated by the media. It illustrates the court’s willingness to allow public interest defences, which are an important tool for journalists when defending proceedings.”
“Without the protection of the public interest defence, there would be a chilling effect on the media and so it is very important that there are examples of the court upholding it in cases where it is appropriate to do so.”
The court also said that while Cadwalladr’s TED talk had caused serious harm to Banks’ reputation, her Tweet had not, as it ruled that those who were likely to have read the Tweet were likely sat within an “echo chamber” that already had a low opinion of the businessman.
Banks congratulated Cadwalladr on her win but said it is “highly likely” he will appeal the High Court’s decision.