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Dale Vince ‘seriously defamed’ by Daily Mail article, High Court told

A hearing in London was told Mr Vince was libelled by the article’s headline, image and captions.

Callum Parke
Tuesday 20 February 2024 17:45 GMT
Dale Vince is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (Simon Marper/PA)
Dale Vince is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (Simon Marper/PA) (PA Archive)

Green energy industrialist Dale Vince was “seriously defamed” by a Daily Mail article which falsely suggested he was the subject of harassment allegations, the High Court has heard.

Mr Vince is suing the paper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), after the article headlined “Labour repays £100,000 to ‘sex harassment’ donor” was printed in June last year.

The story reported that the Labour Party was handing back money to donor Davide Serra, while also referencing fellow donor Mr Vince.

An employment tribunal in 2022 heard Mr Serra had made sexist comments to a female colleague which were found to amount to unlawful harassment related to sex.

A court hearing in London on Monday was told that Mr Vince was libelled by the article’s headline, image and captions, as they made readers think he was the subject of the allegations.

The court heard the main image was one of Mr Vince, with another image which had his face circled, but the article said in its first two paragraphs that the allegations related to Mr Serra.

My client, Mr Vince, has been very seriously defamed in the eyes of the substantial group of readers of this article, who confined their reading to the headline, the photographs and the captions of the photographs.

Godwin Busuttil, representing Dale Vince

Godwin Busuttil, representing Mr Vince, said: “My client, Mr Vince, has been very seriously defamed in the eyes of the substantial group of readers of this article, who confined their reading to the headline, the photographs and the captions of the photographs.

“If he has been, as he believes he has been, seriously defamed by the parts of the article he complains of, it would be an affront to justice if he was not entitled to pursue his case.”

Mr Vince, who did not attend Monday’s hearing, is chairman of the English Football League Two side Forest Green Rovers FC, and the founder of green energy supplier Ecotricity.

He has previously donated to Labour and the climate group Just Stop Oil.

The article at the centre of the claim was also published the previous evening on The Mail+, the paper’s online subscription platform, with the words “sex pest” in the headline.

The online version was amended 74 minutes after publication to change the picture of Mr Vince to one of Mr Serra, and the headline was then changed the next day to match the printed version.

Mr Busuttil acknowledged in written arguments that a reader “would have realised by the end of paragraph four” that Mr Vince was not the donor at the centre of the allegations, and said the article as a whole was not libellous.

But he said the headline, photographs and captions were enough for readers who did not read the story to believe that Mr Vince was the subject of the accusations, which were “plainly defamatory” and “entirely untrue”.

ANL claims that Mr Vince’s legal challenge should be thrown out as the headlines, photographs and captions alone cannot constitute libel, as they did not represent the “proper context” of the whole article.

Anyone who reads newspapers regularly knows that headlines, sometimes written in a hurry by a sub-editor who is not the author of the article, sometimes take a particular slant that does not do justice to the effect of the information in the piece

Alex Marzec, representing ANL

Alex Marzec, representing the publisher, said on Monday that it would be clear to people reading the whole article that Mr Vince was not the donor being referred to in the headline.

She said: “It only takes two paragraphs to know that the sexual harasser is not the claimant.”

In written arguments, she said: “The defendant applies to strike out the claimant’s claim, on the basis that the words complained of, when read in their proper context – namely the whole of the article – do not bear and are not capable of bearing the meaning complained of.”

She added: “The jumping around from subject to subject is perhaps not the clearest presentation of information, but it keeps the text lively and does not obscure the obvious fact that, according to the newspaper, Labour has been embarrassed by the two donors in two quite distinct ways: by Mr Serra for being an alleged sexual harasser, and by Mr Vince for being an ‘eco-fanatic’.

“Anyone who reads newspapers regularly knows that headlines, sometimes written in a hurry by a sub-editor who is not the author of the article, sometimes take a particular slant that does not do justice to the effect of the information in the piece.”

Judge Jaron Lewis will give his ruling at a later date.

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