Shipping magnate's son loses libel action against father of woman he was accused of raping

Eleanor de Freitas killed herself three days before the start of her trial for perverting the course of justice over her claims she was raped by Alexander Economou

Jan Colley
Tuesday 17 December 2019 16:54
Eleanor de Freitas died on 4 April 2014
Eleanor de Freitas died on 4 April 2014

A shipping magnate's son who said he endured a five-week “public rubbishing” because of the actions of the father of a woman who accused him of rape has lost his High Court libel action.

Alexander Economou sued David de Freitas over publications in various media in November and December 2014 which, he claimed, referred to him and were the responsibility of the 60-year-old financial planner.

Mr de Freitas – the father of 22-year-old Eleanor de Freitas who killed herself in April 2014 – denied libel and told Mr Justice Warby that he reasonably believed that publication was in the public interest.

After the judge dismissed the claim on Wednesday, Mr de Freitas said: “I am delighted with the result. It vindicates my public interest defence.”

In June, Mr Economou, 37, was cleared at Westminster Magistrates' Court of harassing Mr de Freitas, whose daughter took her own life days before she faced court on suspicion of making a false rape claim.

Ms de Freitas, a trainee accountant who suffered bipolar disorder, accused Mr Economou of rape in 2013, but no case was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). He brought a £200,000 private prosecution against her for making false claims, which was taken over by the CPS, but she killed herself three days before the start of her trial for perverting the course of justice.

Mr Economou initially said he believed Mr de Freitas's “lashed out” out of revenge, but he did not persist in that claim.

The shipping agency company secretary said he was left close to a nervous breakdown and was shunned by a number of people. Mr de Freitas said he did not name Mr Economou and his focus was on the role and conduct of the CPS and its decision to continue the prosecution of his daughter. The judge heard that Mr Economou was never charged with rape and nothing said in court should be taken as impugning the presumption of innocence to which he was entitled.

Also, Ms de Freitas was never tried or convicted of the charge of perverting the course of justice. The judge said: “Mr Economou has pursued this case with sincerity but, as I find, in anger and with elements of vengefulness.

“Defamatory imputations can cause injury to feelings which is out of all proportion to the harm they cause to reputation.

“That, so far as the earlier publications are concerned, is this case.

“So far as the later publications are concerned, and more generally, Mr Economou has made the error of seeing this case from his own perspective as a victim, paying too much attention to the impact on him and his feelings, and giving insufficient consideration to the other perspectives, indeed the other rights and interests, that demand and deserve consideration.”

Mr Economou was refused permission to appeal but will re-apply directly to the Court of Appeal.

He was ordered to make an interim payment of £400,000 costs, which will be held in a joint solicitors account, not to be paid out pending the outcome of any appeal.

The judge said that included a reduction of 10 per cent to reflect Mr Economou's “modest degree of success on some of the issues”.

After the ruling, Mr Economou said: “I am very shocked by the outcome of this trial. The judge ruled that Mr de Freitas's statements were seriously defamatory and caused me serious harm.

“We essentially proved our case but the judge ruled that his rights to free speech were more important than my vindication.

“Something is very wrong here. We are talking about a rape accusation. This is as serious as it gets.

“This will set a disturbing precedent for all future cases unless I appeal and I shall be appealing and seeking a second opinion on the judgment.”

PA

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