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Kick it (defamation) out

Professional footballs Mr Rufus (Claimant) and Mr Elliot (Defendant) sue one another too!

In February 2013, it was purported that Mr Elliot sent Mr Rufus an offensive and aggressive text message following a business dispute and which contained a racist word. Shortly afterwards, the text message was published in The Sun newspaper under the headline “N-word slur by CBE ace”. The article was emotive for obvious reasons, but so much so because Mr Elliot was a trustee of the ‘Kick it Out’ anti-racism campaign of the Football Association and had also been awarded a CBE for his work in the area of diversity and anti-racism.

Following the publication and details of the text message in question, Mr Elliot resigned from his position as trustee of the organisation and issued a press release – also published on the ‘Kick it Out’ website. As a result of the press release, frenzy amongst fans ensued and generated a public-wide debate concerning accusations that Mr Rufus leaked the text message to the press as insinuated by Mr Elliot. Mr Rufus maintained his innocence and instead claimed that he had become the victim of defamation due to the commentary flowing from the press release.

The court was tasked with role of determining whether the press release defamed Mr Rufus in the eye of the ordinary reasonable reader. Mr Rufus argued that the press release meant by way of innuendo that he had acted dishonourably, betrayed his friend, and deliberately harmed his [Mr Elliot’s] reputation. However, the court did not agree and decided instead, that the press release meant (by way of innuendo) that Mr Rufus had made public the text message in question and Mr Elliot had resigned as a result of the disclosure. Therefore, Mr Elliot’s press release was not seen to be defamatory as alleged by Mr Rufus.

This case highlights the high burden of proof on a Claimant when bringing a defamation claim, specifically the serious harm threshold test, which must also be satisfied.

1 Defamation Act 2013

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