If you're a professional, your reputation is paramount to all that you do. As such, any damage to your reputation can have serious, long-lasting effects on your business. It can take years to restore your clients' confidence in you once your name has been publicly aired in a negative light, however unfairly.
In the ongoing case of Allen v Times Newspapers Ltd, Mr Allen, an architect, is seeking to protect his reputation from an article he believed meant that he was to blame for the cause of the Grenfell fire. His defamation claim against The Times highlights some potential pitfalls which claimants should be wary of when setting out their case.
Mr Allen initially argued that the article meant that he had acted "corruptly". By the time proceedings were issued he claimed that the description of him as "Grenfell cladding boss" suggested he was responsible for the design and manufacture of the insulation which caught fire. Mr Allen also objected to the article's suggestion that the position he held on the Buildings Regulations Advisory Committee was a conflict of interest.
On the first point, the judge did not agree with Mr Allen as to the meaning of the words "Grenfell cladding boss". The judge found that, when determining the meaning of words which are claimed to be defamatory, the focus is on implication rather than inference. Therefore, an individual seeking to argue that words damage their reputation, needs to focus on whether the words chosen by the writer convey a specific meaning rather than whether a reader might deduce a meaning. A reasonable reader would not, the court said, either by inference or implication, come to the conclusion that Mr Allen had been responsible for the manufacture of the panels.
As to the conflict of interest point, the judge found that the words did hold a defamatory meaning that Mr Allen had misconducted himself, but this was a different meaning to the words than that put forward by Mr Allen.
This case highlights that defamation claims turn on the court determined meaning found within the words in dispute. While the court should avoid finding a meaning which differs from that which the claimant puts forward, it is able to do so. It cannot however find a meaning that is more damaging than the meaning complained of by the claimant.