26 Jul DEFAMATION – TIMES ARTICLE ABOUT BEN STOKES’ PROSECUTOR FOUND TO BE DEFAMATORY
A court has found that a Times article: ‘Senior Prosecutor under fire after Stokes is cleared of affray’ was defamatory of prosecutor Alison Morgan QC. The article related to the prosecution, of England cricketer Ben Stokes for affray following an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in 2017. It alleged that Ms Morgan was responsible for the decision to charge Mr Stokes with affray rather than assault – which could have resulted in a much longer potential sentence – and not to charge another England cricketer, Alex Hayes, at all in relation to the incident.
The court found that the article was defamatory of Ms Morgan because it bore the meaning that she had been reasonably suspected of being professionally negligent when deciding who should be prosecuted and the preferred charges in the case. The Times had argued that the article was not defamatory as it only related to one particular incident and did not allege negligence or incompetence generally. The court rejected this argument, finding that an allegation that a professional is negligent in one instance can cause harm to a person’s reputation, and therefore be defamatory. The judge said: ‘I do not accept that the hypothetical reasonable reader would understand the article to have a more limited meaning, e.g. that the claimant may have made an excusable mistake or error of judgment’. The court further found that the article had a tendency to cause serious harm to Ms Morgan’s reputation.
In actual fact, the Crown Prosecution Service, not Ms Morgan, made the charging decisions in relation to Ben Stokes and Alex Hayes. While Ms Morgan had been involved in the case at an early stage, she was the first Junior Treasury Counsel at the relevant time. The Times had published a correction to this effect the day after the article was published. Ben Stokes was acquitted of affray in 2018 after the jury deliberated for two and a half hours. He was part of the England cricket squad that recently won the 2019 Cricket World Cup.