On 18 November 2019, in the aftermath of Prince Andrew’s sensational Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis, Lady Colin Campbell appeared on a breakfast TV programme to discuss the car crash interview.

In a column in the Mirror written by Darren Lewis, headlined “A glimpse into the sordid world of entitled elite”, the newspaper reported on her appearance, saying:

“Then, remarkably, Lady Colin Campbell left us all open-mouthed on Monday when she appeared on Breakfast TV to defend Epstein’s right to rape children.”

“He was procuring 14-year-old prostitutes,” she said. “They were not minors, they were prostitutes, there is a difference.”

Lady C argued that the article had the meaning, and would be understood by readers, that she “…had appeared on national television for the specific purpose of defending Jeffrey Epstein’s right to rape children and had done so”, a charge she denies.

The Mirror rejected the claim, arguing that the words published meant that she “.. appeared to defend Jeffrey Epstein’s right to rape children when she drew a remarkable and untenable distinction between procuring 14-year-old prostitutes and procuring minors for sexual intercourse.”

It pleaded a Defence to the effect that this allegation i.e. their version of how the article would be understood, was true.

The Court directed that the meaning of the article should be determined as a preliminary issue, along with whether the words were statements of fact or opinion.

Noting an ambiguity in the words complained of as to whether “to defend” was an infinitive of purpose, or an infinitive governed by the verb “appeared”, the Court resolved this in a way closer to the meaning put forward by Lady C.

The Court’s findings were that the words complained of: (1) assert as fact: “Lady Colin Campbell appeared on a breakfast television programme. She did so to defend the rape of children by Epstein. Her defence was that the children had been 14-year-old prostitutes rather than minors.” (2) express the opinion: “This is a shocking thing to say. Her comments are an exemplar of the sordid world of the entitled elite.”

The article which gave rise to this claim (appended to the judgment) focused on Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson and only referred to the claimant in passing towards its conclusion. Nevertheless it has given rise to what appears to be a viable defamation claim. This illustrates the continuing importance of pre-publication advice on libel risks for the media.

The case continues. zoom-in will report on any developments.