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MP Successfully Awarded Damages By Court In Libel Claim Against The Sun Newspaper

A shadow minister was awarded £30,000 in damages in a court battle over a defamatory statement made in an article by the Sun newspaper.

The Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon, won a claim for damages against The Sun Newspaper in relation to claims that a heavy metal band he performed with used Nazi imagery.

Background

In Richard Burgon MP v News Group Newspapers Limited and Thomas Newton Dunn ([2019] EWHC 195 (QB)) the case concerned an image created by a band Mr Burgon had joined, known as Dream Troll, which was published on Twitter and Facebook. Upon discovering the image, Mr Dunn alleged the band was using a Nazi iconography. Mr Burgon identified the image as a parody of a Black Sabbath album cover.

In April 2017, The Sun’s political editor, Mr Newton Dunn, wrote and published an online article containing false allegations that Mr Burgon had joined a band who delighted in using Nazi symbols during performances.

Following the publication, Mr Burgon took the matter to the High Court, claiming that the article was ‘highly defamatory, false and unfair’.

Judgment

The High Court judge ruled in favour of Mr Burgon, on the basis that the publication contained false allegations which were defamatory and likely to cause serious harm. The judge stated that the article continued to be published online for more than six months and The Sun Newspaper failed to issue an apology to Mr Burgon.

It was held that Mr Dunn failed to reference the Black Sabbath parody in his article despite being informed of it by Mr Burgon’s political advisers prior to publication.

The judge dismissed the publisher’s defence that the statement was true, an honest opinion and in the public interest. It was also held that the band did not use Nazi symbols and there was no evidence to suggest the band thought the image contained Nazi symbols. Therefore the article was substantively untrue. The judge found that the meaning of the statement in the publication was not an opinion but a fact. Considering Mr Dunn was informed of the Black Sabbath reference, the judge concluded that Mr Newton Dunn was not permitted to disregard the source of the image. Therefore the Black Sabbath reference had to be included to comply with responsible journalism.

The judge awarded damages of £30,000 to Mr Burgon and granted an injunction to prevent further publication of the defamatory statement.

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