‘Scrooge’ Libel Hotelier Wins £50,000 Damages
Those on the receiving end of wounding press coverage are entitled to be vindicated and compensated if standards of responsible journalism are not met. In one case, a public-spirited hotelier who was unjustifiably accused of being a ‘mean Scrooge-like figure’ by a national newspaper won £50,000 in libel damages.
In comparing the man to Charles Dickens’s character, the newspaper claimed that he had callously discharged a number of hotel employees, leaving them without pay just before Christmas. The man, who had a high standing in his community and had been honoured for his charity work, said that he was ‘gutted’ by the article and that the date of publication was the worst day of his life.
The article contained a number of inaccuracies. In particular, it was not stated that the hotel was in the hands of an administrator at the relevant time and that the man had no part in the decision to close it down and terminate staff contracts. With a view to benefiting the local community, he and others had invested heavily in the loss-making hotel and had made no personal profits. The hotel’s staff were in fact still employed on the day that the article was published.
The newspaper’s publisher argued, amongst other things, that the Scrooge epithet was so commonly used in journalism that it had no defamatory meaning in the context of the article read as a whole. However, in making the damages award, the Court found that the article fell below the standards of responsible journalism and had seriously blackened the man’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable readers.