Sir Elton loses libel claim

Posted: 16th October 2012

Sir Elton John has failed in a libel action against Times Newspapers Limited over articles which he argued linked him to immoral tax avoidance. Although it was understandable that the singer had ‘taken exception’ to an inaccuracy in the articles, a judge has ruled that the words he complained of were not capable of bearing a defamatory meaning.

Sir Elton sued over the articles published over four pages in The Times on June 21 2012. The newspaper published an apology the following day after accepting that it had inaccurately stated that the singer was a former client of an accountant said to have been involved in tax avoidance schemes.

EltonHowever, Mr Justice Tugendhat said that, although Sir Elton was understandably incensed by that inaccuracy, it was not relevant to the issue of whether the words complained of were capable of being defamatory.

Sir Elton, who was named three times in the articles, argued that the natural and ordinary meaning of the words published was that there were grounds for investigating his affairs and that it was reasonable to suspect him of having engaged in immoral tax avoidance.

Times Newspapers Limited did not dispute that an imputation that a person is engaged in tax avoidance is capable of being defamatory. Although the newspaper did not expressly state that Sir Elton had been so engaged, it was argued by his lawyers that this was an imputation that could be inferred from the repeated, inaccurate, references to the singer being a client of the particular accountant.

The judge accepted that readers of the articles might have inferred ‘something to the discredit’ of Sir Elton. However, there was nothing to support such an inference other than the allegation that he was associated with the accountant.

‘The words complained of are not capable of bearing the meanings attributed to them by the claimant (Sir Elton) or any other meaning defamatory of him’, the judge concluded.