Council sued over ‘whispering campaign’

Posted: 7th October 2016

Vacant BuildingRumours can have a grave impact on businesses and, where the source is an official one, they can be particularly damaging. The point was illustrated by a case in which the owner of a property management firm launched defamation proceedings against a local authority and one of its officers, claiming to be the victim of a whispering campaign.

The businessman claimed that the officer had made unjustified allegations to a number of his clients that he was dishonest or not to be trusted. He said that his business had been devastated by the campaign of vilification and launched proceedings against the officer and the council that employed him. Although the officer and the council had put in a defence to the claim, it was not part of their pleaded case that the allegations against the businessman were true.

The latter had at first sought a maximum of £50,000 in damages. However, in a pre-trial ruling, the High Court opened the way for him to claim an unlimited sum. He was also granted permission to broaden the scope of his case, introducing new claims, and to call expert evidence relating to his financial losses. The amendments to his case had been resisted by the officer and the council on grounds of delay, but the Court found that they would result in no unfairness.