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Setback for former charity boss's libel claim

A former charity boss who is suing a regional daily over what he claims is a ‘campaign’ against him suffered a setback when a judge ruled that two of the articles he complained about were not defamatory.

But Mr Justice Eady refused to strike out two other Exeter Express and Echo articles over which Kevin Wright is seeking damages – saying that they were capable of bearing the defamatory meanings he claimed, Media Lawyer reports.

Mr Wright, who formerly ran a charity called Bobby’s Fund, is suing the paper, its editor Marc Astley, reporter Eleanor Gregson and owner Northcliffe Media over two news reports, published on 9 and 13 January last year, and parts of an article and an editorial comment which appeared on 6 November last year.

The first two articles reported his plan to use Bobby’s Fund resources to buy what the newspaper called a “mansion” which would be used as a centre for sick children, and where he and his family would live, paying rent to the Fund.

Mr Wright claimed readers would take the articles to mean that he was about to use money raised for children’s cancer treatment to buy and move his family into “a lavish home”.

However the judge said that read as a whole neither of the January articles was capable of bearing the defamatory meanings claimed by Mr Wright

The later piece, which appeared after Mr Wright had left Bobby’s Fund, reported that collectors from another charity set up by Ian Weir, a former senior boss at Bobby’s Fund, had been staging street collections without licences, and that they were working under Mr Wright.

On this point, the judge said he would have been exceeding his powers if he were to deprive Mr Wright of the chance to put his argument before a jury.

The hearing took place after the newspaper sought a ruling on meaning, arguing that none of the material about which Mr Wright complained was capable of being defamatory of him and applied for the fourth defendant, Northcliffe Media, to be removed as a party as it was not legally responsible for any of the publications.

The judge agreed to remove Northcliffe from the claim after solicitor Tony Jaffa argued that it had nothing to do with the newspaper’s publication at the material time.