‘Bad boy of Brexit’ Arron Banks loses High Court libel battle against journalist Carole Cadwalladr

'Bad boy of Brexit' Arron Banks loses High Court libel battle against journalist Carole Cadwalladr 2
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Millionaire Brexit-backing businessman Arron Banks has lost a historic High Court libel battle against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr.

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Mr Banks – one of the self-styled ‘Bad Boys of Brexit’ – sued Ms Cadwalladr for libel over a statement she made in a TED Talk in April 2019 and also a tweet she later posted which included a link to the talk.

During the video, which has been viewed by more than five million people since it was first broadcast online, Ms Cadwalladr referred to Mr Banks and the ‘lies’ that he had told ‘about his covert relationship with the Russian government’. 

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Mr Banks – a major donor to the Leave.EU campaign in the run-up to the 2016 referendum – argued that the statements made by Ms Cadwalladr were ‘false and defamatory’ and sought damages and an injunction to restrain the continued publication of the remarks, which are still available to view online. 

But, in a ruling on Monday, Mrs Justice Steyn dismissed Mr Banks’ claim, concluding that Ms Cadwalladr held a ‘reasonable belief’ that her comments were in the public interest. The judgement follows a five-day hearing that took place in January.  

Ms Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who writes for The Observer and has investigated the funding of the referendum campaigns and alleged misuse of data in relation to them, had defended the claim on the basis of public interest. 

Millionaire Brexit-backing businessman Arron Banks (Pictured in January 2021) has lost a historic High Court libel battle against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr

Millionaire Brexit-backing businessman Arron Banks (Pictured in January 2021) has lost a historic High Court libel battle against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr

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Mr Banks - one of the self-styled 'Bad Boys of Brexit' - sued Ms Cadwalladr (Pictured arriving at the High Court in January) for libel over a statement she made in a TED Talk in April 2019 and also a tweet she later posted which included a link to the talk

Mr Banks – one of the self-styled ‘Bad Boys of Brexit’ – sued Ms Cadwalladr (Pictured arriving at the High Court in January) for libel over a statement she made in a TED Talk in April 2019 and also a tweet she later posted which included a link to the talk

In her ruling, Mrs Justice Steyn said: ‘Based on her investigation, Ms Cadwalladr had reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Banks had been offered ‘sweetheart’ deals by the Russian government in the period running up to the EU referendum, although she had seen no evidence he had entered into any such deals; and Mr Banks’s financial affairs, and the source of his ability to make the biggest political donations in UK history, were opaque. 

Most importantly, when Ms Cadwalladr gave the TED Talk the Electoral Commission had announced, following a one-year investigation, that it had reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8 million loans/donations, but rather the source was a non-qualifying company, Rock Holdings, which is based in an offshore, non-transparent, jurisdiction. 

‘In addition, when she gave the TED Talk, the matter had been referred to the NCA and that organisation was investigating.’ 

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The judge said Ms Cadwalladr had not gone to Mr Banks for a response before the talk, but had previously given him a right of reply to articles she had written about essentially the same subject.

She concluded: ‘Although Ms Cadwalladr made clear that she did not understand offshore structures, in essence she drew the conclusion that his finances were opaque and it was unclear where he had derived sufficient funds to be able to donate as much as he had to the Brexit campaign. 

‘Those limited conclusions that she drew from the wide range of articles she read, and financial journalists and experts she spoke to on this topic, were reasonable. 

In a ruling on Monday, Mrs Justice Steyn dismissed Mr Banks' claim, concluding that Ms Cadwalladr held a 'reasonable belief' that her comments were in the public interest. The judgement follows a five-day hearing that took place in January. Pictured: London's High Court

In a ruling on Monday, Mrs Justice Steyn dismissed Mr Banks’ claim, concluding that Ms Cadwalladr held a ‘reasonable belief’ that her comments were in the public interest. The judgement follows a five-day hearing that took place in January. Pictured: London’s High Court

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‘In all the circumstances, I find that the defendant has established that her belief that publishing the TED Talk was in the public interest was reasonable.’ 

The judge found that the tweet Mr Banks complained about had not caused ‘serious harm’ to his reputation, but concluded that, if she had, she would have concluded Ms Cadwalladr’s belief that the tweet was in the public interest was also reasonable. 

Another judge previously found that the meaning of Ms Cadwalladr’s statements is ‘that, on more than one occasion, Mr Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian government in relation to the acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding’. 

Mr Banks - a major donor to the Leave.EU campaign in the run-up to the 2016 referendum - argued that the statements made by Ms Cadwalladr were 'false and defamatory' and sought damages and an injunction to restrain the continued publication of the remarks, which are still available to view online

Mr Banks – a major donor to the Leave.EU campaign in the run-up to the 2016 referendum – argued that the statements made by Ms Cadwalladr were ‘false and defamatory’ and sought damages and an injunction to restrain the continued publication of the remarks, which are still available to view online

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Following that ruling in 2019, Ms Cadwalladr accepted that the meaning determined by the judge was untrue, but has continued to defend the case on public interest grounds. 

Addressing Mrs Justice Steyn during a trial in January, Gavin Millar QC said Ms Cadwalladr was ‘legally entitled’ to say what she did as ‘part of a discussion of matters in the public interest’. 

The barrister said the case ‘should be of concern to anyone who values freedom of speech in this country’. 

Following the ruling, Ms Cadwalladr tweeted: ‘It hasn’t sunk in yet but… some news. I am so profoundly grateful & relieved. Thank you to the judge, my stellar legal team & the 29,000 people who contributed to my legal defence fund. I literally couldn’t have done it without you.

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Ms Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who writes for The Observer and has investigated the funding of the referendum campaigns and alleged misuse of data in relation to them, had defended the claim on the basis of public interest

Ms Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who writes for The Observer and has investigated the funding of the referendum campaigns and alleged misuse of data in relation to them, had defended the claim on the basis of public interest

‘I haven’t read the judgment yet but what I can say that the last 3 years have been extraordinarily difficult. Fighting this has been a crushing, debilitating, all-consuming experience that I sincerely hope no other journalist ever has to go through.

‘The fact that his case was brought clearly shows how our libel laws favour the rich & powerful. I was only able to defend myself because of the incredibly generous support of the public. But this judgment is a huge victory for public interest journalism.

‘My investigation into Brexit, Cambridge Analytica & Facebook triggered investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, record-breaking fines & findings of multiple breaches of the law, including by Mr Banks’s Leave.EU campaign. But I am the only person to ever face trial.’

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