LIBEL : MALICE : MISTAKE : ALLEGATION OF THEFT : TEST FOR MALICE
Where there was undisputed evidence that a complainant had never admitted to theft it could not be said that a fact-finding tribunal would be perverse to find that the maker of an allegation of theft against him had acted maliciously, despite the fact that the maker of the allegation claimed that he had made the allegation in honest mistake.
The applicants applied for summary judgment that a claim brought against them by the respondent (H) for libel was bound to fail. H was employed by the second applicant airline (B) in a senior cabin crew position. After an overnight flight, a routine stop-and-search operation by the police and Revenue and Customs found H to be in the possession of 12 miniature bottles of whisky. H admitted that he had not paid for the miniatures, but claimed that the bar had been shut, and he had put the bottles into his bag and then forgotten to pay. At no stage did he admit to theft. H was arrested and cautioned on suspicion of theft, but no further action was taken.
HELD: A successful application for summary judgment would involve a conclusion that there was no possible basis for the contention that R had been dishonest, and that a jury would be perverse to draw such an inference, Seray-Wurie v Charity Commission of England and Wales (2008) and Somerville v Hawkins 138 ER 231 CCP applied, Telnikoff v Matusevitch (1991) 1 QB 102 CA (Civ Div) and Turner v Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures (1950) 1 All ER 449 HL followed. It could not be said that a fact-finding tribunal would be perverse to arrive at the conclusion that R had made an allegation about H that he knew to be false. It could well transpire, if the mater went to trial, that R had been merely careless in his use of language and that a jury would conclude that he was in no way abusing the occasion of privilege. Nevertheless, it was not appropriate to stop H from exploring the matter at a full hearing in due course.
 EWHC 3244 (QB)
PETER HUGHES v (1) WILLIAM RISBRIDGER (SUED AS BILL RISBRIDGER) (2)
BRITISH AIRWAYS PLC (2009)