Why Ben Bradley saying Jeremy Corbyn sold British secrets is defamatory

The conservative MP for Mansfield posted this apology late on Saturday night. It has been widely shared.

Why has Ben Bradley, the conservative Member of Parliament for Mansfield, had to publicly apologise for a tweet about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn?

The short answer is: because what he said was defamatory. But what is defamation, and what exactly does it mean that Ben Bradley’s statement was defamatory?

Defamatory statements are those published or spoken which affect the reputation of a person, company, or organisation in the eyes of right thinking members of society.

Defamatory statements which are written or published in any permanent form are a libel, for which damages can be awarded (defamatory statements which are spoken only are ‘slander’).

In this case, the defamatory statement was, “Corbyn sold British secrets to communist spies”, suggesting the Labour leader betrayed his country.

All citizens as individuals have the right to sue for libel. So Jeremy Corbyn, even though he is a prominent politician, can sue.

This tweet has since been deleted

Jeremy Corbyn, or his legal team, would have had to have proven three things:

  • DEFAMATION: The statement made against him was defamatory. Broadly speaking, any allegation which could affect someone’s reputation among honest citizens is defamatory.
  • IDENTIFICATION: The statement made could be reasonably understood to refer to him, and in this case Bradley named him, leaving no doubt.
  • PUBLICATION: The statement has been published to at least one person other than the claimant, a third party — in this case Bradley’s thousands of Twitter followers.

In what may come as a surprise, Corbyn’s legal team would not have to prove the following things:

  • They would not need to prove that the statement Bradley made against Jeremy Corbyn was false. However, if Bradley could prove that it was true then he may have a defence. The fact that Bradley has apologised shows he did not have substantial evidence to support his claim, but it does not prove that no such evidence exists or that his claim was untrue.
  • They would not have to prove that Bradley ‘intended’ for his statement to be defamatory. There is no defence for Bradley to argue that he did not mean to damage Corbyn’s reputation.
  • They would not have to prove actual damage. Corbyn’s legal team would not have to show that Corbyn’s reputation had suffered damage. This could be shown by anecdotal evidence of Corbyn suffering abuse in the street where people might call him a traitor, or tangible evidence of hate mail. But it is unnecessary in a defamation trial, the court presumes damage as long Corbyn’s legal team could prove that Bradley’s statement ‘tends to’ discredit, which of course it does.

Every repetition of a libel is a fresh publication and creates a fresh cause of action. It is no defence for me, the publisher, to say that I am not liable because I am only repeating the words of others.

Jim Carr, father of comedian Jimmy Carr, has received settlements from numerous papers which published defamatory statements about him made by his son.

In 2006 he reached a £12,000 out-of-court settlement with The Sunday Telegraph for publishing an interview in which the comedian alleged that Carr Senior had been a bad parent.

Although The Sunday Telegraph was just reporting what Jimmy Carr had said, they were still sued, and one of the most common causes of libel actions is reporting the words of interviewees without being able to prove whether they are true.

So will the Labour leader sue me? Although that would be an interesting and perhaps costly turn of events, it seems unlikely that such an action would be successful.

Since the 19th Century, courts consider ‘the bane and the antidote’ together when considering if a statement is defamatory.

This means that they look at the statement in its context. In this case they would look at the entirety of my article, rather than just the defamatory part — Bradley’s quote.

So although I begin by posting a picture of the defamatory tweet and quoting Bradley saying, “Corbyn sold British secrets to communist spies”, which might be my ‘bane’, the judge would look at the rest of this article and conclude anybody who read it would see if makes very clear that I am not supporting that statement and am actually discussing why it is defamatory (the antidote).

At least that is my understanding of defamation laws based on having read my Essential Law for Journalists, published in 2012. I eagerly await any corrections from readers with a better understanding of the law, or correspondence from Jeremy Corbyn’s legal team.



Freelance journalist for the Times, the Sun and elsewhere. View my published work at www.charliemoloney.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Charlie Moloney

Freelance journalist for the Times, the Sun and elsewhere. View my published work at www.charliemoloney.com