Midland Heart's Racial Double Standard
Our reputation, who we and people think we are, is important both to us and others. We do not say or like others saying untrue things that cause "serious harm" to our reputation.
For example, no sane person would say he is a "terrorist" or "paedophile" or fraudster. Nor does a self-respecting landlord, such as Midland Heart, like to be known by a defamatory label such as slumlord.
Defamation is a false statement made by one person about another, "the claimant". In order to be defamatory, such a statement must be communicated to at least one other. However, section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 says: "A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant."
On January 26 2013, the Sunday Mirror published an article about a slumlord who profits, "rake it in", from renting properties in "appalling conditions" to recipients of state benefit living in James Turner Street, Birmingham.
The article also said Midland Heart rents properties in the same street, aka Benefits Street, and: "Its chief, Ruth Cooke, 45, earns £179,000 a year and lives in a large house in Stroud, Glos."
The article does not say Midland Heart "rents out damp and mouldy dump[s]". Neither does it say Cooke "personally profited and became rich" from renting such properties.
Cooke and Midland Heart claimed the article by placing them in a "rogue's gallery" defamed them. Despite the Mirror's prompt apology, they sued the newspaper for defamation and lost.
They lost their libel case because they were unable to show evidence the article "has caused or is likely to cause serious harm" to their reputation. At the trial, Lord Justice Bean said:
I do not accept that in every case evidence will be required to satisfy the serious harm test. Some statements are so obviously likely to cause serious harm to a person's reputation that this likelihood can be inferred. If a national newspaper with a large circulation wrongly accuses someone of being a terrorist or a paedophile, then in either case ….the likelihood of serious harm to reputation is plain… But I do not consider that the Article in the present case [Cooke and Midland Heart v MGN Ltd], …, comes anywhere near that type of case. " (see paragraph 43).
In spite of Mr Justice Bean's ruling the article neither defamed Cooke nor Midland Heart because the alleged "serious harm" to their reputation was not "plain", they tried to appeal his judgement. Why? According to Cooke, she wanted "to safeguard [Midland Heart's] reputation as a provider of quality homes".
That begs the question: "what is the link between Cooke suing the Mirror for allegedly damaging her personal reputation and the 'quality of homes' her company provides?" Wouldn't "the tens of thousands of pounds in costs" Midland Heart used up in suing the Mirror might have been better spent providing more lower rent quality homes or paying a living wage?
And what about its tenants reputation, is Midland Heart as committed "to safeguard" theirs? Would a Mr Justice Bean consider the following event to be "plain" evidence of "serious harm" to reputation?
In December 2013, a 57 year-old black disabled tenant wanted Midland Heart to compensate him for his loss of two bicycles.
In 1997, the tenant was granted tenancy of a garage which housed gas meters belonging to other tenants and his bikes. A condition of the tenancy was he continues to allow access to the meters until they were relocated elsewhere. However, it was not until January 2013, 18 years later, that they were moved and he had sole access to the garage.
In April 2012, the bicycles were stolen from the garage which was excluded from his home insurance policy because other tenants had access to it.
The tenant told Midland Heart it was liable for his loss.
By letter dated April 11 2014, Midland Heart's in-house solicitor, Hannah Boyd asked the tenant to provide her with, among other things, "confirmation from his insurers" that: he could not make a claim in respect of the stolen items; and he did not make a claim for them.
Boyd told him: "I am prepared to liaise directly with your insurers. You need to give your insurers authority to liaise with me in this respect."
The tenant did not give Boyd "authority" or consent to liaise with his insurers.
Nevertheless once the tenant gave her his insurers' details, Boyd told his insurers by telephone she believed the documents he had given her from them were not "authentic": "I've reason to believe that it's not".
They were also told that Boyd thought the tenant was involved in fraudulent activity: "I think there might be some fraudulent activity".
Boyd further informed them the tenant was the subject of "a fraud case".
At this point it is worth recalling what Mr Justice Bean considered to be "plain" evidence of "serious harm" to reputation, namely, " to wrongly [accuse] someone of being a terrorist or a paedophile".
Like terrorism and paedophilia, fraud is a crime. The label "criminal" enhances no one's reputation.
Applying Mr Justice Bean's reasoning in the Cooke case leads to the conclusion that "to wrongly" suggest someone is involved in "fraudulent activity", a crime, requires no evidence "to satisfy the serious harm test"; the damage to his reputation is "plain".
Be that as it may, whereas Cooke had the financial clout to defend, albeit in vain, her reputation, her black tenant does not.
And even if he did, "[t]he lengths to which the judge in the Jimmy Mubenga trial went – using restrictive powers – to ensure that the jury heard nothing about the grossly racist texts sent and received by two of the three G4S guards on trial for manslaughter", is "plain" evidence of "the reality of racism" in British courtrooms.
If as Nelson Mandela said about the 1993 racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, in Britain like apartheid South Africa, "a black man's life is cheap", then his reputation is worthless in a legal system that racially profiles him as criminal.
The sad reality is it isn't just G4S guards who profit, "rake it in", from such racism.
Black lives matter, so does their reputation.