A “highly vitriolic” article suggesting that Sir James Dyson is a hypocrite who “screwed” the country damaged the business tycoon’s reputation, the High Court has heard.
The inventor and entrepreneur is suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), now Reach, the publisher of the Daily Mirror, for libel over an article published in January 2022.
In the article, journalist Brian Reade referred to Sir James as “the vacuum cleaner tycoon who championed Vote Leave due to the economic opportunities it would bring to British industry before moving his global head office to Singapore”.
He continued: “Kids, talk the talk but then screw your country and if anyone complains, tell them to suck it up.”
MGN is defending the libel claim, including on the basis of honest opinion.
Sir James, 76, sat in front of his lawyers in the courtroom in the Royal Courts of Justice during the first day of the trial on Tuesday.
Justin Rushbrooke KC, for the inventor, told the court the article was a “highly vitriolic piece of journalism” with no evidence to justify its critical claims.
He said it had inflicted “significant material damage” and the reference to having “screwed the country” could be interpreted as to mean that “something harmful” had been done.
Mr Rushbrooke added: “It must mean to the ordinary reasonable reader of The Mirror that you have done something damaging to the country.”
In written submissions, the barrister said the articles, both in print and online “constituted a serious and unjustified slur on Sir James’ reputation, business and personal”.
The barrister told the court it would take a “twisted mind” to believe the January 2019 announcement that the Dyson company would be establishing a global headquarters in Singapore could lead to such extreme claims about Sir James.
He added that an “honest opinion is supposed to give latitude but it is not a licence for a journalist to mislead the reader.”
Mr Rushbrooke also pointed out the word “screwed” could be seen as meaning “underhand and discreditable”.
However, the barrister described Sir James as a “British success story”, with the court told the inventor has provided opportunities for young people in the UK, particularly as regards their education and training, and is widely involved in many philanthropic activities.
In a statement, a Dyson spokesman said Sir James had brought the legal claim “as a last resort”.
The spokesperson continued: “The Mirror Group Newspapers has admitted to the Court that Sir James is recognised as one of the UK’s greatest ever inventors and business leaders and that he is one of the UK’s leading philanthropists, particularly in the educational fields, yet the allegations made by the newspaper in its article were vicious, vitriolic and attacked his personal character in the very worst way.”
However, Adrienne Page KC, for MGN, said in written submissions that Sir James’ approach to the legal claim “has been markedly unreasonable, wholly disproportionate and abusive”.
She continued in written submissions: “It might strike the court as surprising that a person who enjoys a level of success and influence as this claimant would choose to spend somewhere in the region of £1 million litigating to trial the question of whether these short passages represent an opinion an honest person could have held.”
The barrister said that an honest person “could, self-evidently have held the opinion”.
Ms Page continued: “Opinions do not need to be justifiable as the claimant puts it, they need to be capable of being held by a person who is honest.”
“It was a genuinely and indeed widely held view that the decisions relied on represented a betrayal of this country made particularly acute by the claimant’s prior and influential support for a political position which, in the eyes of many, has caused this country severe economic harm.”
The trial before Mr Justice Jay is set to conclude on Friday with a decision expected at a later date.
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