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You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) Decisions >> Bokova v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2018] EWHC 320 (QB) (21 February 2018)
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Cite as: [2018] EWHC 320 (QB)

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Neutral Citation Number: [2018] EWHC 320 (QB)
Case No: HQ17M02273

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
21/02/2018

B e f o r e :

MR JUSTICE DINGEMANS
____________________

Between:
Irina Bokova
Claimant
- and -

Associated Newspapers Limited
Defendant

____________________

Sir Edward Garnier QC and Timothy Atkinson (instructed by Zaiwalla & Co LLP) for the Claimant
Andrew Caldecott QC and David Glen (instructed by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP) for the Defendant
Hearing date: 8th February 2018

____________________

HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
____________________

Crown Copyright ©

    Mr Justice Dingemans:

    Introduction

  1. This is a preliminary issue on the meaning of articles in a libel action brought by the Claimant, Irina Bokova ("Mrs Bokova") against the Defendant, Associated Newspapers Limited ("Associated Newspapers"). The articles were published on Mail Online from 13 April 2016 and in the Daily Mail on 13 April 2016. At the material time Mrs Bokova was Director-General of UNESCO and a candidate for appointment as United Nations Secretary-General. Associated Newspapers are the publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail Online.
  2. On 30 November 2017 Mrs Bokova made an application for: (1) a determination of the actual meaning of the words complained of as a preliminary issue; (2) an order striking out the defence of truth and other paragraphs of the Defence; (3) an order striking out paragraphs of the defence relating to mitigation of damages; (4) a consequential order for judgment for damages to be assessed; and (5) an injunction restraining publication.
  3. The need for an order providing for the hearing of the preliminary issue

  4. The wording of the application made by Mrs Bokova on 30 November 2017 for the hearing of the preliminary issue was for "an order … for the determination by way of preliminary issue of the actual meaning of the words". Associated Newspapers agreed that meaning should be determined as a preliminary issue and the other applications should be heard at the same time, but no order for the hearing of a preliminary issue was made by the Court. This meant that the parties turned up for a hearing of the preliminary issue on meaning before me on 8th February 2018 and for the hearing of the other applications without an order having been made for the preliminary issue to be heard.
  5. The approach taken by the parties to the application for a preliminary issue, which mirrors the approach taken by other parties in similar applications, raises a point of procedure. Parties must seek an order for the hearing of the preliminary issue. This is because the making of such an application to the Court for the hearing of the preliminary issue enables the Court, which has powers and duties of active case management, to determine whether a preliminary issue should be heard, see Hope not Hate v Farage [2017] EWHC 3275 (QB) at paragraphs 35 and 36.
  6. In this case I agree with the parties that hearing a preliminary issue on the meanings of the articles was a sensible step to be taken. This is because it will enable the statements of case to engage with the meanings of the articles rather than a range of possible meanings. I therefore agree that the Court would have directed a hearing of the preliminary issue. However in my judgment a Court, if it had had the chance, would not have also directed an immediate hearing of the application for the strike out application and application for judgment. This is because at least part of the strike out application will depend on the actual meaning of the articles as determined at the preliminary issue. Indeed at the hearing it became common ground that the applications to strike out and for judgment should be adjourned so that the Court could give a ruling on the meaning of the articles.
  7. Further a Court deciding whether to order the hearing of a preliminary issue would also have had case management powers (pursuant to CPR 1.1(2)(b) and CPR 1.4(h); CPR 3.12, CPR 3.13 and PD3E at paragraph 3(a)) to make an order requiring the parties to file and exchange costs budgets for the application. As it was the parties lodged costs schedules for all of the applications for the hearing before me which totalled over £105,000 for Mrs Bokova and over £50,000 for Associated Newspapers. I recognise the importance of the issues for the parties, which included on the face of the applications an application for judgment and an injunction. However the sums in the costs schedules are very substantial sums which do not have the appearance of being proportionate to the hearing of a preliminary issue on meaning. Excessive and disproportionate costs should not be allowed to become or remain a barrier to either bringing or defending claims for libel. Since the hearing of this action an order providing for costs budgets for a preliminary issue on meaning has been made in other proceedings (Arnold Mballe Sube v News Group Newspapers, order dated 14 February 2018). It is to be hoped that costs budgets, and costs management if necessary, will ensure that the costs of preliminary issues are proportionate.
  8. As it is, I have heard and determined the preliminary issue on meaning, and the order that I make will also include an order providing for the hearing of that preliminary issue.
  9. Excessive length of Skeleton Arguments

  10. Both parties lodged Skeleton Arguments at some stage on Wednesday 7 February 2018, which was the day before the hearing before me. This was in breach of the requirement to file Skeleton Arguments "not later than one day before the hearing" as provided for in the Queen's Bench Division Guide at paragraph 12.3.7(2). Further the Guide provides that Skeleton Arguments should be "as brief as the issues allow and not normally be longer than 20 pages …" at paragraph 12.3.8 (4). These Skeleton Arguments did not comply with that provision, numbering 39 pages for Mrs Bokova and 34 pages for Associated Newspapers.
  11. Late Skeleton Arguments do not normally provide assistance to the Court because the Court will not have time to read them. As a matter of fairness to the parties I should note that because I was sitting in Court on 6 February and was in Court on 7 February giving judgment and was then dealing with "immediates" (urgent applications to the Administrative Court), the late filing was not material to when I could read the Skeleton Arguments. However the excessive length of the Skeleton Arguments, especially given the limited time to read them, was very unhelpful.
  12. In the Court of Appeal in Raja v Van Hoogstraten [2008] EWCA Civ 1444; [2009] 1 WLR 1143 Mummery LJ commented on very long Skeleton Arguments (the one in that case was 110 pages long) at paragraph 125-127 of the judgment saying: "Practitioners who ignore practice directions on skeleton arguments… and do so without the imposition of any formal penalty are well advised to note the risk of the court's negative reaction to unnecessarily long written submissions … An unintended and unfortunate side effect of the growth in written advocacy … has been that too many practitioners, at increased cost to their clients and diminishing assistance to the court, burden their opponents and the court with written briefs".
  13. The Court of Appeal revisited the issue in Standard Bank plc v Via Mat International Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 490; [2013] 2 All ER (Comm) 1222. Moore-Bick LJ said at paragraph 27 "… in general a short, concise skeleton is both more helpful to the court and more likely to be persuasive than a longer document … I wish to draw attention to the provisions of Practice Directions … Failure to comply with them is likely to be penalised in costs". These rules apply to all fields of law, see the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Tchenquiz v Director of the Serious Fraud Office [2014] EWCA Civ 1333; [2015] 1 WLR 838 at paragraph 10. In that case the Claimants were prevented from recovering the costs of a non-compliant Skeleton Argument.
  14. I should balance my remarks about the length of the Skeleton Arguments and record that I am very grateful to Sir Edward Garnier QC and Mr Atkinson, Mr Andrew Caldecott QC and Mr Glen, and their respective legal teams, for the succinct and helpful oral submissions.
  15. The articles

  16. I have set out below the text of the online article. The lettering and the numbers were added by the parties for ease of reference.
  17. "Putin ally in UNESCO crony row is favourite to take top job at United Nations when Ban Ki-moon steps down at the end of this year

    •    (a) Bulgarian Irina Bokova is said to be a 'darling' of President Vladimir Putin

    •    (b) Moscow educated diplomat hopes to succeed Ban Ki-moon in UN top job

    •    (c) But British diplomats have demanded a fraud inquiry into UNESCO Chief

    •    (d) Appointment of underqualified deputy criticised as ploy to secure support

    •    (e) See more news on Vladimir Putin at www.dailymail.co.uk/putin 

    By Sam Greenhill for the Daily Mail

    Published: 01:58, 13 April 2016 | Updated: 18:06, 13 April 2016

    [1] A former communist backed by Vladimir Putin has become the frontrunner to take over the United Nations as its first ever woman chief.

    [2] Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who was educated in Moscow and is said to be a 'darling' of Mr Putin, hopes to succeed Ban Ki-moon when he steps down at the end of this year.

    [3] However the Daily Mail has obtained secret documents reflecting grave concern about her capacity to handle such an important job.

    Scroll down for video

    [There was a photograph captioned] Irina Bokova with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. She studied in Soviet-era Moscow

    [4] British diplomats even demanded a fraud inquiry after the 63-year-old Unesco chief tried to install an alleged crony as a deputy.

    [5] Leaked minutes of a private session of the Unesco board reveal that Matthew Sudders launched a withering attack - sanctioned by Whitehall - on Mrs Boko-va's decision to make Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores, an 'under-qualified' Brazilian civil servant, her assistant director-general for strategic planning.

    [6] Critics viewed it as a ploy to secure Brazilian support for Mrs Bokova's campaign for the UN job.

    [7] The British ambassador cited a suspicious embellishment of Mrs Thompson-Flores's CV and a job advert that was mysteriously rewritten to lower the post's criteria.

    [8] At the meeting last April at Unesco's Paris HQ, Mr Sudders declared: 'As a UK civil servant, I have a duty to report all cases of possible or suspected fraud to our investigations department.

    [9] 'I have discussed this case and this evidence with them and they have concluded there is a case for a comprehensive external independent investigation.'

    [10] Mr Sudders also said Miss Thompson-Flores 'makes no secret of the fact that she does not understand budgets', and had 'no obvious experience' in strategic planning.

    [11] Referring to an audit of the work of Miss Thompson-Flores in her previous role as Unesco's HR director, he added: 'My colleagues have never seen such a damning indictment of a human resources department as that made by our external auditor.'

    [12] Mrs Bokova denied fraud, while her friend Eleonora Mitrofanova, the Kremlin's ambassador, branded the British concerns 'emotional declarations'.

    [13] Months later, however, Mrs Bokova removed Miss Thompson-Flores from the post. In diplomatic circles, the Thompson-Flores episode has triggered concern about Mrs Bokova's suitability to become head of the United Nations.

    [14] Bivol, a respected investigative journalism website in her home country, said Mrs Bokova's behaviour smacked of 'appointing Our Man, never mind they are a sham', adding: 'These are the typical methods of the Communist nomenklatura'.

    [15] Embarrassingly Mrs Bokova was recently forced to correct a 'mistake' on her own CV - published on Unesco's website for six years - falsely claiming she was Bulgaria's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 1997. In fact she had been only 'acting' foreign minister for just a few months.

    [16] Another untruth concerns her visits to Russia, the Mail can reveal.

    [17] Mrs Bokova, whose father was editor of Bulgaria's Communist Party newspaper, has made frequent trips there.

    [18] While her foreign trips used to be publicly recorded on Unesco's website, a source claimed: 'She travels to Moscow after virtually every executive board meeting but these particular visits were not always declared, and now they don't even publicise her travel movements any more.'

    [19] Last year, when most world leaders were snubbing Putin because of his invasion of Crimea, Mrs Bokova snatched the chance to do him a favour by attending his Second World War victory parade in Moscow, where she rubbed shoulders with Cuban president Raul Castro and the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

    [20] In response to questioning, Mrs Bokova's spokeswoman issued an emphatic statement insisting she had only visited Russia 'on five occasions' since becoming Unesco chief.

    [21] But research by the Mail shows this is simply untrue. There is photographic evidence of at least eight visits.

    [22] Asked to explain her false statement, the spokeswoman offered no answer.

    [23] A 'value for money review' of British taxpayers' cash given to Unesco - due to be published soon by the Department for International Development - is understood to be highly critical of Mrs Bokova's organisation.

    [There was another photograph captioned]

    Current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to step down at the end of this year

    [24] When he was International Development Secretary, in 2011, Andrew Mitchell threatened to axe Britain's £12million annual handout to Unesco, and last night a source close to Mr Mitchell said: 'He met Bokova in Paris. She was an old-fashioned communist – someone very, very unenterprising who expected to be given a lot of money to spend however she liked.

    [25] 'He told her, "I'm terribly sorry, you are not getting any money out of the British taxpayer because you are useless and Unesco is funding a lot of stupid things". She was apparently very hurt by this.'

    [26] Among the organisation's controversial handouts – such as sending funds to kleptocratic African rulers – it came in for heavy criticism in 2010 for announcing an international prize in the name of Equatorial Guinea's brutal dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who encourages rumours that he eats the flesh of his enemies.

    [27] Mrs Bokova also courted controversy when she appointed to the role of 'Unesco goodwill ambassador' the First Lady of Azerbaijan – the 51-year-old wife of tyrant president Ilham Aliye, whose dictatorial regime has tortured protesters, rigged elections and thrown political opponents in jail.

    [28] Unlike Unesco's dire finances – she lost 22 per cent of the organisation's budget when the United States withdrew funding in protest at her recognising the state of Palestine – Mrs Bokova's personal wealth seems in great shape.

    [29] In 2012 and 2014, she bought two Manhattan apartments for $2.4million (£1.5million) in cash, and her son Pavel managed to pay off a £540,000 mortgage on a third apartment in just four years.

    [30] Fluent Russian speaker Mrs Bokova studied at Harvard and at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, during Soviet times, when it was dubbed 'a recruiting ground for the KGB'.

    [31] Fellow students in her year, 1976, included Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who went on to become Putin's spokesman on the Chechen War, and Alexei Pushkov, a strong Putin trumpeter who now heads the foreign-affairs committee in the state parliament.

    [32] Anatoly Torkunov, now the rector of the university, said: 'I remember she was very energetic, significant. She was in the Bulgarian national group, the group was very big back then.'

    [33] Mrs Bokova has said about her time in the USSR in the Brezhnev era: 'Those were very interesting years.'

    [34] She is the leading contender for the UN top job partly because there is pressure, particularly from America and the UK, for the candidate to be a woman, with Hillary Clinton believed to be a strong supporter of the idea.

    [35] There is also a feeling - promoted by the Kremlin - that it is the geographical 'turn' of Eastern Europe. Rivals for the secretary-general job include Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister, and Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese leader.

    [36] The UN's boss is ultimately sanctioned by the UN Security Council, which means that Russia and America, both permanent members, have a great deal of sway.

    [37] The UK, which is another permanent member, has not signalled whether it supports Mrs Bokova or not.

    [38] Mr Sudders declined to comment and the Foreign Office said: 'We want to see the best candidate selected for the job. We believe in a fair and transparent process, especially one that encourages strong female candidates.'

    [39] A spokeswoman for Mrs Bokova said the Thompson-Flores episode was 'an internal oversight matter', adding: 'The Director-General reacted and responded in line with established rules and procedures.'

    [40] She blamed the CV mistake on Bulgaria's foreign ministry, and said of the Manhattan apartments: 'The purchase of all family properties is fully justified by their income.'

    [41] She rejected suggestions Mrs Bokova's stewardship of Unesco had been disastrous, saying: 'Numerous observers have praised Irina Bokova's leadership and management of Unesco, including her success at reforming this institution.'

    [42] She cited US Secretary of State John Kerry saying in October 2015 he 'warmly thanked the Director-General for her leadership', and an assessment by Sweden which read: 'Irina Bokova enjoys great confidence among the Member States. She purposefully drives the ongoing reform work.'

    [43] There are few rules governing the selection of the Secretary-General, apart from that he or she is chosen 'by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council'.

    [44] The vote will be some time after July this year."

  18. The text of the Daily Mail article is set out below:
  19. "Putin ally in UNESCO crony row is favourite to take top job at UN

    By Sam Greenhill

    A former communist backed by Vladimir Putin has become the frontrunner to take over the United Nations as its first ever woman chief.

    Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who was educated in Moscow and is said to be a 'darling' of Mr Putin, hopes to succeed Ban Ki-moon when he steps down at the end of this year.

    However the Daily Mail has obtained secret documents reflecting grave concern about her capacity to handle such an important job. British diplomats even demanded a fraud inquiry into the 63-year-old Unesco chief.

    Leaked minutes of a private session of the Unesco board reveal that Matthew Sudders launched a withering attack - sanctioned by Whitehall - on Mrs Boko-

    'No obvious experience'

    va's decision to make Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores, an 'under-qualified' Brazilian civil servant, her assistant director-general for strategic planning.

    Critics viewed it as a ploy to secure Brazilian support for Mrs Bokova's campaign for the UN job.

    The British ambassador cited a suspicious embellishment of Mrs Thompson-Flores's CV and a job advert that was mysteriously rewritten to lower the post's criteria.

    At the meeting last April at Unesco's Paris HQ, Mr Sudders declared: 'As a UK civil servant, I have a duty to report all cases of possible or suspected fraud to our investigations department.

    'I have discussed this case and this evidence with them and they have concluded there is a case for a comprehensive external independent investigation.'

    Mr Sudders also said Miss Thompson-Flores 'makes no secret of the fact that she does not understand budgets', and had 'no obvious experience' in strategic planning.

    Referring to an audit of the work of Miss Thompson-Flores in her previous role as Unesco's HR director, he added: 'My colleagues have never seen such a damning indictment of a human resources department as that made by our external auditor.'

    Mrs Bokova denied fraud, while her friend Eleonora Mitrofanova, the Kremlin's ambassador, branded the British concerns 'emotional declarations'.

    Months later, however, Mrs Bokova removed Miss Thompson-Flores from the post. A 'value for money review' of British taxpayers' cash given to Unesco - due to be published soon by the Department for International Development - is understood to be highly critical of Mrs Bokova's organisation.

    A fluent Russian speaker, she studied at Harvard and at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations during Soviet times, when it was dubbed 'a recruiting ground for the KGB'.

    Her spokesman said the Thompson-Flores episode was 'an internal oversight matter', adding: 'The director-general reacted and responded in line with established rules and procedures.' She also said that Mrs Bokova had been a success at reforming Unesco.

    She is the leading contender for the UN top job partly because there is pressure, particularly from America and the UK, for the candidate to be a woman, with Hillary Clinton believed to be a strong supporter of the idea.

    There is also a feeling - promoted by the Kremlin - that it is the geographical 'turn' of Eastern Europe. Rivals for the secretary-general job include Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister, and Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese leader."

    Relevant legal principles

  20. When deciding the meaning of words, a judge is providing written reasons for the Judge's conclusion as to the meaning to be attributed to the words sued upon. A Judge should not fall into the trap of conducting an over-elaborate analysis of the various passages relied on by the respective protagonists. The meaning is to be determined from the viewpoint of the layman, not by the techniques of a lawyer, see Waterson v Lloyd [2013] EWCA Civ 136; [2013] EMLR 17 at paragraph 53. The exercise has been described as one of ascertaining the broad impression made on the hypothetical reader by the words taken as a whole. The natural and ordinary meaning of words includes what the reasonable man will infer from the words, see Gatley on Libel and Slander, 12th Edition, at paragraph 3.18. It was common ground that the Court is entitled to reach its own conclusions on meaning, and is not required to adopt meanings advanced by either party.
  21. The applicable principles were summarised by Sir Anthony Clarke MR in Jeynes v News Magazines Limited [2008] EWCA Civ 130 at paragraph 14:
  22. "The legal principles relevant to meaning … may be

    summarised in this way: (1) The governing principle is

    reasonableness. (2) The hypothetical reasonable reader is not

    naïve but he is not unduly suspicious. He can read between the

    lines. He can read in an implication more readily than a lawyer

    and may indulge in a certain amount of loose thinking but he

    must be treated as being a man who is not avid for scandal and

    someone who does not, and should not, select one bad meaning

    where other non-defamatory meanings are available. (3) Over elaborate

    analysis is best avoided. (4) The intention of the

    publisher is irrelevant. (5) The article must be read as a whole,

    and any 'bane and antidote' taken together. (6) The

    hypothetical reader is taken to be representative of those who

    would read the publication in question. (7) … the court should

    rule out any meaning which, 'can only emerge as the produce

    of some strained, or forced, or utterly unreasonable

    interpretation …' …. (8) It follows that 'it is not enough to say

    that by some person or another the words might be understood

    in a defamatory sense.'"

  23. Charleston v News Group Newspapers [1995] 2 AC 65 provides that the meaning of the article was to be taken from the article as a whole, and that it is not permissible to take a headline in isolation from the text of an article. It also reaffirmed the principle that although different readers may understand the article to mean different things, the meaning understood by the hypothetical reasonable reader is the single meaning from the article for the purposes of libel, see Charleston at page 71G.
  24. The Court should have proper regard for context, see paragraphs 12 and 13 of Bukowsky v Crown Prosecution Service [2017] EWCA Civ 1529; [2018] EMLR 5.
  25. It was apparent from the submissions to me that there was a difference between the level of Chase (from Chase v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 1772; [2003] EMLR 11) meaning attributed to the article. The Chase levels of meaning were derived from the decision in Lewis v Daily Telegraph [1964] AC 234.
  26. At paragraph 45 of Chase Brooke LJ identified that the sting of a libel may be capable of meaning (1) that the Claimant has committed the act; (2) that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant has committed the act; (3) that there are grounds for investigating whether the Claimant has committed the act.
  27. As Gatley at paragraph 3.28 points out "the line between level 2 and level 3 meanings can be somewhat blurred", and meanings do not need to fit into precise pigeon holes. As a variation on ground 2 reference has been made to "cogent grounds to suspect the Claimant", see Charman v Orion Publishing Group Ltd [2005] EWHC 2187 (QB). On other occasions that has been referred to as a Chase level 2A meaning. The relationship between the repetition rule and Chase meanings was addressed in Brown v Bower [2017] EWHC 2637 (QB); [2017] 4 WLR 197. In that case it was held that there were "grounds to suspect", see paragraph 41(iii) of Brown v Bower, but such a meaning was not advanced by either side to me, and the practical difference between "reasonable grounds to suspect" and "grounds to suspect" may be more imagined than real. It is important to remember that the Chase levels are a distillation from the judgment of Lord Devlin in Lewis v Daily Telegraph and are designed to assist in determining meaning, and they are not a straightjacket. Everything depends on reasonableness, context and the words used, as is apparent from Lewis v Daily Telegraph, Jeynes and Bukovsky.
  28. The respective cases on meaning

  29. Mrs Bokova has pleaded that the online article has the following meanings:
  30. (1) The Claimant was personally guilty of fraud in relation to the appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores as her assistant director-general for strategic planning, or there were and are strong grounds to suspect such fraud;

    (2) The Claimant dishonestly stated in her CV that she had been Bulgaria's Foreign Minister from 1995-7;

    (3) The Claimant has been party to the dishonest covering up of visits she secretly made to Moscow to report to the Russian Government and President Vladimir Putin about what happened at Executive Board Meetings of UNESCO just after they took place, such visits also being improper and in bad faith as regards UNESCO;

    (4) The Claimant is or is strongly to be suspected of being a Russian secret agent and/or improperly acts as a puppet of Russia and President Putin;

    (5) The Claimant is guilty of personal financial corruption connected with the purchase of two expensive Manhattan apartments and her son's ability to pay off a large mortgage in just four years, or there are strong grounds to suspect her of such corruption;

    (6) The Claimant was personally responsible as Director-General for bringing UNESCO into disrepute by naming an international prize after "Equatorial Guinea's dictator Teodoro Obian Nguema, who encourages rumours that he eats the flesh of his enemies".

  31. Associated Newspapers contested those meanings save for the one set out at (6). In particular it was submitted that Mrs Bokova's meanings imputed guilt (Chase level 1) whereas reasonable grounds to suspect (Chase level 2) was the most that the words could bear in many respects.
  32. Both Sir Edward Garnier and Mr Caldecott highlighted certain passages in the online article on which they relied. Sir Edward Garnier asked me to take as the context the fact that this was a "hatchet job" and to take account of the cumulative effect of all that was being said against Mrs Bokova. Mr Caldecott accepted that the article was not a friendly article, but warned against impermissible reading up from one distinct meaning to another.
  33. In relation to the meaning of the article published in the Daily Mail Mrs Bokova's meaning was that "there were strong grounds to suspect that the Claimant was personally guilty of fraud in relation to the appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores as her assistant director-general for strategic planning". The Defendant contended that the article permitted only a finding of reasonable grounds for suspecting fraud.
  34. The meanings of the online article

    Meaning: Reasonable grounds to suspect fraud

  35. The parties referred to a number of paragraphs of the online article including bullet point (c) and paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 37 and 39.
  36. It is to be noted that there was a reference to secret documents showing a demand for a fraud inquiry in relation to the decision to make Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores Mrs Bokova's assistant director-general. There were references to suspicious embellishments and mysterious rewriting of criteria and the fact that the investigations department to whom Mr Sudders had reported had called for a comprehensive external independent investigation. There was the use of the phrase "appointing our man, never mind they are a sham". All of this was noted to have triggered concern and the UK had not set out its position in relation to Mrs Bokova.
  37. In my judgment, even taking account of the other matters set out in the article and addressed below, a reasonable reader would not take this to mean that Mrs Bokova was guilty of fraud. This is in part because these matters are reported to require investigation and to be causing concern rather than being matters which are a complete bar to Mrs Bokova's appointment as Secretary-General. Further in my judgment the meaning of the article moves beyond grounds for investigating. This is because a report was made to the investigations department and they had concluded that there was a case for comprehensive external independent investigation.
  38. I did consider whether the reasonable reader would take this to mean "strong" or "cogent" grounds to suspect fraud, or "reasonable" grounds to suspect fraud (if indeed there is any practical difference between them). I have decided that this is a straightforward Chase level 2 and "reasonable grounds". This is because there is nothing to show that the grounds to suspect were strong grounds as opposed to reasonable grounds.
  39. In my judgment this article means "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty of fraud in relation to the appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores as her assistant director-general for strategic planning".
  40. Meaning: Dishonest statement about her cv

  41. The parties referred to a number of paragraphs of the online article including paragraphs 15, 16, 39 and 40 of the article.
  42. When dealing with Mrs Bokova's CV the article said "Embarrassingly Mrs Bokova was recently forced to correct a 'mistake' on her own CV – published on UNESCO's website for six years – falsely claiming she was Bulgaria's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 1997. In fact she had been only `acting' foreign minister for just a few months. Another untruth concerns …; (paragraphs 15 and 16) … A spokeswoman for Mrs Bokova … blamed the CV mistake on Bulgaria's foreign ministry" (paragraphs 39 and 40).
  43. Mr Caldecott pointed out that matters might be untrue, but not a lie (in the sense of being a dishonest false statement), and submitted that this article meant that there were reasonable grounds for suspecting Mrs Bokova of dishonestly putting false information in her CV about being Minister of Foreign Affairs. I agree that information might be untrue without being a lie. However in this case the reader knows that the information is wrong because Mrs Bokova was only acting foreign minister for a few months and is told that her claim to be Minister of Foreign Affairs is a false claim. The reasonable reader would know that the difference between 2 years and a few months is not the sort of innocent inaccuracy that can be made in a CV. In my judgment the reasonable reader would find the false statement to be a lie by Mrs Bokova and not an innocent error because the reader is also told that the CV was on the website for 6 years, showing that Mrs Bokova must have known about it. Finally the reader was told that it was a `mistake' (using inverted commas) and the reader is told that it was an untruth which, in the context of the article, which includes the next untruth, means a lie as appears below.
  44. In my judgment this article means that "the Claimant made a dishonest false statement in her CV by claiming that she was Bulgaria's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 1997".
  45. Meaning: Party to dishonest statement about the number of visits to Russia but not a spy

  46. The parties referred to a number of paragraphs of the online article including paragraphs 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 in relation to the number of visits, and in relation to the suggested meaning about being a spy or puppet the parties referred to the whole of the article.
  47. The article tells the reader that Mrs Bokova's spokeswoman issued an emphatic statement saying Mrs Bokova had only been to Russia 5 times, which the reader is then told was "simply untrue" and shown to be so by photographic evidence. Further when asked to explain her "false statement" the spokeswoman offered no answer showing that it was not an innocent error. I therefore accept that the meaning of the article is that there was a lie (in the sense of a dishonest false statement) about the number of visits to Russia.
  48. Although spokespersons acting on behalf of another person can make inaccurate statements and tell lies without the others being implicated in the lie, in my judgment this is not the meaning of this article. This is because there was nothing to suggest that the spokeswoman was not getting information from Mrs Bokova and everything to suggest that Mrs Bokova's spokeswoman was getting information from Mrs Bokova. This is because the reader is told that Mrs Bokova's travel movements stopped being published, and she was a supporter of President Putin of Russia which was the country to which the false statement related showing Mrs Bokova's involvement in the false reporting about the number of visits.
  49. However I do not find that the article means that Mrs Bokova lied to cover up "visits she secretly made to Moscow to report to the Russian Government and President Vladimir Putin about what happened at Executive Board Meetings of UNESCO just after they took place, such visits also being improper and in bad faith as regards UNESCO". It is right to note that the article makes it plain that Mrs Bokova and Mr Putin are fans of each other (Mrs Bokova being a "darling" of Mr Putin and Mrs Bokova attending Mr Putin's Second World War victory parade which had been snubbed by most world leaders) or, as Mr Caldecott put it in submissions, the article shows that they were members of a mutual appreciation society. It is also right to note that the article reports that Mrs Bokova was travelling to Russia after virtually every Executive Board meeting and the visits were not declared, but it is a very substantial leap from those matters to suggest that Mrs Bokova was travelling to report what happened at the Executive Board Meetings to the Russian Government and President Putin improperly and in bad faith. This is because there is nothing to suggest a meeting with the Russian Government or President Putin. Further the reasonable reader would not immediately assume that UNESCO was dealing in secret matters. In my judgment a reader would have to be unduly suspicious to come to the meaning contended for by Mrs Bokova.
  50. When asked about this Sir Edward Garnier linked it to the suggested meaning that Mrs Bokova was a spy or puppet of President Putin. He referred to clues in the article including the references to Mrs Bokova studying at the Moscow state university at a time when it was a recruiting ground for the KGB (paragraph 30), studying with fellow students who were strong Putin supporters (paragraph 31), being energetic at University (paragraph 32), Mrs Bokova's comment that her time in the USSR was very interesting (paragraph 33) and that her candidacy was being promoted by the Kremlin (paragraph 35). Those parts of the article referring to Communist nomenklatura, Mrs Bokova's father's role as editor of a Communist newspaper, and Mr Mitchell's description of Mrs Bokova were also highlighted.
  51. I should record that when I first read the article the suggested meaning about Mrs Bokova being a spy or puppet simply did not occur to me. I did consider whether I was being naïve (see Jeynes) but noted that there are contra-indicators in the article to the proposition that Mrs Bokova is a spy or puppet of Mr Putin. These include the statements that Mrs Bokova is reported to be a "darling" of Mr Putin, which is not the usual description of either a spy or a puppet, and that Mrs Bokova decided to show public support at the Second World War victory parade (paragraph 18) which indicates her independent thinking. In my judgment a reader would have to be unduly suspicious to conclude from the matters relied on by Sir Edward Garnier that Mrs Bokova was either a spy or a puppet.
  52. In my judgment the article means that "the Claimant was party to making dishonest false statements about the number of her visits to Russia since becoming Director-General of UNESCO".
  53. Meaning: Reasonably suspected of purchasing Manhattan apartments with tainted monies

  54. The parties referred to a number of paragraphs of the online article including paragraphs 28, 29 and 40 of the article.
  55. The article reports that, by contrast to UNESCO's dire finances, Mrs Bokova's personal wealth is in great shape (paragraph 28) and that in 2012 and 2014 she bought 2 Manhattan apartments for $2.4 million (£1.5 million) in cash. Further her son paid off a £540,000 mortgage in just 4 years (paragraph 29). The article reports a statement by a spokeswoman to the effect that the purchase of all family properties was fully justified by their income (paragraph 40).
  56. Sir Edward Garnier contended that this was a Chase level 1 meaning to the effect that Mrs Bokova was guilty of corruption because she had bought two expensive Manhattan apartments in a very short period. However that ignores the fact that there is a reported comment that the purchases were fully justified by family income. It is right that, notwithstanding this explanation, the fact of the purchase has been reported, next to the contrast between the dire finances of UNESCO and Mrs Bokova's personal wealth.
  57. I note that there is nothing in the article to explain how Mrs Bokova was able to pay £1.5 million in cash for 2 apartments in 2 years. Mr Caldecott suggested that Mr Bokova's husband might have been very wealthy from legitimate sources of income. If so that does not explain why Mrs Bokova's personal wealth is in great shape and why Mrs Bokova, and not her husband, was purchasing the apartments. There is nothing about a husband and his wealth beyond the short reference to all family purchases being justified by their income. All of this means that there are reasonable grounds to suspect the use of tainted or illegal monies to purchase the apartments and pay off the son's mortgage, because without such funds Mrs Bokova would not be able to afford the apartments or pay off her son's mortgage. Therefore this is more than just grounds to investigate (a Chase level 3 meaning) the purchase of the apartment and pay off her son's mortgage and is a Chase level 2 meaning.
  58. In my judgment the article means that "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant has used tainted monies to purchase two Manhattan apartments and help her son pay off a £540,000 mortgage".
  59. Meaning: bringing UNESCO into disrepute

  60. The Claimant's meaning about bringing UNESCO into disrepute in relation to the international prize was common ground between the parties. I accept that this is the meaning of the article.
  61. In these circumstance in my judgment the article meant that "the Claimant was personally responsible as Director-General for bringing UNESCO into disrepute by naming an international prize after "Equatorial Guinea's dictator Teodoro Obian Nguema, who encourages rumours that he eats the flesh of his enemies"".
  62. The meaning of the Daily Mail article

    Meaning: Reasonable grounds to suspect fraud

  63. As appears above there is only one relevant meaning of the Daily Mail article which is relied on. It was effectively common ground that the meaning of the Daily Mail article was Chase level 2, but there was a dispute about whether the meaning was "strong" grounds to suspect of "reasonable" grounds to suspect.
  64. It is to be noted that there was a reference to secret documents reflecting grave concern and the fact that British diplomats have demanded a fraud inquiry after the decision to make Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores her assistant director-general. There were references to suspicious embellishments and mysterious rewriting of criteria and the fact that the investigations department to whom Mr Sudders had reported had called for a comprehensive external independent investigation.
  65. I agree that this means that there are grounds to suspect fraud. I have decided that this is a straightforward Chase level 2 and "reasonable grounds". This is because there is nothing to show that there were strong grounds to suspect as opposed to reasonable grounds to suspect.
  66. In my judgment this article means "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty of fraud in relation to the appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores as her assistant director-general for strategic planning".
  67. Conclusion

  68. For the detailed reasons set out above the online article has the following meanings:
  69. (1) "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty of fraud in relation to the appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores as her assistant director-general for strategic planning":

    (2) "the Claimant made a dishonest false statement in her CV by claiming that she was Bulgaria's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 1997".

    (3) "the Claimant was party to making dishonest false statements about the number of her visits to Russia since becoming Director-General of UNESCO".

    (4) "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant has used tainted monies to purchase two Manhattan apartments and help her son pay off a £540,000 mortgage".

    (5) "the Claimant was personally responsible as Director-General for bringing UNESCO into disrepute by naming an international prize after "Equatorial Guinea's dictator Teodoro Obian Nguema, who encourages rumours that he eats the flesh of his enemies"".

  70. The Daily Mail article had the meaning "there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the Claimant was guilty of fraud in relation to the appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores as her assistant director-general for strategic planning".


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URL: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2018/320.html