QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| Andrew Reid
|- and -
|Newsquest (Midlands South) Ltd
Victoria Jolliffe (instructed by Foot Anstey LLP) for the Defendant
Hearing date: 1st May 2018
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Nicol :
The hard copy article
' VILLAGERS are fighting for freedom after a former UKIP treasurer bought up vast swathes of beloved countryside and started fencing it off.
 Residents in Dorchester-on-Thames were shocked when city lawyer Andrew Reid bought the 845-acre Bishop's Court Farm for £11m last year and started putting up barbed wire fences around fields where families have played and picnicked for generations.
 The rolling patchwork of pastures, in the shadow of Wittenham Clumps hill on the banks of the Thames, includes the famous meadow by Day's Lock where the World Pooh Sticks Championships were held for more than 30 years.
 The previous owner of Bishop's Court Farm, Anne Bowditch, had always been happy for villagers and visitors to tramp across her meadows, but she passed away in September 2015.
 Mr Reid, a senior partner at RMPI solicitors, bought the property last year through a company called Vision Residences (Two) LLP.
 The first many villagers knew about it was when spiked fences started going up across the fields in October.
 Mr Reid then sent Oxfordshire County Council an official map of the entire estate, marking out exactly which paths were public rights of way, with the rest being private land.
 That official declaration means the villagers now have exactly one year from the date it was submitted on November 2 to challenge the fences – and that is exactly what they are doing.
 A group of residents, led by lawyer and mum-of-three Becky Waller, are preparing to apply to Oxfordshire County Council for two of Mr Reid's fields – Day's Lock Meadow and Dyke Hills – to be granted public Village Green status.
 If they get can convince the council the land should be publicly accessible, it will mean villagers and visitors can picnic, play and even hold fetes there in perpetuity.
 If they can't, generations of tradition will be lost, they warn.
 Mrs Waller, 49, who lives in Dorchester with her husband Martin and their three sons, said: "We won't want to make this a personal thing but people have been really upset by this because this area of land has always been open.
 "There have always been areas people saw as places to picnic and play games.
 "What has happened feels enclosing and suffocating, not least because these fences have two lines of barbed wire on them."
 The villagers' campaign has now been backed by the head of the national Open Spaces Society.
 General secretary Kate Ashbrook said: "We deplore the mass of ugly fencing which has been festooned across the paths and green spaces in this beautiful landscape, and we welcome the campaign to record people's long-held rights to enjoy these historic paths and spaces.
 "We look forward to helping the local people to record their rights so that they are protected for ever more."
 The Oxford Mail attempted to contact Mr Reid through his law firm RMPI but did not receive a response.'
The original on-line article
The amended on-line article
i) Paragraph 2 read:
'Residents in Dorchester-on-Thames were shocked when city lawyer Andrew Reid bought 303 acres of the 845-acre Bishop's Court Farm estate for £4m for farming last year and started putting up barbed wire fences around fields where families have played and picnicked for generations.'
ii) the last three paragraphs said this:
'The Oxford Mail attempted to contact Mr Reid through his law firm RMPI but did not receive a response before publication of the article.
After publication Mr Reid contacted us to say that he is acting to protect the livestock he plans to keep on his private farmland and he says he has given away some of his land to make sure the existing rights of way are wide enough for comfortable use.
He also disputes the campaigners' claim that the land's previous owner was happy to let locals wander freely over other parts of his land. He says he made enquiries of the estate before purchase and it was confirmed that no wider rights had been recognised and the previous landowner's staff had tried to keep walkers and their dogs strictly to the public footpaths.'
'(i) had as soon as he had bought the land, immediately used his vast resources as a rich City lawyer selfishly and callously to override and disregard the longheld and legitimate interests of local residents, threatening generations of tradition by putting up spiked and barbed wire fences, without prior notice or consultation, around swathes of countryside where families have played and picnicked for generations with the consent of the previous owner; and
(ii) had, in overriding and disregarding these legitimate interests, sent Oxfordshire County Council an official declaration about the land in order to limit and / or extinguish public rights of way even though he must or ought to have known about the longheld interests, traditions and consent referred to in sub-paragraph (i) above.'
'In the alternative, if and insofar as the words in their natural and ordinary meaning bore the imputations set out below the imputations are substantially true.
[A] As soon as he had bought the land, and without prior notice to many of the villagers, the Claimant put up barbed wire fences around large areas of his land which had previously been open to the public and where families had played and picnicked for generations with the consent of the previous owner.
[B] The Claimant sent Oxfordshire County Council an official declaration in relation to the land, in order to limit and/or extinguish public use of parts of the land.
[C] In doing so, the Claimant caused considerable upset to a substantial number of local residents who subsequently launched a campaign to register two parts of the Claimant's land as Village Greens.'
Applicable Legal Principles
'(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 whether 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) In delimiting the range of permissible meanings, the court should rule out any meanings 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." Neville v Fine Arts Company  AC 68 per Lord Halsbury LC at 73.'
'The second principle should not be misunderstood. It is not an instruction to the Judge: it describes a characteristic of the ordinary reader. That reader will not always select the bad meaning, but nor will they always select the less derogatory meaning: Lord McAlpine v Bercow  EWHC 1342 (QB)  (Tugendhat J.) approved in Elliott v Rufus  EWCA Civ 121  (Sharp LJ). The seventh principle is strictly speaking applicable only where the issue is what meanings words are capable of bearing. That is an issue rarely contested nowadays…For present purposes, however, this principle does provide a valuable reminder of the outer limits of the exercise.'
'omits an important principle which applies in the present case: namely, the context and circumstances of the publication see Gatley on Libel and Slander (2013) 12 ed para 3.30.'
The parties submissions on meaning
The Claimant had shocked and caused considerable upset to a substantial number of local residents by his actions, following his purchase of land in the area by (a) without warning, fencing off fields to which the public had been allowed access by the previous owner and where families had played and picnicked for generations; and (b) sending to Oxfordshire County Council an official declaration in order to limit and/or extinguish public use of parts of the land.