Threat to Kill – slandered claimant wins £35,000 damages

Judgment was handed down this morning in Dhir v Saddler [2017] EWHC 3155 (QB). The background to the claim was a meeting which took place between the claimant, Mr Dhir, and the defendant, Mrs Saddler, in September 2014, at which Mr Dhir raised his concerns regarding Mrs Saddler’s son’s adulterous affair with his daughter. Mr Dhir was concerned that his daughter was being financially and emotionally exploited. The defendant’s assistance was sought to end the relationship. Following the meeting the relationship continued. Mr Dhir proceeded to raise his concerns with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, of which the defendant and her son were members. Mr Dhir’s complaint was heard at a meeting convened by the Church on 19 July 2015. The meeting was attended by both the claimant and defendant as well as some 90 members of the congregation. In the course of addressing the congregation the defendant announced that “he [the claimant] threatened to slit my throat” at the meeting in September 2014.

Mr Dhir sued for slander. Mrs Saddler admitted the words but relied on a defence of truth (s.2, Defamation Act 2013). The case was heard by Nicklin J over 5 days in the Leeds District Registry. The Judge reached the following findings:

a) The meaning of the words complained of was, “the Claimant had threatened to slit the throat of the Defendant” [22].

b) The slander was actionable per se as the words complained of imputed the commission of the indictable offence of making a threat to kill (s.16, Offences Against the Persons Act 1861) [30].

c) Publication was to the 90 attendees at the meeting [37].

d) The serious harm threshold (s.1 Defamation Act 2013) was made out. The Judge noted that claims based on slander compared to libel are likely to engage fewer publishees but rejected,

“the simple proposition that a defamatory publication to, say, a handful of people is incapable of causing serious harm to reputation. In my view, the effect of Lachaux is that the requirement is to show serious harm caused to the reputation of the claimant in the eyes of the publishees; not damage to the claimant’s reputation in the eyes of people generally. If it were the latter, then almost every slander claim would not be actionable under s.1.” [54]

e) The claim was not Jameel abusive [64].

f) As to the defence of truth, the case turned on whether or not the claimant threatened to kill the defendant at the September meeting. There were five attendees at the meeting. Three gave evidence for the claimant and two for the defendant. As each witness’s credibility was in issue the Judge directed that evidence-in-chief be given orally [69]. Having heard all of the witnesses the Judge came,

“to the firm conclusion that the Defendant has not proved that the Claimant made a threat to kill at the September meeting. Indeed, I have come to the positive conclusion that he did not.” [94].

g) The persistent plea of truth, maintained throughout the trial, aggravated the damage suffered by the claimant [107]. Against this was balanced evidence led by the defendant as to the claimant resorting to violence and threats of violence in the past [120]. The appropriate award of damages was £35,000 [122].

David Mitchell, instructed by Michael Lewin Solicitors, acted for the claimant.

Click here for the full judgment

6th December 2017