Alexander v North Eastern Railway Co [1865] 6 B & S 340

No finding of libel regarding inaccurate publication of conviction


The plaintiff had been convicted of riding a train from Leeds without having purchased a valid ticket. The penalty was a fine and a period of imprisonment of fourteen days if he defaulted on the fine. However, following the conviction, the defendant published a notice that the plaintiff was convicted and issued a fine or three weeks imprisonment if in default.


The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had committed libel by describing the penalty issued to him inaccurately. The defendants argued that the conviction was described with substantial and sufficient accuracy and the words so far as they differed in their literal meaning from the words of the conviction were not libellous.


Judgment was given in favour of the defendants. The gist of the libel was that the plaintiff was sentenced to pay a sum of money and, in default of payment, to be imprisoned. Blackburn J noted that the substance of the libel was true but the question was whether what was stated inaccurately was the gist of the libel. The difference between the conviction and the statement of it published by the defendants did not make the latter in law libellous. The Court was not prepared to say whether, as a matter of law, the notice published by the defendants was libellous or that the inaccuracy regarding the term of imprisonment made a material difference. The question of the effect on the public mind of the statement that the period of potential imprisonment was longer than was actually issued was a question for the jury.

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