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Newstead v London Express Newspaper

317 words (1 pages) Case Summary

16th Jul 2019 Case Summary Reference this In-house law team

Jurisdiction / Tag(s): UK Law

Newstead v London Express Newspaper Ltd [1940] 1 KB 377

Mistaken identity in a case of libel


A newspaper published details of a bigamy trial and referred to the accused as “Harold Newstead, thirty-year-old Camberwell man.” Another man by the name of Harold Newstead, also from Camberwell and aged around thirty, brought an action in libel against the newspaper. He claimed that the article had been misunderstood as referring to him.


The defendant newspaper admitted publication of the account but denied that they were intended or understood to refer to the plaintiff or that they were defamatory of him. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants were under a duty to take reasonable care to give a precise and detailed description of the correct Harold Newstead, denoting him exclusively, and to ensure that the words published were not capable of referring to any other person. They were in breach of this duty. The key question was whether reasonable persons would understand the words complained of to refer to the plaintiff.


The Court of Appeal noted that it is established law that liability for libel does not depend on the intention of the defamer; but on the fact of the defamation. Accordingly, in a case such as this it may be right to direct the jury that a reasonable man, and, in particular, a newspaper publisher, must be aware of the possibility of individuals with the same name and must assume that the words published will be read by a reasonable man with reasonable care. The Court held that the evidence justified a finding by the jury that a reasonable man may have understood the words complained of to refer to the plaintiff. The fact that the words were true of another person was not a valid defence against a claim of libel.

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UK law covers the laws and legislation of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Essays, case summaries, problem questions and dissertations here are relevant to law students from the United Kingdom and Great Britain, as well as students wishing to learn more about the UK legal system from overseas.

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