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Elton 'not libelled by Times tax avoidance article'
Wednesday, October 10 2012

The high court has ruled that Sir Elton John was not libelled by the Times in articles that he claimed falsely linked him to a controversial tax avoidance scheme.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said in a short oral judgment handed down at the high court on 10 October 2012 that the two Times articles were not capable of bearing the defamatory meaning alleged by Elton. Elton complained that he was libelled by two articles on "The secrets of tax avoiders" published by the Times on 21 June 2012.

He said that the two articles, part of the Times's prominent tax avoidance investigation, falsely claimed that Elton had used Patrick McKenna of Ingenious Media as his accountant in a tax avoidance scheme. The day after the story was published the Times published a correction in which it acknowledged that McKenna had never been Elton's accountant. A second clarification was added on 26 July 2012 stating that Ingenious Media had not offered to move money offshore.

Tugendhat ruled: "The conclusion I have reached is that the words complained of are not capable of bearing the meaning attributed to them by the claimant or any other defamatory meaning." Elton sued the Times for libel damages after complaining that the articles were "severely damaging" to his reputation and charity work. Tugendhat said in his written judgment that Elton's claim that the articles meant he was, or was reasonably suspected of being, involved in tax avoidance as "so lacking any possible basis that it is obviously to be rejected".

The judge also rejected Elton's third argument, that there was grounds to investigate whether the singer used tax avoidance schemes. Tugendhat said the "hypothetical reasonable reader" of the Times was among the more highly educated and better informed members of the public. The judge accepted the argument, put by Times barrister Manuel Barca QC, that readers have more discriminating judgment than was traditionally recognised by the courts.

Counsel for the Times confirmed after the short hearing that the judgment puts an end to the matter. Lawyers for Elton declined to say whether the singer would appeal.

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