D ran a headline that P (a company) had been investigated over financial dealings by the police. HL sent the case for retrial after the trial judge had failed to consider whether P had been hurt financially and had said the jury could take the headline “Inquiry on Firm by City Police” as imputing guilt. HL said this was wrong. The approach to construction in defamation proceedings is what the “ordinary reader” without specialist knowledge would understand the words to mean in their natural and ordinary context. Hence in this case, the headline was not capable of meaning “guilty” of financial misdealing, nor would this inference be drawn by the ordinary reader.
Lord Devlin: “There could have been three categories of justification – proof of the fact of an inquiry, proof of reasonable grounds for it and proof of guilt." A company cannot be injured in its feelings, it can only be injured in its pocket. The injury must sound in money, but the injury need not necessarily be confined to loss of income. Its goodwill may also be injured.” The argument is put that there is no difference between saying a man is guilty of fraud and a man is suspected of fraud because the “ordinary man” will get the same impression whether there is a hint or an allegation, a suspicion or guilt. This sometimes may be true, and sometimes not. The overall impression given is the key thing, and here, to the ordinary reader, the actual words used did not suggest guilt and therefore the judge ought to have excluded this possible meaning from the jury.
Lord Morris (dissenting on whether the meaning of “implying guilt” ought to be excluded): There are many views a man might reasonably take, including the implication of guilt, all of which ought to be determined by the jury and not excluded by the judge.