(578) ROBERTSON v SUNDAY HERALD AGAIN
The former Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, lost a defamation action he brought against the owners of the Sunday Herald newspaper in respect of an article published in the paper in 2003, reporting and commenting on the settlement of an earlier defamation action between the parties. The latter action related to an anonymous reader posting on the Sunday Herald website which falsely alleged a link between Lord Robertson and the Dunblane primary school shootings in 1996 (see previously No 381). Lord Robertson argued that the article repeated the defamation and further defamed him by suggesting that his approach to the case had been bullying and irrational in pursuit of a specious claim, and sought £25,000 damages. Lord Reed rejected the claim in an opinion issued on 28 June 2006 ( CSOH 97). From a legal point of view, the most interesting aspect of the case is Lord Reed’s discussion of the rule that reporting a defamatory allegation can be found to convey the same imputation – and therefore liability – as the allegation itself. For this purpose, a publication must be considered as a whole, holds Lord Reed, although there may be practical difficulties in concluding that a report which contains a defamatory statement is none the less incapable of conveying a defamatory imputation. In this particular case, however, the whole tenor of the Herald article was that the allegations against Lord Robertson were untrue.