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Tanzanian media tycoon loses 'oppressive' libel claim

On 30 November 2012 Mr Justice Bean dismissed Reginald Mengi's claim for libel after a 10-day trial in the High Court.  Mr Mengi had sued Ms Hermitage over comments she had made on a website accusing him of encouraging a campaign of 'journalistic terrorism' in newspapers he controlled.

The background to the case was that Ms Hermitage (an English solicitor) and her husband stewart Middleton had purchased the lease to a farm in Tanzania from Mr Mengi's brother - Benjamin Mengi.  Benjamin Mengi had subsequently sought to set aside the transaction and take back the farm.  On the website - which had been set up by Ms Hermitage to bring their plight to the attention of others -  Ms Hermitage had said that they had been subjected to intimidation and threats at the instigation of Benjamin Mengi.  They had received no protection from the local police or courts.  Ultimately they had been forced to leave the country and abandon their investment (with Benjamin Mengi seizing the farm).  The Mengi newspapers were cited as a major factor in the ordeal.  Ms Hermitage claimed that the reporting had been hostile and defamatory to Ms Hermitage and her husband.

Ms Hermitage defended the claim on the bases that what she had written was substantially true and that the publication was covered by qualified privilege.

In his evidence Mr Mengi stated that he was not responsible, not accountable and not answerable for the editorial content.  However, Bean J found that he had either encouraged or knowingly permitted the media campaign and was in that sense complicit in the corruption and intimidation which had helped his brother Benjamin, to seize the farm.  Accordingly, he upheld the defence of justification.  Additionally, Bean J found that the defence of qualified privilege succeeded as there was no malice and Ms Hermitage was replying to an attack.

Bean J described the litigation as 'oppressive' and ordered that Mr Mengi pay the claimant's costs on the indemnity basis.  It is understood that he ordered an interim payment on account in the sum of £1.2M.  Ms Hermitage was represented under a conditional fee agreement with Carter Ruck solicitors.

A full copy of the judgment ([2012] EWHC 3445 (QB)) can be found by clicking here


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