Actor Noel Clarke has vowed to push ahead with his £10 million libel claim against The Guardian after a judge’s ruling on eight newspaper articles accusing the star of bullying and sexual misconduct against women. The 47-year-old filmmaker’s career was torpedoed by news reports in 2021 that 20 women had accused Clarke of being a serial abuser, of preying on female colleagues, and saying he was responsible for unwanted sexual contact including kissing and groping.
Launching his defamation case against Guardian News and Media, Clarke complained of a “catastrophic” impact on his life after the “sexual predator” tag had been included in the news reports.
He argued ordinary Guardian readers would have believed the claims against him were true, rather than disputed allegations.
In response, the newspaper group defended its journalism and contended that its readers would have learned that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect” Clarke of misconduct.
In a preliminary ruling in the case, Mr Justice Johnson said the first article against Clarke had conveyed the meaning that “there are strong grounds to believe that the claimant is a serial abuser of women, that he has, over 15 years, used his power to prey on and harass and sometimes bully female colleagues, that he has engaged in unwanted sexual contact, kissing, touching or groping, sexually inappropriate behaviour and comments, and professional misconduct, taking and sharing explicit pictures and videos without consent, including secretly filming a young actor’s naked audition.”
He rejected the idea that the news articles had been dismissive of Clarke’s denials, pointing out they featured prominently, and he concluded the articles did not present the allegations as simple facts.
The judge also ruled all of the articles could be defamatory, meaning the case can move on to the next stage.
Responding to the ruling Clarke, who directed The Hood series of films, said: “I have always disputed the content of the eight Guardian articles and I am satisfied that the High Court has now found that all eight articles issued by the defendant were defamatory in law.
“I look forward to now receiving the Guardian’s defence and progressing my claim for defamation in the High Court next year.”In court last week, Clarke’s barrister Adam Speker KC said: "Over a series of days at the end of April 2021 and the beginning of May 2021, Guardian News and Media Limited (GNM) chose to label (Clarke) as a sexual predator and accuse him of having acted improperly towards a large number of women in a sexual andcriminal way over many years." “The first article was a major J’accuse moment for Clarke and the film industry, with (him) being described in the first two words of the online edition as a ‘sexual predator’. "This trial by media, conducted by the most read newspaper for people in the film and entertainment industry, led, unsurprisingly, to (Clarke) being ‘cancelled' in various ways."Gavin Millar KC, representing the newspaper publisher, said readers of the articles would not have analysed each sentence in depth, and the "overarching theme" is "allegations of misconduct, including sexual misconduct, made by a number of women which are disputed". "The reasonable reader will appreciate that allegations of this nature are difficult to verify", he said. "In this context, no reasonable reader would assume an allegation is true merely because it has been made."
Clarke was stripped of a Bafta for outstanding contribution to cinema in the wake of the allegations, which Mr Speker summarised as “sexually harassing women, engaging in unwanted touching or groping, engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviour and comments on stage, engaging in professional misconduct and takingand sharing explicit pictures and videos without consent." He says he lost a £585,000 fee when Sky crime series Bulletproof was dropped, as well as £270,000 for the ITV drama Viewpoint which was taken off air before the final episode could be shown. Clarke is claiming £8.25 million over lost share value and salary from his production company Unstoppable.
A defence in the case is now expected from Guardian News and Media, before the case could move forward to a full libel trial.
Philippa Dempster, a defamation expert and managing partner at law firm Freeths', said: Defamation cases are like boxing matches - Noel Clarke has largely won the first round, with the judge finding that the hypothetical 'reasonable reader' would have understood the Guardian's articles to mean there were 'strong grounds' to believe he was guilty of the alleged conduct.
"Round two will see both sides tool up to prepare their cases and round three will see them enter the courtroom for a trial, at which point it will be up to the Guardian to defend its publication of those allegations."