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Bridgen 1 - Hancock 0

Matt Hancock has failed to have Andrew Bridgen’s libel action thrown out for lack of substance. It could now go to trial.

“Matt will defend this absurd action, which is a pathetic publicity stunt,” a spokesman for the former health secretary Matt Hancock told journalists in May 2023 after Andrew Bridgen began a libel action against him. 


The North West Leicestershire MP began proceedings after Mr Hancock tweeted about “disgusting and dangerous antisemitic, anti-vax, anti-scientific conspiracy theories spouted by a sitting MP.” He believes the characterisation of him as anti semitic is libellous. 


Mr Hancock says it was not sufficiently obvious the tweet was about Mr Bridgen for it to constitute libel and applied to have the claim thrown out.. 


“The claim has no credible basis,” Mr Hancock’s spokesman said back in May. But last week Mrs Justice Steyn disagreed. 


Ruling on whether the case should be thrown out before any more court time is spent on it – as Mr Hancock had asked – she said in paragraph 75 of her judgement  “… it is highly likely that the claimant would have little difficulty establishing reference innuendo.”


Reference innuendo is a concept in libel law; the idea that someone can be identified by reference to other information even when they are not named. This is different from ‘ordinary reference” which would include the direct naming of someone in an alleged libel. 


Mrs Justice Steyn criticised the way Mr Bridgen’s case had been presented previously because it was not based on reference innuendo. 


Describing the earlier pleading as “defective” she struck out five paragraphs of Mr Bridgen’s particulars of claim but not the claim itself.


She said she would “instead give him an opportunity to amend his Particulars of Claim.”