(12 February 2019, London) Himsworth Scott has acted for longstanding client Steve Morgan CBE, the founder and Chairman of Redrow PLC, on securing substantial damages and an apology following the settlement of his defamation claim against Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers Limited.
The action followed various false and defamatory claims by the Daily Mail that Mr Morgan made significant personal gain by purchasing six Redrow houses, designated for sale as affordable homes, at a substantial discount to their market value. The true position is that Mr Morgan made the highest offer for the homes and rents them out as affordable housing.
At Steve Morgan’s request, a substantial payment has been made in full to charity in lieu of damages. This payment will be used towards adapted mini-buses for two special needs schools, Archer’s Brook in Ellesmere Port and Ysgol Gogarth in Llandudno. The buses enable severely disabled children to access offsite activities, promoting their independent living skills.
Matt Himsworth, founder of Himsworth Scott, who acted for Steve Morgan on this matter says:
“Today, in court, the paper has fully retracted the story, agreed to apologise both in hard copy and online, and has paid damages which will go towards the good causes that Steve Morgan so passionately supports. Steve is well known in business circles as being committed to fairness and to philanthropy, so the claims made in the Daily Mail story were both unfounded and contrary to everything that he stands for as a private individual.
“Whilst the Mail immediately removed the online version of the article after receiving our complaint it has taken 18 months, and determination from Steve, to achieve this compelling result and full vindication for him.
“We’re proud to have represented Steve on this matter. Protecting reputations is what we do day in, day out. Steve Morgan is a gentleman and has spent his career making sure that he and his organisation give back to those who are less fortunate in society.
“It is rare that libel claims come to court and it is a shame for Steve that this one had to. As a matter of principle, Steve made a stand which has been rewarded.
“The apology and damages follow our successful application to strike out the Mail’s defence in December. Himsworth Scott, after its expansion, is less than one year old and this is a major landmark in the firm’s progress to sit alongside the various agreed apologies, settlements, new client wins and retainers and award nominations that we have achieved since September 2018.
“Special mention must also go to Steve’s Counsel – Justin Rushbrooke QC and Felicity McMahon of 5RB who were highly skilled throughout the proceedings.”
A copy of the apology and the statement read out in court this morning is below.
Notes to editors
Mr Morgan was also represented by Himsworth Scott lawyer Steve Hudson as well as Counsel Justin Rushbrooke QC and Felicity McMahon, both of 5RB.
Himsworth Scott is a leading reputation management firm which advises both individuals and organisations on their most complex and highest-profile reputational issues.
Daily Mail publishes apology
Additionally, the following statement was published in the Daily Mail and Mail Online earlier today:
An article of August 24 2017 headlined ‘Building tycoons using staff discounts to snap up homes meant for families’ said that Redrow PLC chairman Steve Morgan CBE had made a very large personal gain by buying six houses – built by Redrow as affordable homes – for £860,000, a substantial discount to their market value of £2.1m. In fact, £860,000 was the highest offer made, so we were wrong to allege that Mr Morgan had exploited his position to line his pockets in a greedy, unethical and morally unacceptable way. He did not buy the houses at a discount to their market value, and they are being rented out to local residents in accordance with affordable housing criteria. We apologise to Mr Morgan for the distress and damage to his reputation and, at his request, have made a substantial donation to charity in lieu of damages.
Agreed Statement in Open Court
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION
MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS LIST
B E T W E E N:
STEVE MORGAN C.B.E.
ASSOCIATED NEWSPAPERS LTD
STATEMENT IN OPEN COURT
MATT HIMSWORTH, SOLICITOR FOR THE CLAIMANT
My Lord, in this matter I appear on behalf of the Claimant, Steve Morgan C.B.E. The Claimant is a businessman and a philanthropist. He is the founder and Chairman of Redrow Homes PLC, one of the UK’s leading housebuilding companies. He was appointed C.B.E. in 2016 for philanthropic services.
The Defendant is the publisher of the Daily Mail newspaper and also owns and operates the Mail Online website.
On 24 August 2017 the Defendant published an article occupying the whole of page 12 of the Daily Mail newspaper, under the headline, printed in large bold font, “Building tycoons using staff discounts to snap up homes meant for families”. Alongside that headline, the Article was illustrated with a photograph of Mr Morgan and his wife taken on an occasion when they attended the funeral of a close friend. The Article was also accompanied by a sub-headline which read “Fat cat bought 6 houses … and rents 4 back to staff”.
The Article also appeared online on the Mail Online website under the headline “Millionaire building tycoons using staff discounts to snap up homes meant for families: Chiefs accused of ‘unethical practices’ for taking advantage of staff perks to build property empires”.
The Article made various allegations concerning Mr Morgan and his purchase of a number of properties that had been built by Redrow Homes PLC at its development at Stretton Green, Cheshire. In particular, it alleged that he took advantage of an opportunity to purchase six houses built by his company that were intended to be sold to less-well off buyers as affordable homes, that he bought the houses at a substantial discount, £860,000 against a market value of £2.1m, and that as a result stood to make a very large personal gain. The Article alleged that in doing so Mr Morgan had exploited his position to line his own pockets in a greedy, unethical and morally unacceptable way. For good measure the Article also claimed that he was charging at least £640 a month in rent for each one.
Finally, the Article referred readers to a comment piece published in the same day’s edition under the headline “Homes for fat cats” which criticized ‘multi-millionaire developers’ – a reference to Mr Morgan amongst others – for ‘taking advantage of substantial discounts to snap up affordable homes meant for young families and first-time buyers’.
My Lord, these allegations are false. In fact, the price paid by Mr Morgan for the six properties was the highest offer that was made. The properties were not on the market for £350,000 each as claimed, or anything like that sum, and he did not purchase them at a substantial discount to their market value. Further, the properties remain at all times subject to affordable housing obligations and are all being rented out to local residents in accordance with affordable housing criteria, some of them for substantially less than £640 per month.
Mr Morgan complained about the Article but the Defendant refused to offer a correction or apology to the satisfaction of Mr Morgan. As a result, he was forced to issue proceedings for libel.
At a preliminary hearing to decide meaning on 28 June 2018, the Court found that the Article contained the allegations outlined above, including the defamatory opinion that by his conduct in purchasing the properties Mr Morgan had exploited his position to line his own pockets in a greedy, unethical and morally unacceptable way. It also ruled that this imputation gave rise to the clear inference of serious reputational harm under s.1 of the Defamation Act 2013, in the sense that it was likely to provoke outrage in ordinary reasonable readers.
At a further hearing in December of last year, the Mail was required to replead its defence of honest opinion, its current draft having been struck out and its application to amend that defence refused.
The parties have now agreed a settlement of the claim.
For Mr Morgan’s part, these allegations struck at the heart of his personal integrity and dignity. The Claimant has a strong sense of social responsibility. He recognises that he is now in a fortunate position – the success he has had with his businesses means that he is a wealthy man and he has felt a strong desire, for a long time now, to put back into the local communities where he grew up and continues to live, through his charitable work and his foundation, the Steve Morgan Foundation. The Article flew in the face of his philanthropic purpose in life, caused him immense anger and distress. The suggestion that he would greedily chisel financial advantages for himself at the expense of low-income families was deeply insulting to him.
My Lord, Mr Morgan is pleased that the Defendant is here today to set the record straight and to apologise to Mr Morgan for the distress, embarrassment and damage to reputation that the Article has caused him. It has agreed to pay him a substantial sum by way of damages which he will donate, in full, to charitable causes, and to pay his legal costs. On that basis, he is content to draw a line under this matter.
MATTHEW DANDO, SOLICITOR FOR THE DEFENDANT
My Lord, on behalf of Associated Newspapers Limited, I accept all that my friend has said. The Defendant acknowledges that these claims about the Claimant are untrue, and apologises to the Claimant for any distress and embarrassment caused.
MATT HIMSWORTH, SOLICITOR FOR THE CLAIMANT
My Lord, it remains only for me to ask for leave that the record be withdrawn.