John Bridle's Claim Struck Out
On March 17, 2010, Master Fontaine of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, London struck out a claim for slander1 brought by John Bridle, a former asbestos businessman, a shareholder and former director of Asbestos Watchdog and an asbestos consultant,2 against the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) when he ruled that the proceedings were an abuse of process.3 The defendants were granted summary judgment and costs, which have yet to be assessed.
The case advanced by Bridle related to comments allegedly made by an HSE inspector, Wayne Williams, who attended a site inspection at the University of Wales, Lampeter in July 2008. In his 25 page judgment, Master Fontaine stated:
It is, I consider, apparent from the correspondence exhibited to the witness statements that the dominant motive in bringing the proceedings is to cause embarrassment and prejudice to the HSE because of the Claimant's anger at the HSE's refusal to accept his views on the subject4 in question. It is apparent from the evidence that Professor Bridle believes that a claim against the HSE will be likely to bring the debate about the difference in scientific views to a public forum more readily than a claim against an individual journalist would do. Thus I have concluded that, whilst I would not go so far as to characterise the claims as 'vindictive' in the same league as the claim in Wallis v Valentine, it does, in my view, fall into the category of a 'vendetta' as outlined in that case and in Bezant v Rausing.
An analysis of this judgment which appeared on a legal website was succinct:
It is rare to find a case failing on so many grounds The courts will not allow their processes to be used for impermissible purposes and increasingly will bring a halt to defamation proceedings at an early stage where there is little to be gained in seeing an action through to trial and much to be lost in terms of costs and resources.5
Mr. Bridle was represented in this action by Mark Scoggins of the London firm Fisher Scoggins Walters LLP. When contacted on March 22, 2010, Scoggins, who has acted for the same client on previous occasions, would not discuss the case.6 An attempt to elicit information from the Solicitor-Advocate about his hourly rate was frustrated as this information is not in the public domain. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for a legal practitioner at his level to bill £225/ hour. Considering that: the Claimants (John Bridle and J & S Associates Ltd) are to pay the Defendants cost of the action, as well as their own costs, the bill for these proceedings could be substantial. It is not known whether this judgment will be appealed.
March 22, 2010
1 Asbestos slander claim struck out: High Court strikes out claim by Asbestos Watchdog chief as abuse of process. March 19, 2010
2 The judgment states in paragraph 46 that Bridle is a director of Asbestos Watchdog.
3 John Bridle and J & S Bridle Associates Ltd v Wayne Williams and Health & Safety Executive
[Case No: HQ09X02688]. Judgment by Master Fontaine, March 17, 2010.
4 The disagreement between Bridle and the HSE concerns their conflicting views regarding the risks associated with chrysotile asbestos and products containing it.
5 Bridle & Anor v Williams & Anor.