High Court grants order for summary judgment in claim for defamation, malicious falsehood and breach of the Data Protection Act 1988

The claimant, Al-Ko Kober Ltd, manufactures and sells transport and other equipment, including a stabiliser device fitted between a caravan or trailer and the towbar of a car in order to control and limit any instability while driving.

The defendant, Mr Sambhi, was the designer of the “Torquebar”, a competing stabilising device.

Mr Sambhi published a series of 84 videos on his YouTube channel that referred to Al-Ko and/or Al-Ko’s marketing manager, Paul Jones. The videos showed footage of caravan accidents allegedly using an Al-Ko stabiliser and footage of a car towing a trailer using a “Troquebar” device. The videos claimed that Al-Ko’s stabilisers were unsafe, did not prevent the caravan swaying, and risked lives.

The claimants issued proceedings against Mr Sambhi for defamation, malicious falsehood and breach of the DPA.

In 2017, the High Court granted an interim injunction against Mr Sambhi for malicious falsehood and breach of the DPA, restraining him from further publication and from processing Mr Jones’s personal data.

The claimants then applied for summary judgment.

Mr Sambhi did not dispute that the meaning of the words published by Mr Sambhi in the videos was that, inter alia, the Al-Ko stabiliser was unsafe and had caused accidents and that Al-Ko was knowingly risking people’s lives. However, Mr Sambhi argued that what he said in the videos was true, as Al-Ko and Mr Jones had specifically claimed that its stabilisers prevented “snaking” (swaying).

Mr Justice Swift disagreed, finding that Mr Sambhi’s statements rested on a false premise, i.e. that Al-Ko and Mr Jones had lied about the Al-Ko stabiliser by claiming that it prevented snaking. On the evidence, it was clear that Al-Ko claimed only that its stabilisers “reduces your trailer’s tendency to sway”. In Swift J’s view, no reasonable reader could conclude that Al-Ko was claiming that its stabiliser would prevent snaking in all circumstances, including bad driving, weather and road conditions.

For these reasons Swift J found that Mr Sambhi had no real prospect of succeeding on his defence of truth. Accordingly, he granted an order for summary judgment on the defamation claim.

As for the malicious falsehood claim, Swift J found that the language used in the videos was extreme. It was also highly significant that Mr Sambhi made the statements in the context of promoting his own competing Torquebar product. There was therefore a compelling basis on which to infer that Mr Sambhi had acted in bad faith. There was no real prospect that any other conclusion would be reached at trial. It was also clear that Al-Ko was likely to have suffered pecuniary loss by way of lost sales. Accordingly, Swift J allowed the application for summary judgment.

Finally, as regards the DPA claim, Swift J found that the processing of personal data carried out by Mr Sambhi was contrary to the first data protection principle because it was both defamatory and because no Schedule 2 condition applied. Therefore, Swift J granted summary judgment on this part of the claim as well. (Al-Ko Kober Ltd v Balvinder Sambhi [2019] EWHC 2409 (QB) (13 September 2019) — to read the judgment in full, click here).