Duncan Lewis

Residential Property

Commercial Property

In a libel suit the High Court has ruled that a lab assistant could not sue an NHS hospital for libel over a job reference.

Date: (8 June 2012)    |    

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Bol Thour sued the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead after it had stated in a reference that he was under investigation following allegations of aggressive behaviour.

The reference further stated that as he resigned when the investigation process was in progress no formal action was taken.

In the case of Thour v Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust the judge observed that Thour was employed by the hospital from September 2003 to September 2004.

In September 2009 Thour applied to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City for the position of medical lab assistant and, following an interview, received a conditional job offer.

One of the conditions was that Thour obtained two satisfactory references. Bartholomew’s sent him a letter saying that it had received a reference which was “not of a satisfactory level” and the job offer was withdrawn.

Tugendhat J said the following day Thour rang his former manager at the Royal Free, Neal Byron, and threatened to sue the hospital.

Later that day the manager sent an email to Bartholomew’s, saying he had been “misinformed as to one aspect of the reference” he had written for Thour and that the investigation was completed before he left the job and he was given only a first formal warning in April 2004 and that there were no further incidents occurred after that.

Byron said that, the space for answering the question whether the NHS would re engage the applicant should have been left blank rather than answering ‘no’ to the question.

In his witness statement, Thour accused Byron of having “actual knowledge” that his statement in the reference was false and had acted in “reckless disregard” of its truth.

He said Byron had answered ‘no’ to the question about re-engaging him to deliberately defame his character so to jeopardize his chances of getting the job he applied for.

However, Tugendhat J said there was no proof of malice.

Malice requires proof that a defendant knew that the words complained of were false, or was reckless as to whether they were true or false. In the present case there was no suggestion of any motive that Mr Byron may have had for wishing to harm Mr Thour.

On the contrary, Mr Thour himself wrote a letter of appreciation on his resignation in 2004 asking Mr Byron to give him the reference now complained of.

In order to prove malice a claimant must prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant knew what he wrote was false, or was reckless as to whether it was true or false.

. Tugendhat J dismissed the claim.