The quality of a journalist’s notetaking took centre stage in a court case yesterday that will determine whether a City firm can proceed with a £230m libel action against the Financial Times.
Lawyers acting for Collins Stewart Tullett, which is suing the FT over an article published in August 2003, tried to persuade Tony Tassell to provide a second transcript of his notes, claiming an earlier version was frequently “illegible”.
But the request was denied by the judge, who decided to allow witness statements to be exchanged before the matter could go any further.
Asking for a new transcript, Collins Stewart Tullett lawyer Justin Rushbrooke said he had been unable to decipher many of the words in Mr Tassell’s notes. “We ask the court to make an order that the defendant provide a further and better transcript,” he said. “He needs to try a little bit harder.”
Mr Rushbrooke said the notes, which were in part “redacted” or edited to protect the journalist’s sources, did not make clear the number of people Mr Tassell had spoken to in the course of writing an article that was published in the FT on August 27 2003. The article has sparked a libel claim from Collins Stewart Tullett, which is seeking to cite losses in its share price as the basis for a damages claim of £230m.
The FT’s solicitor, Nick Alway, wrote to Collins Stewart Tullett’s legal team and said Mr Tassell had tried to decipher his own handwriting to the best of his ability but found some of the transcript illegible.
But Mr Rushbrooke said that he had “some difficulty letting the matter rest on the basis that Mr Tassell cannot do any better than he has done”.
“The indecipherable passages are really quite substantial.”
In reply to Mr Rushbrooke, Desmond Browne QC, for the FT, said that the application for a new transcript was “merely pointless”.
“It’s absurd for Mr Rushbrooke to suggest that your lordship should make any order that Mr Tassell should try a little bit harder. ‘Come on, Mr Tassell you can do better than that,’ is what the court is being asked to order in the teeth of an explicit statement from Mr Alway that he has been unable, despite his best efforts, to decipher his handwriting.”
The court also heard an application from Mr Browne asking that the trial, which is expected to take place in April, should employ a judge but not a jury to rule on damages.