A member of the shadow cabinet has said he is “delighted” to have won £30,000 damages in a High Court libel action against The Sun over claims a heavy metal band he performed with used Nazi imagery.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon sued the newspaper over an April 2017 online article which said he had joined a Leeds band that “delights in Nazi symbols”.
The Labour MP for Leeds East said an image tweeted by the band Dream Troll, which appears to use the “S” from the logo of the notorious Nazi paramilitary organisation the SS, was a “spoof” of Black Sabbath’s 1975 album “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
But The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its political editor Tom Newton Dunn argued that the image was “strongly reminiscent of Nazi iconography” and that Mr Burgon “demonstrated terrible misjudgment and exposed himself to ridicule”.
Giving judgment at the High Court in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Dingemans ruled in Mr Burgon’s favour on his claim for libel, awarding him damages and an injunction to prevent further publication of the article.
But the judge dismissed Mr Burgon’s claim for malicious falsehood, finding that “Mr Newton Dunn was acting honestly when he wrote the story”.
Following the ruling, Mr Burgon tweeted: “Delighted to have won my High Court case against The Sun.
“Their slur attempting to link me to ‘Nazi symbols’ was held to be false and defamatory.
“The judge ordered The Sun to pay £30,000 in damages. With that I’ll fund a paid justice internship for a young person from Leeds.”
In a statement after the ruling, a spokesman for The Sun said the newspaper would be appealing against the ruling.
They said: “We are deeply disappointed by this judgment and we will be appealing.
“We fundamentally disagree with the judge’s conclusions and, furthermore, fear they may act as a brake on the ability of the free press to hold those in power to account and to scrutinise the judgment of those who aspire to the highest offices in the land.”
The spokesman said it did “not feel that this ruling pays adequate attention to the need to hold politicians to a higher standard than private citizens”, adding that it does “not agree with the judge’s conclusions on the substance of the image at the heart of the case”.
At a hearing in January, Mr Burgon’s barrister Adam Speker said the article involved a “deliberate misrepresentation”.
He submitted that The Sun had “manufactured a knowingly false and misleading story” by “doctoring the image published by the band” by removing the hashtag “#blacksabbath” which accompanied the tweet.
Mr Speker said the article was “as far removed from responsible journalism as one could possibly imagine”, adding: “Quite simply, they were just out to get him.”
But Adam Wolanski, for the defendants, pointed out that Mr Burgon “aspires to be secretary of state for Justice, to occupy the office of lord chancellor and to be a senior member of Her Majesty’s cabinet”.
He said: “For this reason, the question of whether he demonstrates good judgment is a matter, not just of legitimate comment, but a matter of vital public debate.”
Mr Wolanski added that the article was published at the time of “speculation that Labour had a tin ear for anti-Semitism within its midst”, which he said had “already generated enormous controversy”.
He concluded: “The fact that Black Sabbath used the double-S insignia in the 1970s (and that the image was) a parody or homage to that Black Sabbath album is absolutely no answer to the charge of misjudgment on the part of Mr Burgon”.
Mr Wolanski said: “Neither Black Sabbath or Dream Troll aspire to run the country. Mr Burgon does.”
In his ruling, Mr Justice Dingemans noted that the online article continued to be published for more than six months and that “there has been no apology”, adding that an award of damages of £30,000 was “appropriate”.