Noel Clarke faced ‘trial by the media’ over allegations of misconduct, High Court said

Actor Noel Clarke was “cancelled” and faced a “trial by the media” after allegations of sexual abuse were published by The Guardian newspaper, the High Court has heard.

The 47-year-old is suing Guardian News and Media (GNM) over eight articles, including one from April 2021, which said 20 women who knew Mr Clarke in a professional capacity had made allegations of misconduct.

In a statement at the time he “vehemently” denied “any sexual harassment or criminal activity”.

On Thursday he appeared in the Supreme Court for a preliminary hearing in his defamation claim against the publisher.

It clearly sends the message that he is guilty and that the police were wrong not to investigate. The message coming out is that he got away with it, he hit the rap

Adam Speker KC

Adam Speker KC, for Mr Clarke, said the “overall impression” of the articles was “obviously guilty”.

The lawyer said the first article of the claim included the “absolutely toxic allegation” that Mr Clarke is a “sexual predator”.

He told the court in London: “They knew exactly what message they were sending by calling him a sexual predator in the first two words of the title.”

Mr Speker later said the overall impression of the articles was “gotcha”.

He said: “He [Mr Clarke] he had a very special career… then the barrier breaks, the women break their silence and say “I blame”.

The court heard that Clarke, known for his roles in Doctor Who and Kidulthood, was suspended from Bafta after the allegations emerged, while the TV channels cut ties.

Mr Speker said in written submissions: “This media trial, carried out by the most widely read newspaper for people in the film and entertainment industry, led, unsurprisingly, to Mr Clarke's immediate ‘cancellation' with various ways”.

The court was later told that police had decided not to open a criminal investigation into the sex offense allegations against Mr Clarke.

The appropriate concept is therefore a general charge, essentially of abuse of power to subject women to sexual harassment and other related misconduct

Gavin Millar KC

Scotland Yard said in a statement in March 2022 that a thorough assessment had been carried out by specialist detectives, but it was found that the information would not meet the threshold for a criminal investigation.

Mr Speker said one of the articles published by the Guardian was about the response of women's rights campaigners to this decision.

He said: “It doesn't say ‘the police investigated, maybe we should re-examine whether our investigation hit the right spots'… It sends a clear message that he is guilty and that the police were wrong not to investigate.

“The message that's coming out is that he made it, he won the rap.”

Mr Speker later accepted that Mr Clarke's denials had been included, but it “doesn't come anywhere near” mitigating the impact of the article.

He told the court: “There is nothing he could say and nothing he says that minimizes what the natural and ordinary reader would take from the articles: that he is a sexual predator and is guilty of the charges.”

Gavin Millar KC, for GNM, said the articles would be read as a report of “reasonable grounds to suspect that Clark abused his power, intimidated or sexually harassed women, rather than an outright allegation of guilt.”

He said in written submissions: “The proper meaning is therefore a general charge, essentially of abuse of power to subject women to sexual harassment and other related misconduct.

“In this context, no reasonable reader would assume that a claim is true simply because it is made.

“The weight of the allegations may support their credibility, but it would still be unreasonable to conclude that allegations clearly stated to be in dispute are true because they have been made by more than one person.”

Mr Millar said a normal reader “would not automatically assume that the defendant adopted or endorsed an allegation by citing it” but would understand that the allegations against Mr Clarke were a matter of public interest.

The lawyer said the first article, which initially reported the allegations of the 20 women, “does not contain allegations of misconduct”.

He continued: “The fact that a writing contains both an allegation of misconduct and a defense denying the alleged wrongdoing may well lead the reader to believe that there are grounds to investigate or suspect the plaintiff of misconduct, even though the plaintiff is in actually guilty of anything.”

Mr Millar later said that the use of the phrase “sexual predator” was “simply a comment and a colloquialism, about the particular behavior being referred to”.

The hearing before Mr Justice Johnson is due to conclude on Thursday with a decision expected at a later date.