The case of Selvaratnam Suresh v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis
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Defamation Claim Against The Police
The Claimant was the Chairman of the Oriental Fine Arts Academy of London (“OFAAL”), a registered charity. He was a well-regarded community worker and a leader within the Tamil community in England and across Europe. Allegations were made to the police against the Claimant, that he committed fraud. Part of the alleged fraud was that he unlawfully altered an official charity document. Those were false allegations for which the Claimant successfully sued his accusers for defamation.
The Detective Sergeant, who investigated the allegations on behalf of the Metropolitan police wrote an email to the accusers where he said the Claimant abused his position as Chairman of the OFAAL by engaging in financial fraud within OFAAL over a number of years and across a number of countries to the detriment of the charity and the beneficiaries of its activities and work; and fraudulently and illegally altering OFAAL’s Constitution with the aim of committing financial fraud.
The accusers then forwarded the email to an unknown number of people as proof that their false allegations against Mr Suresh had been substantiated. The publication of the emails has caused serious harm to the reputation of the Claimant. The publisher of the defamatory allegations was a person of high authority and apparent credibility – a Detective Sergeant of the Metropolitan Police. As such, recipients of the email would have reasonably expected a person of this position to make such allegations only where there was sufficient evidence to substantiate them. Following publication of the email, the Charity Commissioner conducted a special review by its Head of Operations where the conduct of both the Claimant and OFAAL were investigated.
The review did not substantiate any of the allegations made by the police officer in his email. The Charity Commissioner wrote to the Detective Sergeant stating that she had seen no substantive evidence to support his allegations but invited him to provide her with any evidence of financial fraud. Sadly, the accusers published the defamatory email they received from the Detective Sergeant to the general public, fine arts students, fine arts institutions and other South Asian institutions who dealt with OFAAL and its clients in the UK and Europe. This was entirely predictable given these individuals’ stated purpose and their previous actions towards the Claimant of which the Detective Sergeant was fully aware. The defamatory email was published and republished to a very substantial number of people.
The vast majority, if not all, of those people formed part of the Claimant’s immediate community and OFAAL’s and West London Tamil School’s community, whose esteem is of extreme importance to the Claimant and on whose support the Claimant relies for the purposes of running OFAAL. The Email therefore ruined the Claimant’s official, professional and personal reputation, in his local community, OFAAL’s and West London Tamil’s community, his professional network and beyond. The Claimant relied on the ‘grapevine effect’ whereby a substantial, but necessarily unquantifiable, number of publishees and/or republishes of the email were likely to have repeated the allegations concerning him.
Following the issuing of legal proceedings for defamation against the Metropolitan Police, Mr Suresh agreed to receive an undisclosed amount of damages and an apology in full and final settlement of the defamation case. The Metropolitan Police also agreed to pay Mr Suresh legal costs.Following the wide republication of the email, the Claimant and his family were inundated with telephone calls by persons who had either read the email or heard about the allegations ‘on the grapevine’. The fact that the email had been sent by a Detective Sergeant of the Metropolitan Police had naturally led many persons to believe that the allegations had been made following an investigation into a very serious criminal offence. Although the Claimant and his family insisted that he had done nothing wrong, many of the publishees remained concerned, particularly because they would not expect a Detective Sergeant of the Metropolitan Police to make such allegations without having strong evidence to substantiate them.
Cohen Davis Solicitors acted for the Claimant.