Labour MP Richard Burgon wins 'Nazi' libel case against Sun


The Labour MP Richard Burgon has won damages of £30,000 in his libel case against the Sun over a claim that a heavy metal band he performed with delighted in Nazi imagery.

The high court in London ruled that claims in the story, which ran under the headline “Reich and Roll: Labour’s justice boss ridiculed after he joins a heavy metal band that delights in Nazi symbols”, had caused the shadow justice secretary significant harm.

The article, published in April 2017, reported on Burgon’s decision to record a track with the Leeds band Dream Tröll. It alleged that the typeface used in a spoof Dream Tröll Twitter post entitled “We Sold Our Soul For Rock N Tröll” paid homage to the logo of the SS, which played a key role in the Holocaust.

In reality, the judge concluded that Dream Tröll had simply tweeted a parody image of a classic Black Sabbath album cover and were not endorsing the Nazi paramilitary organisation.

The Black Sabbath album cover and Dream Tröll's parody



The Black Sabbath album cover and Dream Tröll’s parody, which was shown to the court

Burgon, a lifelong heavy metal fan who would be placed in charge of the legal system if Labour came to power, took the unusual decision to bring the libel case against the Sun and its political editor, Tom Newton Dunn.
Burgon used the libel lawyers Carter-Ruck; the newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, is now facing substantial legal costs.

The MP for Leeds East, who was in court to hear the judgment, has promised to spend the £30,000 supporting an apprenticeship in Leeds; the newspaper has said it will appeal against the verdict.

During the trial, the Sun’s lawyers tried to justify the importance of the story by drawing connections to claims of antisemitism in the Labour party, suggesting that Burgon was attempting to use lawyers to shut down criticism. The newspaper’s QC also repeatedly showed Nazi posters in court and questioned the MP about whether he would be hypothetically willing to perform with the band in front of the spoof album coverage in Tel Aviv.

The court also heard that the article, which was read by 7,000 online readers, was brought to the attention of Newton Dunn after he received a tip from a local Labour councillor. The judge concluded that Burgon had not seen the image before he was contacted by the Sun during the Good Friday bank holiday.

Justice Dingemans dismissed a separate claim for malicious falsehood, arguing that Newton Dunn was “acting honestly” when he wrote the story and did not appreciate the importance of a reference to Black Sabbath in the original tweet, which accompanied the spoof album cover.

The judge suggested that the newspaper had pushed the article too far.

“When dealt with fairly there is a story to be had,” he ruled. “One is about Mr Burgon joining a band which as he knew took great pleasure in using Nazi symbols. The other is about Mr Burgon joining a band which had produced an image based on the Black Sabbath album cover which used stylised ‘S’s, which some persons might consider to be similar to the ‘S’s used in the ‘SS’ symbol.”

A spokesperson for the Sun said the ruling would “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 judge also made clear that neither Burgon nor the Sun had cited evidence of what had led Black Sabbath to use the gothic ‘s’ on the cover of their 1975 compilation, meaning he could not rule on the ultimate meaning behind the typography used by Ozzy Osborne’s heavy metal band.



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