Sir James Dyson has been “forced” to defend his “severely damaged” reputation after an article in the Daily Mirror suggested he was a hypocrite, the inventor has told the High Court.
Sir James, 76, returned to a witness box in the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday for the second day of his evidence in a libel trial against the newspaper’s publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over an article published in January 2022.
In the Daily Mirror article, journalist Brian Reade referred to the engineer as “the vacuum-cleaner tycoon who championed Vote Leave due to the economic opportunities it would bring to British industry before moving his global head office to Singapore”.
He continued: “Kids, talk the talk but then screw your country and if anyone complains, tell them to suck it up.”
Sir James subsequently brought a claim against MGN for libel, describing the allegations in the article as a “vicious and vitriolic” personal attack.
MGN is defending the claim, including on the basis of honest opinion.
During the second day of his cross-examination, Sir James was asked about the January 2019 announcement that the Dyson company would be establishing a global headquarters in Singapore.
The inventor said he did not believe he had been hypocritical, adding: “I don’t think it was a vote of no confidence in Britain because since Brexit I have continued to invest in Britain … I have continued to do so.”
Adrienne Page KC, for MGN, asked Sir James why he “felt like you have to spend £1 million on a lawsuit”, when he had a significant public status, including an article under his name in The Telegraph newspaper rebutting the allegation he had behaved hypocritically.
He said: “This was a vicious and vitriolic attack on me personally … We got in touch with you (MGN) and you didn’t bother to reply.”
He continued: “We offered to settle with an apology and a correction at an early stage … I am forced to continue to defend my reputation which you have severely damaged.”
Ms Page asked Sir James: “Would you describe yourself as thin-skinned?”
The inventor replied: “No.”
In his written evidence for the case, Sir James said the allegations “represent a personal attack on all that I have done and achieved in my lifetime and are highly distressing and hurtful”.
He continued: “Most importantly, they undermine all the work I have done trying to help young people with an interest in engineering to gain the necessary training as well as practical experience and employment opportunities in this field.”
After reading parts of this evidence to the court, Ms Page suggested it was “a huge exaggeration” and that Mr Reade’s article was an expression of his opinion.
Sir James denied any exaggeration, adding: “It is not the opinion of an honest man.”
At the start of the trial on Tuesday, Justin Rushbrooke KC, for Sir James, said in written submissions that the articles, both in print and online, “constituted a serious and unjustified slur on Sir James’s reputation, business and personal”.
He added that an “honest opinion is supposed to give latitude but it is not a licence for a journalist to mislead the reader”.
Mr Rushbrooke also pointed out that the word “screwed” could be seen as meaning “underhand and discreditable”.
But Ms Page told the court the words in the article were “substantially correct” and that Sir James could not dictate how the commentator posed them.
She added that the article “is pitched to a lay audience, against a notorious background to 2019 and he is doing it pithily”.
On how the reference to having “screwed the country” could be viewed, the court heard that this may not necessarily be limited to the potential impact on the Dyson corporation.
In written submissions, she added that Sir James’s approach to the legal claim “has been markedly unreasonable, wholly disproportionate and abusive”.
In a statement, a Dyson spokesman said Sir James had brought the legal claim “as a last resort”, adding that the allegations in the article “were vicious, vitriolic and attacked his personal character in the very worst way”.
But an MGN spokesperson said: “The Mirror will vigorously defend the honest opinions of our columnists which we consider in this case to be essentially indisputable.”
The trial before Mr Justice Jay is set to conclude on Friday, with a decision expected at a later date.