Canning Town businessman loses “underworld king” libel claim

An East End businessman has lost a libel action against the Sunday Times after the newspaper described him as an “underworld king”.

David Hunt sued after a May 2010 article accused him of running a vast criminal network regarded by Scotland Yard as too big to take on.

The Canning Town businessman - who runs a lucrative land and property empire - was described during the hearing as a close friend of the late Reggie Kray, who died in 2002.

The article said Hunt had been implicated in murder, drug trafficking and fraud.

He said the allegations were “heartbreaking”, had “crucified” him and impacted badly on his business.

Times Newspapers Ltd defended the story - headlined “Underworld kings cash in on taxpayer land fund” - saying it was substantially true and responsible reporting on a matter of public interest.

Dismissing Hunt’s case today, after a 12-day hearing earlier this year, Mr Justice Simon said journalist Michael Gillard, who wrote the piece, was highly experienced and gave lucid and credible evidence.

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He investigated Hunt and his associates for about 11 years, obtaining information which led him honestly to believe that Hunt was a violent and dangerous criminal at the head of a family network.

The judge said: “I am satisfied that it was reasonable to describe the claimant as a violent and dangerous criminal and the head of an organised crime group implicated in murder, drug trafficking and fraud.”

He added that Mr Gillard behaved responsibly in gathering the information and in ensuring what was published was accurate and fair.

The judge said the newspaper justified its case that there were grounds to suspect Hunt intimidated the main witnesses against him when he was prosecuted in 1999 for a violent assault, and that he attacked and threatened to kill a man at a court hearing, avoiding prosecution through intimidation.

The judge concluded Hunt was not entitled to damages on a basis other than the claim that he headed a criminal network who engaged in, or directed, extreme violence when he thought it necessary.

If he had found for Hunt in full and he had been a man of good character, the damages award would have been £250,000.