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Environment Agency solicitor secures damages and apology over defamatory press release issued by garden centre business

A senior solicitor and prosecutor with the Environment Agency in the west of England has secured damages and an apology in his libel action against the owners and operators of the 'Plants Galore' garden centres in Devon.

The libel action brought by Dylan Sadler stemmed from a press release posted by Joyners Plants Ltd on its website and circulated more widely, in the aftermath a successful prosecution and conviction of one of its directors for environmental offences.

The release accused Mr Sadler of serious professional misconduct in relation to his conduct of the prosecution.

The claimant’s lawyers, Penningtons Manches Cooper, said that these allegations were “false, defamatory and without foundation”. However, Mr Sadler’s claim was rejected in pre-action correspondence “leaving him no alternative but to commence High Court proceedings for libel and harassment”.

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Richard Spearman QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court judge, handed down a written judgment in December 2020 on the meaning of the words in the press release.

The defendants subsequently accepted their liability and agreed to pay Mr Sadler damages and his legal costs. Joyners Plants Ltd also agreed to participate in a joint statement in open court apologising for making their allegations. An agreed apology has also been posted on the Plants Galore website.

The statement was read in open court yesterday (1 March).

Mr Sadler has been employed at the Exeter office of the Environment Agency since 2015. He previously worked for the Army Legal Service, where he rose to the rank of Major, and Plymouth City Council.

Commenting on the outcome, he said: “I am delighted to have been fully vindicated in respect of the very serious and damaging allegations which had been published about me and to have received the unqualified apology in court.

“The accusations went to the heart of my hard-won professional reputation and I had no option but to take action to clear my name. I would also like to thank my legal team – Jeremy Clarke Williams, Eva McHale and counsel Aidan Eardley – for their clarity of advice, unwavering support and the robust approach taken in countering the false claims made against me.”

Partner Jeremy Clarke-Williams and associate Eva McHale in the reputation management & privacy team at Penningtons Manches Cooper acted for Dylan Sadler.

Mr Clarke-Williams said: “Lawyers do not often litigate personally in relation to matters arising from carrying out their professional duties. However in this case Mr Sadler was left with no choice because of the groundless and upsetting attack on his integrity. The apology given by the defendants in open court completes the vindication he deserved and required."

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