The Sally Morgan
v The Daily Mail Libel - The legal implications
for mediums and Spiritualism
By attorney Victor Zammit June 2013
Morgan, a highly entertaining and successful medium, very
recently won a significant case against one of the giants
of the media, The Daily Mail. She was awarded damages
of 125,000 pounds plus significant costs. This was one of
the most substantial libel payments in recent history. Those
who oppose her are claiming that just because the case was
settled without a hearing there is no binding precedent.
This would mean that other mediums cannot rely on the case
if they decide to sue someone who calls them a fraud. Wrong!
What the case shows clearly is that anyone claiming that
a medium is a fraud or a charlatan or a cheat must have
specific evidence. Calling someone a ‘fraud’
or a ‘cheat’ or a ‘liar’ is defamatory
and actionable in itself. Calling a professional medium/psychic
anything which implies that the professional medium/psychic
is dishonest could lead to a loss of income and result in
The likely defences that would be left to
skeptics are ‘truth’ and ‘fair comment’.
In both cases the skeptic has to prove, on balance of probabilities,
that the medium actually cheated on a specific occasion.
What is very important in this case is that these days it
is not enough to claim that the medium could have cheated
or that some mediums cheat.
The Daily Mail in its article on 10th October 2011 tried
to use this kind of argument when it said that a magician
and former 'mind-reader' had explained that many mediums
have given up using confederates planted in the audience
and instead relied on ‘plants’ who mingle with
the audience members in the foyer before the show. It implied
that this is what Sally Morgan had done.
Skeptics should now be on notice that this kind of argument
is not enough. The person claiming fraud has to prove that
on a specific occasion the medium was committing fraud.
The courts are interested in the specific evidence not in
generalities. In this case the newspaper claimed she was
working with a confederate using an earpiece but could not
produce evidence that this had actually happened. This is
why the solicitor for The Daily Mail, Mr Brid Jordan, had
to state in court:
” The Daily Mail withdraws the suggestions
that Mrs Morgan used a secret earpiece at her Dublin show
in September 2011 to receive messages from off-stage, thereby
cheating her audience, which it accepts is untrue. It apologises
unreservedly for publishing the allegation. It has agreed
to pay her substantial damages together with legal costs,
and it has agreed not to repeat this allegation.”
The second issue the case shows is how unwise it is for
the media to rely on hearsay allegations (what somebody
said about somebody else). The Daily Mail claimed on 10th
October 2011 that it was relying on the claim of a woman
named Sue who called a Dublin talk-back radio show and said
that she and several people in her row heard the man with
the earpiece say things that Sally Morgan later said on
stage. If The Daily Mail had run this past its legal advisor
before publishing it could have saved itself hundreds of
thousands of pounds!
What is also of great significance in the case is that legally
it is no longer enough for skeptics to claim as a defence
to defamation that mediumship is always fraudulent. In the
Helen Duncan case, the judge refused and the jury refused
to allow Helen Duncan to demonstrate spirit contact for
them because it was implied by them that all mediumship
One has to remember that in defamation and in libel, the
imputations of what is stated are most critical. For example,
when anyone says that such and such a medium is a fraud,
theoretically, the medium could sue that person. This is
because when calling a professional medium a fraud, there
would be several imputations: for example, that the medium
is a cheat, a liar, a dishonest person, someone who is willfully
misleading paying customers, that she is not of good name
and character. That defamation would be very likely to ruin
In the Sally Morgan case we can see the damage that this
loose talk caused. In an interview with The Sun (Friday
June 28th 2013) she said:
“A very dark cloud descended over me for 18 months.
I went to hell and I stayed there for a long time. For the
first time in my life I thought, ‘I’ve got to
die — my family can’t see this’. I thought,
‘This can’t happen and I’ve got to disappear’.
I thought everyone would be better off if I wasn’t
there. I went into a downward spiral and as I was falling
I was so confused. All my drive disappeared. It was horrific.
Can this be applied to other paranormal
cases? Recently we watched Tony Robinson present a television
program on Helen Duncan. The issue of the program was whether
or not Helen Duncan was a fraud. His female offsider stated
that "Helen Duncan was a fraud." Tony Robinson
then asked an English anti-paranormal skeptic to explain
what happens in a materialization. The organizers of the
show had a few actors as sitters with a figure as the medium
in a seance. When everything was nearly dark in the seance
room, they showed a door being opened at the back of the
seance room and a confederate entering.
If Helen Duncan was alive to-day, she could
sue the skeptic for defamation. She would claim she was
a professional materialization medium and that the skeptic
is making a claim of fraud that he cannot prove.
The Sally Morgan case is a lesson to journalists
and to other critics that they cannot attack mediums and
psychics making accusations they cannot prove. Further,
this case has shown that the courts will uphold the right
of a professional medium to defend his or her reputation.