Court rules against Core Issues Trust in Stonewall bus ad case

Published 30 July 2014  |  
PA

A High Court judge today ruled against a Christian group which claims Boris Johnson banned a bus ad to raise his own profile.

Mrs Justice Lang found that the Mayor of London did not order an ad with the slogan "Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!" to be pulled from buses across the capital at the last minute.

Core Issues Trust, a charity that works with those who have an unwanted same-sex attraction, had planned to run the ads in response to Stonewall's advertisements which declared "Some People Are Gay. Get over it!"

The Trust's ads were banned "at the eleventh hour", apparently because they contradicted TFL's advertising policies.

The bus ads that Core Issues Trust had wanted to run on London buses

It became apparent, however, that Johnson intervened to stop the advertisements from running on London buses. He wrote to Hazel Blears MP on 12 April 2012, stating that he had "instructed" TFL to ban the ads.

In late January 2014 the Appeals Court heard transcripts of an internal email from Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes on the day of the decision to withhold the ads, which said: "I believe that we should take a strong and immediate line on this and get them stopped."

In an email sent minutes later, Guto Harri, the Director of External Affairs of the Mayor's office said: "Boris has just instructed TfL to pull the adverts and I've briefed the Guardian, who will break that news in next half hour."

Johnson took credit for the decision in the media, two days before appearing at a hustings event organised by Stonewall ahead of his mayoral election. 

However, Johnson later insisted that he "did not instruct TFL to do anything", and his lawyers argued successfully in court that he was expressing his opinion, rather than instructing TFL to take a particular action.

Nigel Pleming QC, appearing on behalf of both Johnson and TFL, insisted that a "storm of protest" against the ad from the public meant that TFL's managing director for marketing and communications, Vernon Everitt, made the decision, independent of the Mayor's personal views.

Mrs Justice Lang accepted this, concluding: "Mr Johnson...did not issue either a written or verbal instruction or direction to TFL on this occasion."

She said that Everitt was "strongly influenced by Mr Johnson's opinion," however, "Mr Johnson was not motivated by an improper purpose, namely, to advance his Mayoral election campaign. For these reasons the claim is dismissed."

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which has supported Core Issues Trust, remains sceptical of this ruling.

"Either he [Johnson] wilfully misled the media and the public during an election campaign or he subsequently misled the Court about his role," she said in a statement.

"At stake here is the plain meaning of English words and whether leading public figures are allowed to wriggle out of that plain meaning when the truth that they convey suddenly becomes politically inconvenient. If we allow the meaning of words to be redefined and reconfigured at the whim of politicians how can we hope to have any political accountability?"

Branding the judgement as marking "a dark day for freedom of expression," Williams also said the ruling "demonstrates that the fear of a powerful gay lobby will trump the freedom of individual expression and choice."

Core Issues Trust will now take the case to the Court of Appeal, and to European courts "if necessary", Williams added, noting that the Christian Legal Centre will continue to give the Trust its support.

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