BrewDog libel case over ‘free beer for Donald Trump supporters’ thrown out by High Court

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Craft beer makers BrewDog’s bid to sue a PR firm over a “fake news” invite for President Donald Trump supporters to drink at its bars has been thrown out at the High Court. The press release in 2018 offered free beer at BrewDog venues for Trump fans and claimed there would be stunts including beer can clay pigeon shooting and a monster truck demolishing stacks of cans. The brewers brought a libel claim against Frank PR, alleging the press release had damaged the firm’s brand as believers in equality and inclusion and vocal critics of Trump policies.

But Mr Justice Nicol today dismissed the legal claim, saying BrewDog did not have “reasonable grounds” for taking forward its case and added it would not be libellous simply to call someone a Trump supporter.

President Donald Trump (Getty Images)

The incident stemmed from a deal BrewDog struck with US brewer Scofflaw, to launch the brand in the UK with a week of promotional events at its bars in London, Manchester and Leeds in September and October 2018. Scofflaw hired Frank PR to promote the initiative, and a press release was issued saying: “Free beer offered to UK Trump supporters this weekend by contentious US brewery ‘Scofflaw’.” The advert, which drew heavy criticism when posted on Twitter, advertised the partnership between BrewDog and Scofflaw, promising to “get the UK ‘beered up redneck style’, completely free of charge!”

It read: “But there is a hook … you have to be a Trump supporter. Scofflaw are putting tens of thousands of pounds behind Brewdog bars in Shoreditch, Soho, Shepherd’s Bush, Tower Hill, Manchester and Leeds over the next 7 days and are intending to crash onto the UK beer scene.”

BrewDog pull out of Scofflaw promotion over ‘free beer for Trump fans’

The release, which went on to promise the publicity stunts and advertise a video of beer cans being shot at, was swiftly denounced by BrewDog, who cancelled the deal with Scofflaw and offered its own beer free of charge to customers supporting “love over hate”. The “rogue” advert was branded “fake news” by BrewDog and Scofflaw also publicly distanced itself from the incident, saying it had been issued by Frank PR “without our consent or knowledge”.

Legal action claiming that the press release had implied BrewDog was backing Trump was then brought against Frank PR. At court today, the judge ruled the press release had “said nothing about the political philosophy” of BrewDog, and had only stated the firm “had embarked on a partnership with Scofflaw and Scofflaw was promoting its beer by offering free beer to supporters of Donald Trump“. He said Scofflaw had been the ones promising free beer, the press release was sent in its name, and talk of shared beliefs was limited to both companies having “a desire to make good beer”.

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The judge acknowledged that President Trump is a “controversial politician”, but said stating that someone supports him would not be enough to support a libel claim.

“Even in England Mr Trump has supporters as well as opponents”, he said. “In other words, simply to say of someone that they were a supporter of Donald Trump (or his policies) would not arguably lower that person in the eyes of right-thinking people generally.”

The judge agreed to Frank PR’s application to strike out the claim, and said BrewDog’s libel claim could not be redrafted at this stage.

More about: | Donald Trump | BrewDog | High Court

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