Pursuing a libel action is traditionally the preserve of A-list celebrities or those with very deep pockets.
But a long-running defamation row at the heart of the Leamington Spa Sikh community offers hope for those with a strong case which will not leave claimants facing financial ruin should they lose.
The case centred on the building of a new temple and leaflets suggesting fivemen instrumental in the project weremisleading people within the community.
It was a damaging slight which had a detrimental effect on their businesses.
The men, including construction entrepreneur Dr Gurmit Singh, sought legal advice from Leamington Spa law firm Wright Hassall.
Daniel Jennings, a senior associate who advised them, said the dispute started in the spring of 2010, during which defamatory literature was repeatedly distributed to residents around the Queensway area of Leamington.
Mr Jennings said: “Literature was distributed to the Sikh community and we believe it ran into the thousands. It said they had damaged temple buildings, had been misleading the congregation and had ulterior motives.
"Also that they were going to remove an elderly community centre off site and leave its users with nowhere to go.”
Mr Jennings said the allegations continued and a petition was also launched which ended up being signed by more than 1,000 people.
He added: “They repeated some of the first allegations but went further saying their committee had taken and held on to money owed to a local Sikh community centre, they had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage in secret to a temple building and were betraying promises made to the congreation.
“They obtained a list of names and addresses, identified local Sikhs and distributed literature to those addresses. Our clients believed thousands of documents were produced and at that stage the congregation at the temple was extremely large.”
Mr Jennings said the men were worried about the amount of damage being caused to their respective businesses and reputations.
The five claimants were not motivated by damages, according to Mr Jennings, who said they offered to settle for an undertaking not to repeat the allegations, a joint public statement that they had not been dishonest and payment of their legal costs.
A two-day preliminary hearing at the High Court in London saw Wright Hassall’s counsel Adam Speaker apply to strike out parts of the defence and four days later the claimants’ offer was accepted before a judgement on that application was delivered.
The claim for legal costs is approximately £240,000 and £150,000 has been paid on account. The final court order confirming the terms will be settled in October.
Mr Jennings said: “It was an extremely costly exercise for these individuals but one where some of the claimants had put two years away from their business life to see the temple completed and built.
"As a result they were in a position which caused the congregation to turn against them and they weren’t even able to visit.”
He said one of the key outcomes was the fact it demonstrated anyone could take out such an action, providing that safeguards were in place.
“We acted on a conditional fee basis and decided to obtain legal expenses insurance,” he said. “It was something they felt was important enough and the risks something they could manage.”
But he conceded defamation was still seen as expensive and beyond most people’s reach.
“No one can pretend defamation cases are not expensive – very few made it to trial last year,” he said. “It is something the courts have recognised, and it does need to be open to more people. Yes it can be difficult and can be expensive but it is not just limited to the wealthy or celebrities.”
A safeguard like a conditional fee or insurance might provide a solution if the case is a strong one, according to Mr Jennings who emphasised it could prevent bankruptcy or even losing one’s home if a case is lost.