Keep libel law out of politics

Busy times for Carter-Ruck of late. While the thoughts of the nation turn wearily to the general election campaign, the UK’s two top political magazines have been crossing swords with the UK’s top libel lawyers.
In today’s Spectator, editor Fraser Nelson reveals his ongoing battles with Charlie Whelan, former spin doctor for Gordon Brown and current political director of the powerful Unite union. Whelan, through Carter-Ruck, threatened legal action against the right-leaning magazine after it, er, claimed he had acted like a bully.

Nelson writes on the Spectator’s Coffee House blog

Last summer, The Spectator received a letter from Charlie Whelan’s solicitors complaining about this post – where we mention their client’s spot of bother with his colleagues at Unite. Carter-Ruck were instructed on one of the no-win-no-fee deals: it cost Whelan nothing to sue, but could cost us thousands to defend. So the lawyer’s letter is, by itself, an effective form of intimidation.

Meanwhile, over at Carter-Ruck’s own website, we have this little snippet about the Spectator’s left-wing rival, the New Statesman:

Daniel Hannan MEP – An Apology
The New Statesman has apologised to Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Southeast England, in respect of defamatory allegations published on its website on 18 September 2009. The New Statesman has also paid Mr Hannan damages together with his legal costs.

The payout comes after a suggestion in a web article by James MacIntyre, suggesting the maverick Tory MEP may have made a racist comment about President Obama.

As mentioned yesterday, Traditional Ulster Voice’s Jim Allister, a QC, is threatening defamation action against North Antrim rival Ian Paisley Jr over information on an election leaflet.

Suggestion: shouldn’t our politicos stick to battling at the ballot box rather than the high court?

BBC and Starsuckers Carter-Rucked?

Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe often carries out cutting features on how news reporting is driven by celebrity and the desperate need for anything that would constitute an “exclusive”.

So it seemed obvious that Brooker would team up with the people behind Starsuckers for a segment on the News of the World’s treatment of their film, in which they sold fake “scoops” to the tabloid.

But the segment never appeared. Why?

A couple of months ago I filmed a piece for Charlie Brookers excellent Newswipe, the intention being to expose the gaping hypocrisy and contradiction of the NOTW’s stance. The piece gained even more potency after the NOTW broke the John Terry story, and Tom Crone had been publicly claiming that News International were ruthless defenders of free speech. Brooker’s team had specifically asked us to hold back the story of our legal battle, to give Newswipe the exclusive. Last week we were told that the Starsuckers vs NOTW story would definitely be in this weeks final show, neatly coming after the John Terry section.

This afternoon we were told that the piece has been cut, and we have heard from several sources that this is due to the BBC caving in and avoiding a fight with the NOTW.

Read the rest at the Starsuckers blog

UPDATE: Brooker says on Twitter: “Just to be 100% clear, the BBC hasn’t blocked Starsuckers piece. We ran out of room and edit time. No conspiracy & it may be used in future”

Libel: Thomsen to countersue GE

Henrik Thomsen, the Danish cardiologist being sued in London by GE Healthcare, is to countersue the drug firm. Thomsen had claimed that a GE product, Omniscan, caused debilitating side-effects. GE Healthcare responded by issuing a press release which called Thomsen a liar. Thomsen’s lawyer, Andrew Stephenson of Carter-Ruck, said his client is “angry”. GE Healthcare has said it will “vigorously defend” any counterclaim.

Libel: BBC backs down on Trafigura report

The BBC has today withdrawn claims made on flagship news programme Newsnight that oil-trading company Trafigura caused deaths in the Ivory Coast after toxic waste was dumped there. in a settlement designed to head off a potentially massively expensive libel case, the BBC will make a small donation to charity at Trafigura’s request.

While other sources, including the British government, claimed that Trafigura’s actions had caused deaths in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Newsnight was unable to independently verify the claim.

Sources at the BBC say the corporation faced up to £3 million in legal costs if it defended the case against Trafigura.

Read BBC court statement here