Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Send lawyers...

The apparently unrepentant MP for Yardley is thinking about getting all legal on the press, raising the issue of libel for some of what was printed on Friday and over the weekend in the local and national media.

Libel, by the way, is the publication of defamatory words that cause damage to reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person. It includes internet publication and also the repetition of a libellous statement - so you will excuse my caution.

I'm instinctively worried about any MP who reaches for the lawyers as a matter of course in their defence. Recent libel activists have included Archer, Hamilton, Galloway and Aitken - not great company for anyone to be in unless the matter is hugely serious.

John considers himself to be in the 'unlucky position' that what he does is in the public eye. Rubbish. Nobody is forced to run for public office in this country. He chose to put himself (and his family) through it of his own volition, in the full knowledge that this skeleton was rattling in his cupboard. The odds on it NOT coming out were always slim. Every Labour candidate (and I'd guess this holds good for the other major parties) is asked if there is anything in their background that might embarrass the party if it were to become public. John is certainly aware that there are many voters in Yardley who won't like this story one little bit, no matter how much he pleads to be judged on his performance as an MP - that's why it was kept quiet until after the election and we can surmise that's why he has released it now, to get the worst of the criticism over and done with now.

Things get a little murkier yet.
The Evening Mail First Edition (and I think C1) went out with basically a story that we had given them in detail. Everything was accurate and truthful.
I don't know who the 'we' is in this, but given the tone of the original article, it seems to have come from Emily and John, with no comment from his wife. In essence, John gave the story to the press. This piece was bylined David Bell, with whom John has worked in the past.
They then changed the story in C2. All the other newspapers thought that this had been checked in the same rigorous manner. Sadly, it hadn't. This, of course, after the "mother of all sex scandals", gives potentially the "mother of all libel cases".
The focus of the story did indeed shift during the day, as the final edition changed the headline to focus on the 'Love Rat' (don't you just love the tabloid-speak) and his affairs. This followed a doorstep interview with John's wife by Lisa McCarthy, who now gets joint credit with David Bell for the story. John has, by the way, denied the specific number of affairs and claims that this is simply plucked from thin air by his wife. John was being exceptionally naive if he thought he could control the story once he had launched the initial bombshell to a friendly journalist.

What intrigues me is that John claims that there are inaccuracies in this story which may be actionable, yet much of the new substance comes from his own wife. Ms McCarthy was photographed, notebook in hand, talking to John's wife, so hopefully her journalistic training will hold up and she has a contemporaneous record of the conversation - certainly the articles are peppered with direct quotes.

If John is thinking about taking legal action, he might want to consider whether he really wants to have his affairs dragged through the courts. The Evening Mail might cave in, but I doubt that the nationals would follow suit.

It will be interesting to watch. Whatever else you might say about John, he's a source of amusement.

As an aside, the comments section offers a right of reply and I'm happy to correct any factual errors made. (As always)


john said...

In law direct quotes have no priviledge unless they are from proceedings in a court of Law or parliament which have absolute priviledge or in other public bodies which have conditional priviledge.

Chatting to my wife in our drive has no priviledge at all. This means that any reports of this have to check whether what is said is true before printing it.

PoliticalHack said...

I've not suggested that any of the information is privileged, although I suspect that the papers might wish to have a shot at the Reynolds defence or qualified privilege. The intriguing thing for me is that it could lead to your wife being called to give evidence, if the papers try to argue that what they said was true (the best defence against libel).

Anonymous said...

John is wrong in law. He is confusing absolute priviledge and qualified priviledge and he is also ignoring the defence of fair comment. Plus, I can only begin to imagine what he would do when the Evening Mail apply to have his wife joined with them in defence of their case :) Bring it on.

Anonymous said...

Err, privilege even.

And yes, there is always the defence of justification.