Apology to Cleese was faulty

The High Court judge who last week awarded John Cleese £13,500 in libel damages against the Evening Standard commented on the length of time it took the paper to print an apology and the lack of “generosity of spirit” behind it.

Mr Justice Eady, in making the award, said he took it into account that the apology was not published until three months after the offending article, and that it was given considerably less prominence than the original piece.

The article, published in April last year, was headed “So, has John Cleese lost his funny bone? How the legendary comedian faces humiliation after his latest TV flop”.

The award followed action by Cleese against the Standard after it offered him £10,000 damages to settle the case but then published an apology that he considered unsatisfactory.

Cleese’s lawyers branded the article at the centre of the case “a thinly veiled gratuitous and vitriolic attack” on him. Among other things, it said of a US TV project he was involved in: “The American nation has rightly turned upon him” and added: “Such humiliation is richly deserved because of his arrogance and presumption.”

Awarding damages, the judge said: “I accept that the defendants have made genuine efforts to retrieve the situation and to make amends.

“They have published an apology, but they did so without any great enthusiasm or generosity of spirit. It was also, more importantly, somewhat less than informative as to the nature of exactly what was being corrected. To that extent, it will obviously make less impact than a fuller statement.”

He said the apology would “mitigate” the impact of the original “unpleasantness” but there was little mitigation to the “hurt to Cleese’s feelings”.

By Roger Pearson

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