BBC pays libel damages to eight police officers

Eight Metropolitan police officers today accepted a formal apology
and “substantial damages” from the BBC at London’s High Court,
following accusations broadcast on Nicky Campbell’s radio programme
that they were guilty of the unlawful killing of Roger Sylvester.

The
eight officers’ solicitor Barton Taylor, told Mr Justice Tugendghat his
clients sued following allegations by one of Sylvester’s relatives,
during a live interview broadcast in December 2000. The interview
discussed Mr Sylvester’s death in hospital in January 1999, following
police restraint for his own protection.

He said: “In the course
of that programme, the relative made very serious allegations about the
conduct and motives of the eight police officers, which amounted to an
accusation of unlawful killing against them.

“Although the
officers were not expressly named, they were rightly concerned that
previous publicity meant they were likely to be identified by people
who knew them. The allegations caused the police officers great
distress at a very difficult time for them.”

“The officers have
always strongly maintained their innocence in respect of the death of
Mr Sylvester. His death has been the subject of extensive inquiries and
legal proceedings, which culminated in the November 2004 decision by Mr
Justice Collins holding that ‘no jury would be likely to convict any
officer of manslaughter’ and that a verdict of unlawful killing ‘would
not be a just verdict’.”

He said that the BBC had never
maintained that there was any truth in the allegations, and had now
agreed to pay “substantial damages” plus legal costs to each officer.

David
Glen, counsel for the BBC, added : ” The BBC accepts responsibility for
what is said in its programmes, by its own staff or outside
contributors. On the BBC’s behalf, I would like to apologise
unreservedly to the officers for this programme as well as for the
distress it caused them.”

Taylor told the court that the eight
officers, Philip Steedman, David Clohosy, Ian Smith, Sean Kiernan,
Andrew Newman, Jaswinder Matharu, Simon Creevy and John Anderson, were
all serving in the Metropolitan Police when, on 11 January 1999, they
were called to a street in Tottenham and found Sylvester naked in the
street and behaving strangely – a combination of mental illness and
cannabis.

For his own safety, they took him to St Ann’s Hospital,
and there Sylvester, who was large and strong, struggled violently.
Some of the officers sought to restrain him for his own protection, but
he suffered cardiac arrest. Despite attempts to resuscitate him, he did
not recover and died a week later.

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