BBC pays libel damages to West Ham football bosses

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola and first-team coach Steve Clarke accepted undisclosed libel damages from the BBC today over a claim in an interview that they were planning to move to Chelsea.

The pair brought proceedings in London’s High Court over a Radio 5 Live show in February this year, which featured a contribution by journalist Harry Harris.

Their solicitor, James Quartermaine, told Mr Justice Eady that Harris was regarded by many as an expert on Chelsea, where Zola and Clarke both enjoyed successful playing careers.

He said that, during the interview, Harris wrongly alleged that they had attended an interview with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich the previous week with a view to becoming the management team for the 2009-10 season.

Quartermaine added that Zola and Clarke were – and remained – under contract to West Ham and for them to have attended an interview of this type, unauthorised by the club, would have constituted a breach of their contracts of employment and, in Zola’s case, FA Premier League rules.

“The broadcast of this unfounded allegation caused Mr Zola and Mr Clarke acute distress and anxiety as it was understandably feared that it would damage their relationship with their employers and with the players and fans of West Ham United.”

He added that the BBC had accepted the allegation was without foundation, and had agreed to pay Zola and Clarke damages and their legal costs.

The BBC’s solicitor, David Carrington, said it did not endorse Harris’ comments and apologised for any distress caused.

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