BBC sees off £1.5m libel threat in no-win no fee court battle

The BBC has defended a no win, no fee libel action brought by a senior manager in the National Health Service who was accused of manipulating hospital waiting lists. If the BBC had lost the case it would have been exposed to potential costs in excess of £1.5m.

Giving his judgement in the High Court, Mr Justice Gray said: "The importance of this case lies in the fact that it is concerned with institutional corruption within a public body which has gone unpunished."

The case arose from a broadcast on BBC Points West, by health correspondent Matthew Hill, during which a former employee of the Western General Hospital accused Marion Henry of being involved in the manipulation of hospital waiting lists in order to meet NHS targets. Henry denied the claim and sued the BBC for libel.

Mr Justice Gray handed down his judgment, upholding the BBC’s defence of justification and finding that the allegations made in the BBC Points West broadcast about Henry were substantially true. In summary, the Judge found that Henry was aware of waiting list manipulation and permitted the manipulation to take place. He also found that Henry was involved in a cover up of her and other manager’s involvement in the manipulation.

The deputy director-general of the BBC, Mark Byford, said: "This was an important case for the BBC to defend. Matthew Hill pursued the story with integrity, vigour and outstanding professionalism.

"It is important that media organisations have the courage to report serious allegations made by credible whistleblowers.

"This is particularly true in those cases brought under conditional fee arrangements where the legal costs involved can be prohibitive.

"It is very important that the CFA regime is not allowed to have a dampening effect on journalism of this kind."

The BBC was represented by Andrew Caldecott QC, Catrin Evans and Joanne Neenan instructed by the BBC Litigation Department. Mrs Henry was represented by Richard Rampton QC and Jacob Dean instructed by Carter-Ruck.

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