Big payout for Robert Murat could increase pressure on journalists

News that Robert Murat, a 34-year-old British expatriate who lived in Portugal, could receive more than £500,000 after launching libel actions against 11 newspapers and one television network, is expected to further toughening of the legal climate for journalists.

‘This was a perfectly legitimate story. The question is how can you write it in a safe way. There is a lot of pressure on newspapers now,’said Niri Shan, head of media at law firm Taylor Wessing.

Shan says Murat’s case reflects a trend for suing several targets rather than just one and that trend had been exacerbated by the rise of no-win, no fee conditional fee agreement deals in libel which remove the huge financial risk for claimants.

‘Newspapers are far more exposed because people like Robert Murat who might not have had access to this kind of approach can do so now,’said Shan.

Law firm Simons, Muirhead and Burton, which is acting for Murat, has confirmed that a statement would be read at the High Court on Thursday, but refused to comment further.

The media outlets named in the original libel action were Sky, the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Metro, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, News of the World, The Sun and The Scotsman.

In May, Murat secured an apology from The Scotsman for a piece it ran about the disappearance of four-year-old Madeleine from Praia da Luz in Portugal last year.

His mooted settlement follows legal action by Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry.

Express Newspapers paid £550,000 to the Find Madeleine campaign, and the Daily Express and Daily Star issued front-page apologies admitting stories suggesting they were in some way responsible for Madeleine’s disappearance were inaccurate.

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