BoS faces big legal bill in council libel action

BoS: awaiting Court of Appeal’s decision on costs

Legal costs in the long-running libel case in which three Bedfordshire Borough Council officers sued Bedfordshire on Sunday and a Conservative Party agent are likely to top £1m.

The latest twist in the case came last week when the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of Mr Justice Gray at a trial of libel proceedings and allowed an appeal by Michael Gough, a solicitor and head of corporate administration at Bedford Borough Council (Press Gazette, 14 March).

Gough will now be awarded damages and costs from the Court of Appeal, to be determined at a later hearing. He said: “I am delighted at the outcome of the appeal and that three appeal judges have vindicated me.”

Gough sued Bedfordshire on Sunday and Stewart Lister, then the Conservative Party agent in Bedford, over an article and press release published in May 2000 accusing him of incompetence in his handling of a court application relating to a ward election in which postal votes were not counted.

At the 13-day libel trial in 2002, Mr Justice Gray found against Gough. But the Court of Appeal has decided that “the allegation against Mr Gough of incompetence cannot be held to be justified”.

Last year’s trial also involved Bedford Borough Council chief executive Shaun Field, who recovered £52,500 from the defendants, part of which resulted from a settlement before the trial. A third council officer, Andrew Darkoh, a barrister in the legal department, lost at the trial and has not appealed.

Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners, which represented Gough, Field and Darkoh, said in a statement last week: “It is likely that Bedfordshire on Sunday and Stewart Lister will face legal bills in excess of £1m.”

The legal firm added: “The case represents another success for Carter-Ruck’s conditional fee agreement scheme.”

Bedfordshire on Sunday responded: “The costs of the action have not yet been decided and will form the subject of another hearing. Our legal advice differs markedly from speculation in the press release issued on behalf of Mr Gough.”

By Jon Slattery

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