C4 left £1.7m out of pocket after libel case dropped

Michael Jackson’s former bodyguard, Matthew Fiddes, today discontinued his High Court libel action against Channel 4 over a 2008 documentary, The Jacksons Are Coming.

Channel 4 will be left around £1.7m out of pocket and said it will not be seeking to recover costs from Fiddes. Both sides have agreed to pay their own costs which run to around £3m.

The move came on the day that the trial was to have started. It was scheduled to last four weeks, and was expected to involve some 40 witnesses, including Michael Jackson’s brother Tito and their mother, Katherine.

Fiddes, who acted as the local guide for the production, had alleged that the documentary, which followed members of Michael Jackson’s family – including older brother Tito – as they were planning to move to Devon, included fabricated footage and false statements about him.

He was being represented by solicitors M Law, on a no-win, no-fee conditional fee agreement.

Channel 4, production company Studio Lambert Limited and journalist Jane Preston had denied libel, pleading justification and fair comment.

Costs in the case were expected to total some £4.3 million by the end of the trial.

Recent estimates suggested that the costs had already topped £3 million – in early June Channel 4’s costs had reached £1.5, with the trial itself expected to add another £1 million.

The end of the case was announced by Adrienne Page QC, for Channel 4.

Reading from an agreed statement, she told Mr Justice Tugendhat – who had been due to hear the trial without a jury – that Mr Fiddes had today discontinued his claim.

“Indeed, the claimant is here by his counsel now, publicly to acknowledge that the programme was not ‘faked’ as he has previously claimed,” she said.

Channel 4, Studio Lambert Ltd and Preston accepted Fiddes’ denial, which was broadcast in the programme, that he provided stories to the press for money.

Fiddes had also withdrawn his allegations of malice against Studio Lambert and Preston.

Outside court Julian Bellamy, head of Channel 4, said he was “completely delighted”.

He emphasised that the company was not paying Fiddes any damages, his legal costs – which are estimated at £1.3 million – or issuing any apologies.

He added that it was not pursuing Fiddes for its costs of £1.7 million.

Fiddes said: “The litigation has been a strain and I can now return to normal life. My prime concern is to care for my mother who has terminal cancer.”

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