Daily Mail and Standard lose uni tutor libel case

A university tutor has won £60,000 libel damages over newspaper stories linking him to the violence which flared during an anti-education cuts demonstration through London.

Luke Cooper, who is completing a PhD in international relations at the University of Sussex, told a High Court jury and Mr Justice Eady that his reputation was "as badly trashed" as the Millbank Tower during the November 2010 march.

After a five-day trial, the 27-year-old assistant tutor was awarded £35,000 over a front page Evening Standard article, which appeared the next day, and £25,000 in relation to a follow-up in the Daily Mail.

Cooper, a member of socialist youth organisation Revolution, complained that the first story meant he was a ringleader who planned with others to hijack a peaceful march while the second portrayed him as one of the "hard core" who organised the riot at the Conservative Party's headquarters.

He complained that the accompanying "out-of-context" picture, which was taken from a photo sharing website and showed him in a pub a couple of years earlier, was chosen to give the impression of a man grinning at the havoc wreaked.

Evening Standard Ltd and Associated Newspapers both denied libel and said their allegations were substantially true.

The newspapers were ordered to pay the damages within 14 days plus £450,000 towards costs within 28 days.

After the unanimous verdicts in his favour, Cooper, from Brighton, said: "My only wish throughout these proceedings was the public repudiation of the core allegation made against me after the Millbank occupation.

"Today's verdict is an important vindication for me personally and means I can draw a line under the affair.

"The jury's verdict demonstrates they saw through the falsehoods both papers peddled about me and the anti-cuts movement which continued right up until yesterday."

He had given evidence that he knew there were plans for some form of protest on the 50,000-strong march but took no part in its planning – or the violence.

While handing out Revolution fanzines at the back of the crowd, he willingly spoke to Evening Standard journalist Benedict Moore-Bridger, but claimed some of his words were inaccurately reported or omitted.

His counsel, William McCormick QC, said the newspapers wanted to "tar everyone with the same brush" and were not interested in the mixed picture of peaceful and violent protesters.

He said it was an "open secret" that there would be direct action, but there was no evidence that Mr Cooper, an advocate of peaceful protest, was involved in any way as a ringleader – either in advance or on the day.

"He was as much a bystander as the people who stood and discussed and argued about the rights and wrongs of that protest and the issues at stake."

The stories led to Mr Cooper facing university disciplinary proceedings, which were dismissed, and could have endangered his prospects.

"Universities don't hire people as academics who incite riots", said counsel.

Moore-Bridger denied falsifying Cooper's answers to get the story he wanted to run or having a political agenda.

Adrienne Page QC, for the newspapers, claimed that when Cooper realised that Millbank was not a triumph for his movement but a PR disaster, he resorted to lying about what he told Mr Moore-Bridger about his involvement to save his own skin.

At the start of the case, the jurors were told they might be a "small footnote in legal history" as jury libel trials were almost extinct – the last one being three years ago.

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