Daily Mail pays out over 'date rape' claim about pilot

A British Airways pilot from South West London today accepted a public apology and “substantial” damages at London’s High Court after the Daily Mail alleged he was being investigated after two air stewardesses were given a date rape drug.

However, he launched an attack against the system that denies libel claimants Legal Aid, which he says opens the way for newspapers to publish “half-truths and outright lies”, safe in the knowledge that few people can afford to sue.

Captain Tony Pollock, 50, a Boeing 747 pilot, sued over an August 2006 article headlined ‘BA pilot facing inquiry over date rape drug’.

His counsel, Ronald Thwaites QC, told top libel judge Mr Justice David Eady today: “The article stated that the claimant was under investigation following allegations that two stewardesses had been administered a ‘date rape’ drug during a stopover in Los Angeles

“In fact, the ‘inquiry’ to which the article’s headline referred concerned a BA internal grievance procedure in which the stewardesses alleged that the claimant had failed in his duty of care towards them in the aftermath of an incident in which they had become unwell.

‘After a lengthy investigation, BA concluded that there had been no failure by the claimant in his duty of care.”

He said that his client was a ‘man of complete integrity”, and that the Daily Mail’s publishers, Associated Newspapers, had now agreed to pay him ‘substantial damages’and his legal costs, as well as to publish an apology.

In a written statement issued after the hearing, Pollock said: ‘Today’s victory hopefully serves to encourage every man and woman to use the force of the law to address libellous newspaper articles. Whilst this litigation has been quite a hurdle, I was determined from the outset not to let this go unchecked. There is no legal aid for defamation and I was disappointed that I did not receive legal aid or financial support.

‘The article could have cost me my career, house and financial stability

‘It is nothing less than a scandal that people who find themselves unfairly vilified in the press should have to risk enormous sums of their own money in order to clear their name. It’s no wonder that newspapers so often feel free to publish half-truths and outright lies with impunity and without regard for the consequences for the person concerned as, without legal aid, very few people can afford to fight back.”

‘Nevertheless I have now been fully vindicated, as the article was untrue. I am relieved that the Daily Mail has accepted that the article was defamatory and damaging to me, although it took them more than a year before they agreed to apologise for it.’

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