Dewsbury Press editor 'confident' as libel retrial looms

The editor of an independent newspaper is set to represent himself in court against some of the country’s top media lawyers in a libel battle with his local MP.

Danny Lockwood, editor and managing director of the Dewsbury Press, will make his paper’s case in a retrial of a case brought by Labour MP and development minister Shahid Malik.

The initial two-week libel trial before Mr Justice Eady in November was inconclusive after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

In a meeting on 20 December, the judge withdrew the possibility of the paper using the Reynolds defence form of qualified privilege. He said that while the story met the defence’s public interest criteria, that alone was not enough as Malik had not been given sufficient opportunity to respond to the allegations.

However, Lockwood said the paper did not want to use the defence, and he will argue the paper’s case himself in a retrial, expected to be announced later this month.

Lockwood told Press Gazette: ‘We’ve not been focusing on the Reynolds defence; we’re defending the claims through justification. If there is a retrial, we would be very optimistic.

Frustrated

‘To use a rugby league analogy, Malik has played downhill, with the wind behind him, 13 men against 10 and the referee giving him all the ball – and he couldn’t score.”

At the trial, the Press’s legal team were frustrated by not been allowed to call witnesses including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Shadow minister for community cohesion. The ban had been lifted at the 20 December hearing, and Lockwood said he would call Warsi as a witness to some of the key events in the case.

Malik sued after the newspaper published a letter by Conservative councillor Jonathan Scott alleging that the MP had unfairly influenced the outcome of the 2006 local elections in Dewsbury. Malik denies the allegations.

The Press has organised fundraising events for the first trial, including a gala white-tie dinner at Dewsbury Town Hall.

Lockwood said: ‘We spent a lot of money, pretty much everything we had. We still have legal advice and we’re confident.”

Malik was not available for comment.

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