Ex-Tory co-treasurer Peter Cruddas wins Sunday Times libel battle

Former Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has won his libel action over an allegation in The Sunday Times about charging £250,000 to meet David Cameron.

The 59-year-old businessman sued Times Newspapers Ltd and two members of the newspaper's Insight team for defamation and malicious falsehood over three articles which appeared in March 2012.

The news comes days after Lord Cunningham, Lord Laird and Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate were accused by the Insight team of offering to do parliamentary work for money. All three are denying the claims.

Last year’s Cruddas allegations appeared after the journalists pretended to be agents for foreign investors who wanted to explore making donations to the party and hired a lobbyist, through whom they arranged to meet Cruddas.

Unknown to him, said Mr Justice Tugendhat at the High Court, each reporter carried a concealed camera with an audio recording facility.

Cruddas complained the articles meant that, in return for cash donations to the party, he corruptly offered for sale the opportunity to influence government policy and gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.

He also said they meant he made the offer even though he knew the money offered for meetings was to come, in breach of the ban under UK electoral law, from Middle Eastern investors in a Liechtenstein fund and was happy that the foreign donors should use deceptive devices to conceal the true source of the donation.

The newspaper took issue with the meanings claimed by Cruddas, pleaded justification in alternative meanings to the libel claims, and denied the articles were false or published maliciously.

But yesterday Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled in Cruddas's favour on meaning, struck out the justification defence and entered judgment for him on the defamation claim, with damages to be assessed.

The matter is due to return to court on 17 June.

The judge said that, in the light of his decision, it was up to Cruddas, who was also granted an injunction preventing continued publication on the newspaper's website, to decide whether to pursue the malicious falsehood claim.

A spokesman from the newspaper said: "The Sunday Times is applying for permission to appeal the decision of Mr Justice Tugendhat and will continue to seek to defend the undercover journalism behind this public interest report on cash for access to Cameron."

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