Express apology over slur on estate agent

A British estate agent who sells property in Bulgaria today accepted a formal apology and damages at London’s High Court after the Daily Express alleged that his company had used ‘Mafia-style’ intimidation tactics against a UK couple who had bought a house there.

George Peter St Clare and his company, Synergen Eood, which trades as Albany Properties in Bulgaria, sued publishers Express Newspapers and journalist Nick Fagge over the 30 April 2007 Express article headlined ‘Nightmare for Britons buying their dream homes abroad’.

Today, their solicitor Kate Wilson told High Court judge Mr Justice David Eady that the article stated that dozens of UK nationals were finding themselves the victims on unscrupulous estate agents in Bulgaria when trying to take advantage of the property boom in that country by buying homes there.

She continued: ‘To illustrate the generalisation that scores of Britons attempting to buy their dream property had been duped by unscrupulous estate agents, the defendants used, as the only example in the article, details of a property deal that had taken place between the claimants and a British couple looking to purchase property in Bulgaria. Both of the claimants were named in the article as having had a disagreement with the British couple over the extent of land included in the sale.

‘The defendants’ article went on to allege that, in relation to the disagreement over the sale, thugs had been pressuring them to leave the country and that they had had their property set on fire.

‘The statements bore a clear meaning that the claimants had been responsible for hiring thugs to intimidate the couple and had set their property on fire as a consequence of having fallen out over the deal.

‘Further, the defendants regret that the article went on to suggest that the claimants’ activities were consistent with the Mafia-style lawlessness prevalent in Bulgaria.”

She said that the ‘eye-catching’allegations were picked up and repeated by websites that specialise in property investment, severely tarnishing the claimants’ reputation.

She continued: ‘These allegations published in the defendants’ article have proved immensely damaging to both the claimants – Synergen Eeod whose business goodwill has suffered, and Mr St Clare whose personal and professional reputation has been acutely damaged.

‘The defendants have accepted that these allegations are false and defamatory and ought never to have been published.”

She said that the newspaper had agreed to publish an apology, remove the article from its website, and pay the claimants damages as well as their legal costs.

Victoria Shore, for the defendants, added: ‘Through me, the defendants apologise to the claimants for any distress and embarrassment caused to them by the article and welcome this opportunity to set the record straight.”

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