FT's £230m libel case could lead to 'culture of fear'

A judge is expected to rule in the next fortnight over whether a record £230m libel claim against the Financial Times can go ahead.

Mr Justice Tugendhat has reserved judgment after a pre-trial hearing earlier this week in the case of City stockbroking firm Collins Stewart Tullett versus the FT.

It concerns a report of an unfair dismissal claim made by former Collins Stewart analyst James Middleweek, which was critical of the way the company was run.

The huge compensation figure relates to “special damages” the firm may claim for an alleged drop in its share price, which followed the FT story.

In court on Tuesday, Desmond Browne QC, counsel for the FT, warned that allowing the special damages claim to go ahead would have “not so much a chilling effect as a positively freezing effect on financial journalism”.

Media litigation partner at lawyers DLA, Martin Soames, commented: “I’m really surprised that they are running the share price argument as it is riven with difficulties – share prices go up and down all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with what appears in the press.

“This move is designed to put the fear of God into anybody writing about financial markets.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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