Guardian hit by double damages

Alan Rusbridger and Guardian Newspapers have paid substantial damages to settle a second claim for libel over comments made by the paper’s editor about a previous libel victory for the director of a counselling service.

The case involved Graham Baldwin, the director of Catalyst, which specialises in therapy for victims of religious cults and similar groups.

The Guardian had published a report, headlined "Into a Shadowy World", on 23 January, 1997.

It alleged that Baldwin had broken a pledge to a Portuguese court, used false religious credentials and was involved in the de-programming of people who had come into contact with cults. Baldwin sued for libel on 20 November 1998, the jury found in his favour and he was awarded £15,000 in damages and costs.

The following day The Guardian published the outcome of the case when Rusbridger stated the newspaper’s intention to appeal (an intention that was not pursued) and defended his journalists, at the same time attacking the libel laws.

Solicitor-advocate David Price said Baldwin was highly aggrieved and considered Rusbridger was seeking to maintain the truth of the original article notwithstanding the jury’s verdict.

"The libel proceedings had been highly stressful for the claimant and he had rightly regarded the vindication that he obtained from the jury as closing the matter.

"He was not prepared to allow the statement to remain unchallenged and he therefore brought these proceedings," said Price.

He added that the defendants had made it clear that it was never their intention to undermine the jury’s verdict nor to allege that the allegations published in the original article were true.

"They are to pay the costs of these proceedings, said Price, and publish in The Guardian a summary of a statement which was due to be made in the High Court this week, in accordance with the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Conduct.

"While the claimant would have preferred that the article had not been published, he accepts that he has achieved all that he can by bringing these proceedings and feels suitably vindicated," said Price.

"He is prepared now to let the matter rest."

By Roger Pearson

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