The independent Dewsbury and District Press is facing a claim for libel damages of £100,000 after publishing allegations in a letter by a former Conservative councillor accusing MP Shahid Malik of aggressive local election tactics.
Jonathan Scott, who was a candidate for the Kirklees council elections but lost his seat, made allegaations about Malik’s conduct in a letter printed in The Press in May – as well as the Johnston Press-owned Dewsbury Reporter.
Malik denies Scott’s claims. Scott said he phoned the chief inspector of police in Dewsbury to get an extra police presence because he was feeling threatened.
Press publisher Danny Lockwood claimed in his paper that Malik refused the opportunity of a full rebuttal in the letters page, and since then several “positive” stories had appeared in the paper about the MP.
In July, Malik sent a letter to The Press, the Reporter and Scott saying that either they pay him damages, apologise and commit never to repeat the allegations, or he would sue them.
Johnston’s Dewsbury Reporter had originally published an edited version of the letter omitting the most controversial elements. But Lockwood, who published the full letter, refused to apologise.
Malik sent a writ to Lockwood but not the Reporter – which would not comment to Press Gazette on whether it had offered an apology or clarification.
Lockwood subsequently ran a story headlined: “Malik tries to silence The Press”.
He was sent another letter from Malik’s solicitors saying the paper’s continuing publicity had caused him “alarm and distress”.
Lockwood told Press Gazette: “We are content that Mr Scott’s experiences are a matter of huge public interest, and we are satisfied he has a wealth of witnesses to back up his claims. We believe that this is counter-productive to local democracy and to his interests. It is critical that a controversial MP such as Shahid Malik is held to public account.
This case looks certain to go to court, because we aren’t backing down.”
Malik’s lawyer at Bindman’s, Tamsin Allen, said: “The Press has been repeating these allegations. It’s clear from the pleadings that they are very serious, false allegations.”
Bindman’s is awaiting the defence, which has not yet been served.