Former Catholic spokesman in second Mail libel trial

A former spokesman for the Catholic Church has renewed his High Court bid to win libel damages from a newspaper which claimed that he was a hypocrite over abortion.

Austen Ivereigh claims he was "unfairly trashed" by a seriously defamatory article printed in the Daily Mail in June 2006.

The 43-year-old former director of publicity for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, had been "in limbo with his reputation in tatters" since it appeared, Ronald Thwaites QC, told Mr Justice Eady and a jury.

It was not Ivereigh's case that he lost his job because of the story which sought to expose him as someone who condemned abortion in public but condoned it in private, Thwaites said.

But, he was still seeking vindication since the first trial of the action - almost a year ago - ended with no verdict after the jury could not agree.

Thwaites said that the article concerned Ivereigh's then girlfriend, Siobhan, who became pregnant by him while they were both students at Oxford, and subsequently had an abortion 20 years ago this month.

The newspaper also claimed that he took a similar stance in 2006 when his then girlfriend, who can only be identified as X, became pregnant but, in the event, later miscarried.

Thwaites said that it was a "monstrous unfairness" to suggest that Ivereigh gave Siobhan no choice but to have a termination.

Ivereigh had not known what to do about Siobhan's pregnancy and consulted a chaplain at Oxford, who advised against a shotgun marriage but said he should support his girlfriend in every way.

Thwaites told the jury: "He did not want her to have an abortion. He was a lapsed Catholic at the time but did not believe in abortion and was against it in this case."

The newspaper's case was that Siobhan would not have had the abortion if she had received financial support from Ivereigh, while it was now known that at the time she had private means in the form of shares worth more than £100,000.

Evidence had also emerged that Siobhan had a history of depression and was struggling with her course, which she might not have completed even if she had not become pregnant.

Thwaites said that Ivereigh's mother, Della, was supportive when he told her that they were going to keep the baby, but Siobhan's mother, Moira, made it clear that the choice was marriage or abortion.

The abortion at eight weeks was a "done-deal behind his (Mr Ivereigh's) back", Thwaites said.

He added that Siobhan's mother was on holiday in Goa when the abortion took place, and Ivereigh's mother was the "good Samaritan" who collected Siobhan from the clinic and arranged for her and Ivereigh to stay in a family flat for a few days.

Ivereigh disputed the newspaper's claim that he took Siobhan to the clinic and picked her up together with his mother, Thwaites said.

Associated Newspapers denies libel and is set to argue over the two-week case that its story is true.

Giving evidence, Ivereigh said he could not believe it when he saw the newspaper story.

"My blood just froze. I was devastated by it. I phoned various people, people phoned me, and I said 'it's just not true, it's full of lies'."

He felt like finding a little corner to hide in, he said.

On his return from a pre-planned trip abroad, he and the Cardinal mutually agreed they should part company, and he resigned.

He said the first trial was a painful experience and it was humiliating to go through it all again.

Cross-examined by Mark Warby QC, for Associated Newspapers, Ivereigh denied that he was an unreliable witness whose version of events had been inconsistent.

He accepted that Catholic doctrine said that the proper place for sexual relations was within marriage and that, in his relationship with X when he was a practising Catholic, he was sinning against that.

The case continues.

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