The natural father of Baby P has been awarded £75,000 against the publishers of The People after being wrongly described as a sex offender convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl.
Lawyers for the father, who can only be referred to as “KC”, had told Mr Justice Bean at the High Court that the Sunday newspaper’s published was guilty of “one of the gravest libels imaginable” and called for it to be ordered to pay GBP130,000 in damages.
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But today the judge awarded KC the damages and his legal costs, saying it was “difficult to think of any charge more calculated to lead to the revulsion and condemnation of a person’s fellow citizens than the rape of a 14-year-old girl”.
The newspaper’s publishers, MGN Ltd, had apologised and offered to pay damages.
But James Dingemans, appearing for KC, told the judge at a recent hearing that the offer came late and was not enough to compensate the father for the suffering and distress the “completely false” reports had caused.
Today the judge observed that KC had indicated his willingness to accept GBP75,000 compensation in May last year – and that he should be awarded part of his costs against MGN on an indemnity basis to reflect that fact.
The judge said the nature of the accusations made in the newspaper were “far worse” than in other cases referred to in court and the “no smoke without fire” point applied with particular force.
He refused MGN permission to appeal, but put a stay on payment of £45,000 of the total amount being paid out until after the Court of Appeal itself decided whether or not to hear the publisher’s case.
‘This was a mistake that MGN regrets’
The allegations against KC were contained in two paragraphs in a crime supplement about Baby P’s mother, who had separated from KC.
They appeared in The People on September 19, 2010, in an article entitled “Tortured to death as mum turned a blind eye”.
Baby P, later named as Peter Connelly, was 17 months old when he was found in a blood-splattered cot at his mother’s home in Tottenham, north London, in August 2007. He had more than 50 injuries.
Tracey Connelly was jailed in 2009 after admitting causing or allowing his death.
Her boyfriend, Steven Barker, and their lodger, Jason Owens, Barker’s brother, were found guilty at the Old Bailey of the same charge.
Dingemans said the allegations about the natural father in the wake of the Baby P tragedy were “shocking and appalling”, and that MGN had treated KC “as if he didn’t really matter”.
Heather Rogers QC, appearing for MGN, had told the High Court hearing: “This was a mistake that MGN regrets and it has apologised to the claimant, and I repeat that apology on its behalf in this court.”
However, she denied KC had been badly treated, or that MGN had conducted any kind of “campaign” against him, or dismissed his legitimate complaint.
Today, Rogers argued that MGN should be allowed to appeal on the grounds that the compensation order was too high and “disproportionate”.
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