Rushdie wins libel case but does not seek damages

The Mail on Sunday is to apologise to Salman Rushdie after carrying an extract from a book which contained falsehoods about the award-winning author.

Rushdie today received apologies at the High Court from the writers and publishers of the book.

And in a highly unusual move he did not seek damages – but settled for a ‘declaration of falsity’from the court confirming that the libelous statements made about him were untrue.

He said that he was committed to the principle of freedom of speech and that damages had a chilling effect on authors, editors and publishers.

The book, On Her Majesty’s Service, was written by former police officer Ron Evans, who left the police service in 2005 after being convicted of nine charges of dishonesty and false accounting and fined at Isleworth Crown Court.

Evans’s duties while in the police included driving for Special Branch protection officers who looked after Rushdie when his life was under threat.

He apologised through his solicitor for 11 falsehoods in the book.

Justice Teare made a declaration of falsity against Evans, his ghost writer Douglas Thompson, and the book’s publisher, John Blake Publishing.

Rushdie said after the hearing: “This has been an unattractive affair. My only interest was to establish the truth. I’m happy that the court has made its declaration of falsity and that the authors and publishers have recognised their falsehoods and apologised. As far as I am concerned that’s the end of the matter.”

False statements included in the book included that protection officers locked Rushdie in a room because of his objectionable attitude towards them and that protection officers who asked Rushdie if they could buy alcohol from him were charged for the drinks.

Sherborne said: “Allegations of this nature are, of course, highly defamatory and they were particularly offensive to the claimant because they are simply not true.

“In fact, as a number of his protection officers volunteered to testify in the event that this matter came to trial, Sir Salman conducted himself with dignity and courtesy throughout a time of great personal danger and concern.”

Sherborne said John Blake Publishing, Evans and Thompson ‘apologise unequivocally to Sir Salman Rushdie, as well as Ms West [former wife Elizabeth West], for the hurt and damage which they have suffered as a result of the publication of these allegations.”

The trio will pay Rushdie’s legal costs – estimated at £15,000.

John Blake Publishing, founded by former Sun journalist John Blake, has destroyed the first 4,000 copies printed of the book which contained the false statements.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, who headed the legal team representing Rushdie, said his client had “pioneered a new way of reconciling the right to freedom of speech with the right to reputation – you nail the lie for all time with a court ordered declaration of falsity and you receive your legal costs, but you decline to chill free speech by putting authors and publishers to an expensive trial and making them pay heavy damages”.

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