Teachers' union president sues Sunday Times over 'ludicrous' claims made by 'aggrieved people'

The president of a teaching union is suing The Sunday Times over an article referring to "ludicrous" claims he was involved in an underhand deal at his North London school.

The article claimed Hank Roberts, who has since become president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, had persuaded Furness Primary School to give a pay rise to a union representative.

In an article on 29 April 2012, the paper also reported claims that, in return, he had helped get rid of two teachers from another school.

Included in the article, which is not available online, were strong denials from Roberts and Brent Council, who described the claims as “total fabrication by aggrieved people”.

The story’s opening sentence read: “One of the country’s most prominent teachers’ leaders has denied claims that he persuaded a school to give a pay rise to a union representative – and helped it get rid of two teachers in return.”

It also featured denials by the council and Roberts, who described the guidance referred to as “straightforward union advice”.

It reported that Roberts had “angrily rejected the claims”, and reported him as saying the claims were “ludicrous – the idea that I am saying give our rep an increase and sack a member, come on, it is beyond reason… it is from aggrieved people trying to sling mud without any basis”.

On 25 April this year, just less than a year after print publication, Roberts issued a libel claim for up to £5,000.

In a claim form seen by Press Gazette, Roberts claims his reputation was “seriously damaged” and that the article caused him to suffer “considerable hurt, distress and embarrassment”.

He also claimed that the paper had not given a “substantive response” to a letter of claim dated 20 July until 5 September 2012.

Roberts also highlighted the fact that he had told the paper the allegation was false.

The claim form said: “The failure of [The Sunday Times] to apologise to [Roberts] for having made the allegation or to take any steps whatsoever in order to mitigate the harm to [Roberts’] reputation. This has only served to continue to further exacerbate the substantial injury to his feelings.”

The Sunday Times declined to comment.

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