Tribune to pay donation after libelling Sir Peter Vardy

Businessman Sir Peter Vardy yesterday accepted a donation to charity in settlement of his libel action over a claim that his schools taught creationism.

Vardy, knighted in 2001 for services to education, had sued the publisher of Tribune magazine and its editor Chris McLaughlin.

His solicitor, Jonathan Coad, told Justice Tugendhat at the High Court that in 1987 Sir Peter set up the Vardy Foundation to assist in the education of young people in the most socio-economically deprived parts of the UK through sponsorship of the City Technology College initiative.

Three of the schools with which it was concerned were awarded excellent Ofsted and HMI inspection reports and the fourth was rated as good.

In October 2009, Tribune published an article which said the Foundation was imposing fundamentalist beliefs on children, who were being taught in biology lessons that evolution was as much a “theory” as creationism and that everything was designed by a God creator as stated literally in Genesis, Coad said.

None of these allegations was correct, he said, adding that the schools founded by the Foundation were not faith schools, let alone ones which advocated creationism.

“The schools sponsored by the Vardy Foundation teach an entirely orthodox syllabus, including its science teaching,” Coad said.

“Sir Peter Vardy has specifically requested that at each Ofsted inspection, inspectors look for creationism anywhere within the curriculum of the schools sponsored by the Vardy Foundation, and on each occasion inspectors found no evidence at all of creationist teaching.”

Both Tribune Publications and McLaughlin now accepted the allegations were untrue and have apologised and paid a sum by way of damages to a charity of Sir Peter’s choice.

They have also accepted that Vardy was not a creationist, and still less had sought to advance the teaching of creationism, Coad added.

Counsel Eloise Power said the magazine accepted that the aims both of Sir Peter and the Foundation were to promote the education of the underprivileged and that Sir Peter had not sponsored schools for any other reason.

After the hearing Vardy said in a statement: “I have been saddled with this unwarranted and wholly untrue ‘creationist’ label for many years.

“I felt forced to take this action in the High Court of Justice to set the record straight and finally lay the matter to rest.

“These allegations were not based on any fact and have been extremely damaging.

‘The court action reflects the gravity of the matter and the seriously damaging effect that such untruths can cause.

“The Tribune claimed that the schools teach ‘creationism’ as authentic scientific theory.

‘They have acknowledged this to be untrue and have apologised. Indeed, to illustrate how wrong they were science education at Emmanuel College has just been declared ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

“I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a Christian and that the schools I founded have a Christian ethos.

“But I have never attempted to impose my beliefs on anyone and to suggest that I used the schools as some kind of indoctrination centre undermines their exceptional standards and is insulting to staff, students and their parents alike.

“After 20 years as a sponsor of education I recently transferred the schools to the United Learning Trust safe in the knowledge that they will continue to thrive.

“All of our schools have huge waiting lists, which proves how popular they are with parents and students, and I am extremely proud of the positive contribution my Foundation has made to the lives of thousands of young people.”

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