'Vindicated': libel judge clears News of the World in Beckham kidnap case

By Dominic Ponsford and Roger Pearson

After
receiving a “repeated kicking” for nearly two years, the News of the
World said its November 2002 story of a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham
was finally vindicated by a libel judgment on Wednesday.

Mr
Justice Eady has rejected the claim by Romanian criminal and illegal
immigrant Alin Turcu that he was “set up” by NoW investigations editor
Mazher Mahmood. But because Turcu is penniless the paper will still
have to pay its own costs of up to £500,000 for defending the case.

NoW
editor Andy Coulson said: “This is a categorical vindication not just
of this story but of Mazher Mahmood, and his team’s methods.

“The
bottom line is that since June 2003 we have taken a real and repeated
kicking over this story, both from the Crown Prosecution Service and
from other media, who claimed it was at best top spin, and at worst
that we manufactured the story. This judge – who is the first to have
seen all the evidence available – has decided that nothing could be
further from the truth.”

Turcu, whose real name is Bogdan Maris,
left the UK facing deportation after the trial over the kidnap plot
collapsed in June 2003. He claimed the NoW story was “an elaborate
set-up” and sued under a no win, no fee arrangement. But Eady revealed
in his judgment that Turku was “a petty criminal with a list of
criminal charges or convictions at least in Romania, Germany, Italy and
England” and was also known as “a very intelligent criminal”.

He
accepted News Group’s plea of justification – that the articles were
completely or substantially true – but said: “There may be a good deal
of sloppiness and inaccuracy in what was published.” He said there was
not an explicit plot to kidnap the Beckham children as claimed, the
gang were not “on the brink” of the kidnap and there was no evidence
the Beckham’s Cheshire home was under surveillance. He also said there
was nothing to justify the assertion that Turcu was in charge of
surveillance.

However, he added: “The claimant’s willingness to
participate in apparently genuine discussions about kidnapping Victoria
Beckham, the timing of the operation, and the feasibility of obtaining
several million pounds at short notice is said to be enough to
establish the sting of the libel is substantially true.”

News
Group legal manager Tom Crone said: “The claimant neither turned up nor
even offered a witness statement. The judge made it clear that had he
won he would only have been awarded nominal damages. The flip side of
that is that his lawyer [David Price] would have earned hundreds of
thousands in fees.

“There is something seriously, seriously
flawed in the conditional fee arrangement system. It desperately needs
reform and we hope the Department of Constitutional Affairs will take
due note of the judge’s comments and get on with reforming.”

NoW accused of manipulating photograph

JONATHAN KING COMPLAINS TO PCC

Freed
paedophile Jonathan King has complained to the Press Complaints
Commission, alleging that a photo of him said to be “ogling”

a
young boy in Sunday’s News of the World was manipulated. King was shown
sitting in a deckchair in Hyde Park looking at the boy. The story was
headlined “Pervert in the park”.

In his complaint, King said: “I
submit that the photo was doctored to provide evidence for a story
known to be false, with the malicious intent of deliberately deceiving
the readers.”

He claims on the day the picture was taken in Hyde
Park he was with journalist Nick Hornby, who was making a documentary,
and at only one point did he sit in a deckchair.

He told the PCC
that following the NoW story he returned to the park and had pictures
taken in the exact position he was in the deckchairwhich he has
submitted to the Commission.

“You will see that the background
towards which I was facing when sitting in the chair is clearly totally
different from the background in the News of the World picture… It is
clearly proven that the photo used by the News of the World was
doctored (possibly from two or more) to make it appear that I was
‘ogling an innocent child’.

“If an editor can be fired for
publishing photomontage pictures which he believed to be genuine, how
much more serious is the culture of corruption that sanctions and
encourages such behaviour as the deliberate reconstruction of
pictures?” King added.

A NoW spokesman said King’s allegations of picture manipulation were “absolutely not true”.

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