West End star wins damages but loses on costs

West End star Simon Bowman will be forced to pay Mirror Group Newspapers around £5,000 despite a successful libel action against the publisher.

Bowman won £4,250 libel damages yesterday over a claim published online by the Daily Mirror that he was the “new man” of actress Hannah Waterman.

Despite the award the Les Miserables leading man has ended up out of pocket as he turned down two offers to settle the case – one for £5,000 and a later one for £10,000.

As the damages Bowman won were less than the offers he rejected he was ordered to pay certain costs incurred. The result is that despite the damages Bowman now has to pay MGN at least £4,750.

Bowman, who plays Jean Valjean in the musical, had complained about an item which appeared on Mirror.co.uk on 6 January which claimed he was involved with Waterman after she split from her husband, former EastEnders actor Ricky Groves.

Justice Eady told the High Court yesterday the item was on the newspaper’s website for just 27 hours as MGN took it down shortly after Bowman’s complaint was received.

On January 11, Bowman’s law firm Schillings demanded £20,000 in compensation, an apology and a statement in open court.

The following day, MGN published an apology on the website stating how Bowman was a family friend of Waterman, that he had been in a serious relationship with someone else for 20 years, and that there was no romantic relationship as it had claimed.

The newspaper publisher then made its first offer of amends but refused to agree to a statement in open court as it had already published an apology.

The case came before Justice Eady because of the dispute over the level of compensation.

In his ruling, the judge said the libel was a “bit of celebrity gossip”, was at the less serious end of the scale, and there was no hard evidence that Bowman’s reputation suffered.

The judge assessed the appropriate starting point for damages at £8,500. He discounted the damages by 50 per cent because of MGN’s willingness to remove the offending words immediately and the “very prompt reliance on the offer of amends regime”.

Bowman was awarded £7,000 in costs up to the date in February when he accepted the offer of £10,000 amends (he then rejected the offer the next day and continued to seek £20,000) but was ordered to pay the £16,000 in costs incurred since. This resulted in him having to pay MGN at least £4,750.

Schillings tried to claim costs totalling more than £58,000, including VAT and counsel’s costs, for the compensation hearing, while MGN had sought less than £20,000 in costs.

After the hearing, an MGN spokesman said: “Today’s judgment exposes to the public the reality of far too many libel actions.

“It started with a mistake by a publisher, which they quickly apologised for, but which was then overtaken by excessive demands for both damages and costs.

“The claimant sought damages almost five times the amount awarded by the court and his lawyers wanted costs of almost 14 times the amount of damages eventually awarded by the judge.

“We are grateful that Justice Eady’s judgment recognises correctly how much the mistake in this case was really worth.

“The case illustrates vividly why urgent reform is needed to control claimant’s legal costs in this area of the law.”

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