Former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth has launched a legal action against the Daily Mail over a story accusing him of being personally responsible for the failure to rescue a British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates.
Ainsworth, the Labour MP for Coventry North East, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers for defamation over an article it ran in December 2009 about his handling of the abduction of Paul and Rachel Chandler.
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The article, headed ‘Bob the bungler blew TWO chances to save couple held by pirates”, suggested Ainsworth was guilty of gross incompetence – the writ states – for failing to initiate a rescue of the Chandlers after they were seized in October 2009 while sailing their yacht off the Seychelles.
The Chandlers, a retired couple from Kent, were eventually freed in November after being held captive in Somalia for 13 months. It was widely believed at the time a ransom was paid for their release.
According to a writ filed at the High Court by law firm Carter-Ruck, Ainsworth says the Mail suggested he twice ordered heavily armed and trained Royal Marines in a ship near the pirates to stand down, blowing opportunities to rescue the couple.
The story appeared alongside a photo of Rachel Chandler being menaced at gunpoint, and another of Ainsworth captioned ‘Pressure: Bob Ainsworth”.
In the legal papers filed to the court, Ainsworth says he launched his libel action because the Mail’s story seriously damaged his reputation, and caused him severe distress and embarrassment.
Ainsworth is seeking aggravated damages, saying the Mail shifted the blame initially heaped on the Royal Navy for not attacking the pirates to him.
As a result of this shift readers posted offensive comments about Ainsworth on the paper’s website, the writ claims.
The day prior to publication a journalist contacted the Ministry of Defence which then emailed a statement denying Ainsworth’s involvement with operational decisions, the writ says.
The paper reported the allegations about Ainsworth as if it was a matter of established fact and without mentioning the statement, the writ claims.
The paper also failed to mention that the MoD said the claim against Ainsworth was untrue, the legal papers added.
Ainsworth says Associated Newspapers has yet to provide any substantive response to his complaint. He is also seeking an injunction banning repetition of the allegations.
“A national newspaper that goes to many millions published this story that was damaging and completely untrue and did that in the face of having a clear denial,’Ainsworth told Press Gazette last night. He said that the Mail had been ‘at the least careless with my reputation, at the worst reckless with it”.
“It would be very nice if as the result of this action I could get an explanation as to their motives,” he added. “I’m not sure I’ll be successful but it’s one of the things I’d like to achieve.”