The High Court this week heard that Labour MP Shahid Malik was ‘unfairly hounded’by the Dewsbury Press.
The MP for Dewsbury claims the weekly paper published accusations from a rival that he was an ‘extremist’running a ‘military campaign’in the May 2006 local elections to persuade Asian voters to support their ‘Muslim brothers”.
The libel claims centre on a letter sent to the paper by Tory candidate Jonathan Scott in the wake of the election, in which he lost his seat to Labour, and an interview with Mr Scott a week later.
Opening the case before a jury at London’s High Court, Malik’s counsel Adam Wolanksi said: ‘He brings this case not as a Government minister trying to make political points but as a citizen who has repeatedly and unfairly been hounded by bullies in the press, and comes here to ask for a verdict from you in his favour so he can demonstrate to the world that the ugly and vicious things which these defendants have accused him of are untrue.’
He added that his client opposes extremism in all its forms.
Wolanksi said that, in the letter, Scott alleged ‘physical intimidation and verbal abuse’by Malik’s ‘cohorts’at a polling station in the Savile Town district, and branded Malik a ‘left wing extremist”. He wrote that Malik had convinced local Asians to vote for Labour on the grounds that its candidates were ‘Muslim brothers”.
Wolanksi continued: ‘We say that this is a very nasty letter written by a very angry man.”
He said it bore the defamatory meaning that Malik had broken the law by organising gangs of Asian thugs to disrupt voting and threaten voters.
He added: ‘We say this letter alleges that because he did those things, Mr Malik is a racist and a dangerous extremist who is unfit to hold public office as an MP.”
Wolanksi claimed there was no attempt to contact Malik prior to publication and that, when his client sought an apology and a retraction, he was offered only a right to reply.
The defendants, publisher Newspost Ltd, editor Danny Lockwood and Scott, all deny libel and are pleading justification and fair comment.
Their counsel, Jonathan Crystal, said Savile Town residents had told Tory canvassers they had been told to vote Labour for their Muslim brothers.
He claimed that phone records showed Malik made 27 calls relating to this activity, and that, on the night of the election, he took up position at the polling station with two ‘lieutenants’– adding this was ‘part of his military machine”.
He said Malik’s solicitors did not complain until July, by which time seven positive stories had been published about Malik in the paper, and Malik had himself submitted an article to it.
Crystal added that this apparently ‘brutalised’politician was ‘working with Mr Lockwood and his newspaper on photo shoots and positive stories promoting him as a politician, and submitting an article for inclusion in its pages”.
He said the case raised three issues: the right of Malik to his reputation, the right of an independent newspaper to debate local issues and the issue of accountability of politicians.
Crystal told the jury: ‘If Mr Malik was responsible for this election campaign, which we say he was, then what took place went on in his name.
‘At the end of the day, when you’ve seen the generals, the lieutenants, the infantry, the privates, the foot soldiers, we will invite you to say that, when you look at the letter and the article, it is Jonathan Scott’s comment on what he experienced and it is his honest comment, and what was said there was true.”
The case continues.