Labour MP Martyn Jones today won £5,000 libel damages from the Mail on Sunday over a claim that he subjected a young Westminster security guard to a foul-mouthed outburst when asked for his pass.
Jones, who has held Clwyd South for 20 years, bowed his head over his clasped hands as a High Court jury returned its majority verdict after nearly a day of deliberation.
- November 24, 2020
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He had told the jurors he felt “anger and disgust” when he saw the claim in the Mail on Sunday that he had twice told Chris Ham to “f*** off” and was shouting and swearing at the top of his voice.
His QC, Ronald Thwaites, said the newspaper had blown up a “trivial” exchange between the 60-year-old MP and Mr Ham into a “full-scale international incident”.
He told Mr Justice Eady that the May 2006 article was a “grotesque distortion of the truth”.
Jones said that when Ham asked for the pass, he only said: “I don’t give a s*** what you are. You should know who Members of Parliament are,” before showing his pass.
He regretted swearing and apologised later but, like many MPs, he feared passes could be copied if they were seen and that it was better for security to identify MPs by their faces.
Ham, 21, said he had never seen Jones until he “politely” asked for his pass on a day when there was heightened security because of Prime Minister’s Question Time.
He was left “shocked and flustered” by his response.
“His immediate response was to tell me to f*** off and that he was a Member of parliament.
“I again asked politely, persisted. His second response was ‘f*** off, you should know who I am, you don’t have the right to question me, you are only security’.”
He said Jones’s tone became more aggressive although he “reluctantly” produced his pass at the third request.
“I wouldn’t say he was shouting but he was sort of dismissing me, waving his arm at me.”
Ham, a Metropolitan Police security officer working at Westminster, was giving evidence for Associated Newspapers, which denied libel and said its story was substantially true.
Its QC, Bernard Livesey, said that, for all Ham knew, “Mr Jones could have been a terrorist wearing a suit or just someone wandering around trying to get information he shouldn’t have access to”.
Even onJones’s account of events, the MP had verbally abused Ham.
Thwaites had said that the article, “Labour MP in foul-mouthed outburst at police guard”, contained a dozen untruths and was a vindictive attack on a hard-working conscientious career politician.
Jones was also claiming damages over an item in the newspaper’s Black Dog column a week later, which called him “ludicrous” and claimed his excuse for not wearing his pass was that if al Qaida got in, they would have been able to identify him.
Afterwards, Jones said: “I am absolutely delighted because this case was not about money – it was about clearing my name.
“I am not the kind of person described in the Mail on Sunday’s article.
“It has been a terrible four days but worth every minute because my constituents now know for sure that I did not do what was said in the article.”
He added: “This is the second time in three years that the Mail on Sunday has lied about me in print.
“This article was a political attack against me as a Labour MP by a right-wing newspaper. It is as simple as that.
“Today, however, the nasty, vindictive political games of the Mail on Sunday have been rumbled.
“They deliberately exaggerated the incident in a crude attempt to ruin my integrity. They have failed in doing so.
“I have always denied the allegations made by the Mail on Sunday and today justice has been done.
“I did not take this to court to gain financial damages. I took this case to court to expose the lies that the Mail on Sunday told about me, and to reveal the extent to which they will go to attack a Labour MP.”
The newspaper will have to pay the costs of the action, which are unofficially estimated at up to £300,000.