Telegraph owners to escape £1m libel bill

By Dominic Ponsford

The Barclay brothers won’t be footing the £1 million-plus bill incurred after their paper The Daily Telegraph decided to settle its long-running libel battle with MP George Galloway.

Because the start of the dispute predates their July 2004 purchase of Telegraph Group, most of the costs for both sides, expected to come to just over £1 million, and Galloway’s damages of £150,000 will be picked up by previous owners Hollinger International.

Costs for the Telegraph’s appeal, which the Barclays will have to pay, were estimated by one legal source to be in the region of £50,000.

The Telegraph versus Galloway legal battle dates back to April 2003 when reporter David Blair found documents in the Iraq foreign ministry that alleged Galloway had received payments of more than £375,000-a-year from the Saddam Hussein regime. The paper had called Galloway a "greedy crook" who used Hussein’s cash to fund a luxury lifestyle.

Galloway successfully sued the Telegraph for libel, and, in December 2004, won damages of £150,000.

The paper had relied on the "Reynolds" libel defence of qualified privilege — not that the allegations were true, but that the paper was responsibly reporting on a matter of public interest.

The Telegraph has declined to comment on the reasons for not appealing the case further to the House of Lords and possibly Europe. But Press Gazette understands that executives are keen to draw a line under an affair which had been a time-consuming diversion for senior staff.

Media law expert Caroline Kean, from Wiggin, said: "There’s a time when at a practical level you have to say ‘I’ll save my battle for another day’. Damages were £150,000, so it’s totally out of proportion to keep going and going. It isn’t a case where fundamentally there’s a major point of principle.

"The paper sees it as a story that should have been told and the courts said it is a story that should have been told, but that the Telegraph was wrong not to put its last point to Galloway, that he had used the sums of money in question for personal gain."

In their ruling the Appeal Court judges did not challenge the authenticity of the Iraq foreign ministry documents and accepted the Telegraph was "entitled to express its own views, its own conclusions and its own interpretation"

of the papers.

But they agreed with the original trial judge that the Telegraph had "adopted and embellished" what was in the original documents by suggesting Galloway had used oil money to fund his lifestyle.

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