Telegraph to appeal Galloway verdict

By Dominic Ponsford

MP George Galloway’s £1.25 million libel victory against the Daily Telegraph has been condemned as a “a blow to the principle of freedom of expression” by the broadsheet. 

The paper has already signalled its intention to take the case to the Court of Appeal. The bill for the Telegraph equates to £150,000 damages plus an estimated £1.1 million costs.

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The Daily Telegraph failed in its bid to persuade judge Mr Justice Eady that it had the defence of qualified privilege for publishing accusations that Galloway took payments from the Saddam Hussein regime.

The so-called Reynolds defence rested on proving that the paper took reasonable care in publishing and that it gave Galloway sufficient opportunity to respond to the allegations. Justice Eady’s contention was that this was not the case.

In a statement Telegraph executive editor Neil Darbyshire said: “The Daily Telegraph published genuine documents that emanated from the highest levels of the Iraqi government and raised questions about the activities of Mr Galloway, a British Member of Parliament.

“If, as we understand the Court to have held, English law offers no real protection to newspapers that publish documents which raise such important questions about the conduct of an elected Member of Parliament, then freedom of expression is an illusion.

“Following the discovery of the documents, an investigation into Mr Galloway has been launched by Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards…

“It has never been The Daily Telegraph’s case to suggest that the allegations contained in the documents are true. These documents were published by us because their contents raised very important questions at a crucial stage of the war against Iraq. The Daily Telegraph did not and could not perform a detailed investigation into their contents. Newspapers have neither the power nor the resources to carry out such an investigation in a war-torn country. The Iraq Survey Group took over 18 months to investigate the abuse of the “oil-for-food” programme.

“When we published the documents we did so believing that their contents were important, should be made public and would in due course be investigated by the proper authorities. The Daily Telegraph will co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Commissioner’s inquiry.

“Finally, Mr Galloway and his counsel alleged that The Daily Telegraph published these documents as part of a witch hunt against him. This is nonsense. We did not go looking for documents specifically about Mr Galloway. Our reporter, David Blair, was looking for any documentary evidence of Saddam’s links with the West before the war.

“If these documents had named any other British MP as apparently receiving funds from Saddam, our coverage would have been, in effect, the same.

“Equally, we believe that if any other newspaper had uncovered these documents, it would have published them.”

For full further reports and analysis see Press Gazette 10/12/04.




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