Thomson slams Barclay brothers ahead of French libel hearing

By Martin Stabe

The editor and media editor of The Times were due in a French courtroom on Thursday to defend a criminal libel action brought against them by the owners of The Daily Telegraph.

David and Frederick Barclay are suing Robert Thomson and Dan Sabbagh over a November 2004 Times article about the Barclays’ business acquisitions headlined "Twins who swoop on owners in distress". The article was part of a critical series of pieces about the Barclays and alleged they bought businesses "on the cheap".

If they are convicted, the pair could face fines of up to €12,000.

The twins may have pursued this case in France because the country’s system is generally quicker, with trials normally lasting no more than a day. It also gives claimants a legally enforceable right to reply. But Thomson has criticised the move, saying: "That we should be in Paris arguing in French over the meaning of words published in English by a British newspaper is more than a little odd.

"It is even more unusual that this criminal case should be brought by the owners of another British newspaper.

"In this week of all weeks, when the issue of press freedom is being debated around the world, for newspaper owners to be resorting to criminal law to resolve a dispute is truly extraordinary.

"This case also has profound consequences for all media organisations, who could be vulnerable to litigation in any country in which their content, online or offline, circulates."

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