Sally Bercow libelled Lord McAlpine, High Court rules

24 May 2013

11:14 AM

24 May 2013

11:14 AM

Welcome, Sally Bercow, to the naughtiest club in town: the Libel Club. The colourful Mrs Bercow has often got it in the neck from the press; what with her demimondaine ways and penchant for wearing bed clothes. But few things can endear one more to Grub Street than being found guilty of libel.

Sally is covered in ordure at present, while weathering some dismal ‘innocent face’ banter from all and sundry. But, once the schadenfreude has abated and the damages paid, Fleet Street’s libel reformers may adopt her case for their cause. Stranger things have happened. Indeed, there is already rumbling on the wires.

In the meantime, vindicated Lord McAlpine’s solicitor sounds a clear and concise note: ‘Mr Tugendhat’s judgment is one of great public interest and provides a warning to, and guidance for, people who use social media.’

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Show comments
  • Radford_NG

    Are we to take it that no jury is involved in civil libel cases?If so,then it should be.

  • EwanUzarmi

    Shame Sally doesn’t have a friends sensible enough to warn her ‘you won’t win this one, treacle’

  • terregles2

    Nothing worse than when thieves fall out..

  • William Reid Boyd

    Of course Sally libelled Lord McAlpine under present law. The question is whether the law should be changed so that the twitterratti can make fair comment on Twitter.

    A remark like “It’s that revolting pedo Lord X f*** him” should deservedly remain libellous, but I think a neutral remark such as “Is it really Lord X?” or even “Everyone’s saying it’s Lord X!” ought not to be libellous. Sally’s remark would still be borderline libellous, fatally weakened by “innocent smile”, the equivalent of an arched eyebrow at an elegant dinner part, but at least she would have some defence of “fair comment” over what was really no more than a rather foolish slightly malicious remark of the sort we all, well me certainly, regularly make late at night possibly a glass too far (vintage in vino veritas).

    I’m entirely unable to understand how Iain Overton, author of the original ” very senior Conservative pedo” tweet emerges from all this unscathed.

  • John Edwards

    I am always curious as to why Lord McAlpine has never sued David Icke since he named him as a paedophile in 1998?

    • William Reid Boyd

      Because David Icke is nuts and that introduces difficulties in extracting damages. It might also be, I don’t know, that Lord McAlpine is a fairly compassionate sort who prefers not to pursue nutters.

      He might well be moved to have a go at you though … 🙂

  • David Lindsay

    If the current judicially imposed arrangement on privacy were enacted into the statute law, but with the burden of proof in libel actions placed on the plaintiff, then who could object to that? And why?

    Making the privacy law statutory as the price of reversing the burden of proof in libel actions. That would be the deal. The corporate media cannot expect their own way all the time. Least of all now.

    As for freedom of information, repeal the Official Secrets Acts. Just do it.

    • jjjj


  • AJ

    Clearly there was innuendo but the most that can be inferred from her comment was that a lot of people thought Lord McAlpine was the person mentioned in the BBC report. Even if stated openly cannot see why this should be libellous. I have to assume given the judgement that it is. Treating an observation that a huge number of people believe something that is libellous as libellous when it expresses no opinion on the veracity of the believe is unjust. It cannot be libellous because the persons reputation cannot be damged at that point and it is factually accurate.

    • GUBU

      Indeed, m’lud.

      When compared to this drivel, Mr Justice Tugendhat’s judgement deserves a Crystal Mark.

  • splotchy

    It *was* libel, albeit by innuendo, and given it was already ‘out there’, I’d possibly feel a bit sorry for her, were it not for:
    a/ her initial ‘apology’ appeared to be non-existant – I recall instead a few indignant tweets from her about being ‘bullied’ by Lord McA’s lawyers, and
    b/ her disingenuous defence that her tweet was a genuine face-value question.
    Lord McA was innocent, and perhaps fortunate that he was alive at the time of this furore and willing/able to defend his good name as the slur might have otherwise stuck. Those who appear to be defending Bercow’s ‘free speech’ should imagine how they would feel were they to be publicly accused of paedophilic assault, especially if they were old and frail. He’s donating his libel awards to charity, so good for him.

  • jjjj

    I’m sorry, but I find her quite attractive to the eye…bewitching even…

    • Wessex Man

      yea, pity that she seems to not to have a brain.

      • jjjj

        With her assets and charms she need not a brain.

        • Wessex Man

          To bewitch and bedazzle believe me she needs a brain, or maybe not.

  • JabbaTheCat


    • jjjj


  • itdoesntaddup

    May she now have eyes to see and tongue to speak as the House is pleased to direct her, not being the servant of cheap popularity contests.

  • thanksdellingpole


    • GUBU

      I think ‘beard’ would be more accurate…

      • thanksdellingpole

        The comment was more inspired by that scene in With Nail and I

        • GUBU

          A fine film. She’s still a beard.

          • thanksdellingpole

            Grant’s a leftie slime ball, but one has to separate art from the artist.

    • The Red Bladder

      A novel way of commenting on a piece about a libel case – libeling the defendant!

  • sir_graphus

    Why would libel reformers take up her case, except that she is in the “in” crowd.
    Surely protecting people from false accusations of paedophilia are exactly what the libel laws are there for.

    • AJ

      She made no accustaion even by innuendo.

      What she implied was that many people believed he was the peson in the report. At the point where her comment made sense she could not libel hime because vast number sof people already believed or at leats were awre of the accusation. Preventing comments on mass believes, even mistaken libellous ones, serves no purpose. It cannot preserve a reputation but will prevent open debate and discussion.

      • sir_graphus

        I think she knew what she was doing, and as a result of her activity, the libel against Lord McAlpine was spread much wider.That’s why the case went against her. If the law were any other way it would be a considerable loophole which would greatly assist malign accusations.
        But the problem with the libel laws are nothing to do with her case; the trouble is that libel cases are so enormously expensive that only the rich and large corporations can afford to fight them. Thus journalists and others who seek to expose wrongdoing (a service of essential public benefit) cannot do this, because the libel case will take their house.

      • shanganagh

        Your parents should sue your English teacher.

      • iviv44

        Not innuendo? Have you read the judgement?

    • JamesdelaMare

      Graphus – If you want to “protect” people from false accusations of paedophilia, then it is sufficient for the accused simply to demonstrate that he is not and was not a paedophile. That can be done relatively simply without dragging somebody through the courts and working up a libel case with all the vast legal profiteering involved.

      In this instance, as I remember, the suspect paedophile was a deceased realtive of MacAlpine, so there was seemingly carelessness by Mrs Bercow over the identity. Nonetheless there should be no reason at all why such a minor error should be so expensive and vindictively judged upon by a court. The quoted comment by MacAlpine’s solicitor that the judgment provides a warning to those who use social media should also be taken as a warning to the courts to stop their relentless and undue curtailment of individual freedoms before the public contempt for the entire self-protecting system boils over.

      • salieri

        What, ‘relatively simple’ to demonstrate that one has not committed a criminal or immoral act? To whom would you prove it, and how could you ever prove it? And what process would you suggest – a full page ad in all the papers? How would you avoid actually repeating and aggravating the libel? Isn’t the whole purpose of the court process to achieve all those things impartially, authoritatively and finally?

        Which is ‘vindictive’? The court or the malicious accuser? And which do you think is worse for someone falsely accused of a vile crime – to drag someone through the courts or to be dragged through the gutters?

        • JamesdelaMare

          Salieri – Proving somebody guilty is what the police are doing, or trying to do, all the time. If they are not proved guilty, or there is no evidence of criminality, then they are deemed innocent. It’s exactly the kind of highly emotive comment that you’ve submitted that stirs up the courts and lawyers (and politicians) over minor issues so that huge sums of money can become involved, and civil freedoms are lost. Idiotic!

          Try thinking through intelligently a process where the objective in law is not to gain sums of money where no money has been lost – or where the proceedings will excite public interest that had not previously existed. I’m no fan of Mrs Bercow but her utterly unimportant comment certainly didn’t justify a judge lashing out a vindictive decision or the immense cost of the legal proceedings. This country seems to have lost all sense of proportion these days. A similar piece of legal stupidity happened a few years ago over Nikolai Tolstoy and Toby Low.

          • salieri

            You avoid my question: by what means and in what manner do you propose people should prove their own innocence? You invite me to think intelligently through a process without beginning to indicate what that process might be.

            • JamesdelaMare

              Salieri – If the police had issued a clear statement early in their investigations that Lord McAlpine was not and never had been a suspected paedophile, and rumours that he was a suspect were totally incorrect, then the fantastically expensive nonsense of a libel action should have been avoided. If Mrs Bercow had understood clearly, as the police must have and others had, that the suspect may have been a deceased relation of Lord McAlpine, then the lawyers would not have become involved and McAlpine might have had the sense not to go to law.

              We need a more practical down-to-earth approach to problems than constantly paying lawyers to add to the whole bloated body of case law of this country’s wretched “justice” system. In the other case I referred to, both Aldington and Tolstoy were sucked into the libel nonsense and both were nearly bankrupted. For what? The money went to the lawyers!