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The publishers of The People are looking to appeal a substantial libel payout after the High Court today ruled that the paper mistakenly labelled Baby P’s father a convicted rapist.
Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) has been ordered to pay the man - referred to only as KC - £75,000 for what his counsel, James Dingemans QC of 3 Hare Court, called “one of the gravest libels imaginable”.
Doughty Street Chambers’ Heather Rogers QC, instructed by MGN in-house solicitor Rhiannon James, immediately tried to lodge an appeal against Mr Justice Bean’s decision. That was rejected, but the publisher’s in-house legal team are now considering taking their case to the Court of Appeal.
KC turned to YVA Solicitors legal executive Mario Economides after The People ran an article on 19 September 2010 that wrongly suggested that the man had a criminal record dating back to the 1970s.
In his ruling, Bean J said: “It is difficult to think of any charge more calculated to lead to the revulsion and condemnation of a person’s fellow citizens than the rape of a 14-year-old girl.”
The starting point was set at £150,000 because of the nature of the allegation and paper’s estimated 1,200,000 readership.
Libel claims have a ’practical ceiling’ of around £264,000 following precedent set in Lillie and Reed v Newcastle City Council and others, after concerns were raised that payouts were dwarfing those made in personal injury cases.
Rogers argued for “no less than” a 50 per cent discount, which was given by the judge. She argues that the impact of the libel was “limited” because very few people knew the man to be Baby P’s father, beyond his uncle and a few friends, who telephoned him on the day of publication.
Dingemans had argued that MGN delayed its apology, which was printed on 14 November 2010, and should therefore face a higher compensation order. However, Bean J said that would be wrong, despite a “clumsy and unfortunate first draft” of the apology.
The payout is among the highest awarded for a libel case in recent years. in 2006 journalist Muhamed Veliu sued a Kosovan newspaper for a report implicating him in the July London bombings. He received £175,000. In 2007 Tunisian opposition leader Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi was awarded £165,000 in libel damages against the global satellite TV channel Al Arabiya.
Baby P died in Tottenham, north London, on 3 August 2007. His mother, Tracey Connelly, her partner Steven Barker and their lodger, Barker’s brother Jason Owen, were all jailed for causing or allowing his death.
Dingemans said the “shocking and appalling” allegations about the natural father were contained in two paragraphs within a crime supplement in The People.