Pecuniary element of malicious falsehood

A former Tory MP has taken his malicious falsehood claim against The Mirror to the Court of Appeal, reports Roger Pearson

Judgment is now pending in the Court of Appeal in an action centring on the little used laws of malicious falsehood.

Former Tory MP and writer Rupert Allason, who has been involved in a string of settled libel actions brought and conducted by him against a variety of publications, is at the centre of the claim.

Sir Maurice Drake, sitting without a jury, threw out Allason’s malicious falsehood allegations against The Mirror and left the former MP facing a legal bill estimated at around a quarter of a million pounds.

Now Allason, acting for himself against fashionable libel QC Charles Gray, has asked the Court of Appeal to rule that Sir Maurice was wrong to dismiss his claims against MGN, political journalist Andy McSmith – who is now with The Observer – and former Mirror political editor Alastair Campbell.

He alleged that an article which appeared in The Mirror days after the paper settled a libel claim he brought against it in November 1992 was untrue.

The article claimed that 50 MPs had challenged Allason to show his concern for Maxwell pensioners by giving them the estimated £250,000 damages he was said to have won from the paper over articles concerning Robert Maxwell.

Allason said there was no such challenge and that the damages involved were £200,000, not £250,000.

The judge ruled that, as far as MGN was concerned, the article had been false and malicious. But he held that it had not caused “pecuniary damage” – a vital element to malicious falsehood actions – to Allason, and that in those circumstances the claim failed.

In his appeal, Allason argues that he did suffer pecuniary damage as a direct consequence of the article and that in these circumstances he was entitled to a finding that he had been a victim of malicious falsehood.

After the High Court action, Allason said he had been pleased the judge found the article was false and published maliciously and had made the point that there had only been six malicious falsehood actions this century and that they were very hard to prove.