Sex and drugs? All in a day's work
12 January 1998
Daniel Taylor represents many of the UK's more controversial tabloids. Shaun Pye meets the lawyer with perhaps the most intriguing caseload in the profession.
Lovable libel lawyer Daniel Taylor is today exposed as a shameless Coke pedlar. Only seconds after meeting our reporter, Taylor bragged that he could get his hands on an entire can of "Coke", or even "Diet Coke".
And in The Lawyer's exclusive Sunsational expose, we also reveal how Taylor - the News of the World's "Mr Sues of the World" - has collected files about the most sordid sex secrets of Britain's top stars.
Oh go on, admit it... you would love to have Taylor's job - he is also the lawyer for The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times...
Take the 10th of November. Late in the evening, an interesting story came in about Welsh secretary Ron Davies.
Taylor says: "We had seconds to assimilate the information and make a decision about what we could print - a task made more difficult by the convoluted version of events put out by Downing Street throughout the day."
Could the press allege drug abuse, gay sex or both? In the end The Sun went with the gay sex riddle angle - a decision later vindicated by Davies' admission that he had not told the police the full story.
And as a lawyer, how many heads of state have you been sued by? Taylor, with undisguised pride, shows off two writs, one from the Queen and one from Kenneth Kawunda of Zaire, which have been framed and hung on the wall.
In 1993, the Queen objected to The Sun publishing her Christmas speech two days before transmission. Despite the ingenious, but legally tenuous, argument that "it was the same as opening your Christmas presents a bit early", The Sun settled by paying an undisclosed sum to charity.
The case loads of some lawyers can be pretty dull. By contrast, a glance at the familiar names written on the files lining the walls of Taylor's small office prompt recollections of high-profile cases involving sexual perversion, coke problems, bust size and criminal activity.
One entire wall is taken up by boxes marked "Grobbelaar" - the former Liverpool goalkeeper accused of match-fixing by the News of the World, acquitted in the criminal courts and now suing for libel.
"Do you want to see my favourite ever defence?" he asks. Needing little encouragement, Taylor retrieves the file.
In May 1994, Eric Cantona sued The Sun over allegations that he had assaulted fan Tom Doyle outside a Chester hotel. Taylor filed a defence of justification which listed a dozen other "yobbish acts" carried out by Cantona. These included repeatedly throwing balls at various referees, punching his own goalkeeper and the memorable episode of screaming that the French national coach was "a bag of shit".
Shortly before the case was due to reach court, Cantona reacted to being sent off in a game against Crystal Palace by launching a kung-fu-style attack on a member of the crowd. His lawyers quietly dropped the libel action.
Taylor undoubtedly has a wealth of anecdotes. But what is it actually like working for the world's most powerful media organisation?
Working alongside tabloid journalists for 10 years has clearly taught Taylor when to keep his mouth shut. He is paranoid about offending News International and has helpfully prepared a crib sheet of cases which he wants to talk about. And, no doubt, ones he wants to keep quiet about.
For example, how many threats of libel action does The Sun get a week? No comment - such information could influence plaintiffs' tactics in future litigation.
To the suggestion that it could be four or five threats a week he replies: "It's less than you might think... and a tribute to the quality of our journalism."
Does The Sun have a legal war chest and take a calculated number of gambles every year? No comment. Again, such information could influence plaintiffs' tactics in the future.
What are The Sun's tactics in libel litigation? He answers with another anecdote. "The easiest litigation ever was defending an action brought by Cap'n Bob [Robert Maxwell] himself."
The Sun alleged that Maxwell had ordered that The Mirror's Spot the Ball competition, with potential prize money of #1m, "must not cost me #1m". Maxwell served a writ - his last as it transpired - falling off a boat six weeks later.
He is happy to talk generally about libel, recalling with horror the days when winning a libel action was akin to winning the lottery - the record payout was #1.5m awarded to Count Tolstoy (though the case involved no newspapers). "Mind you, I suppose that was fair," muses Taylor thoughtfully. "He was accused of genocide."
Now that juries are told to peg libel awards to personal injury awards and the Court of Appeal can, and does, heavily reduce damages, libel actions are diminishing.
They are also quite predictable. "You get a spate of libel actions whenever there is a big event like elections or the World Cup," he says.
Before Labour's victory last year it was the Tories - remember Jerry Hayes? - who launched a number of actions.
Immediately after the win, the writs came from the new government, most notably from Mohammed Sarwar MP.
Taylor is only slightly more forthcoming when discussing himself. He is a curious hybrid - part lawyer, part reporter. "My job can be as much investigative journalism as law," he says, citing a recent case involving a cosmetic surgeon alleged to have botched an operation.
The case was resolved only at the doors of the court, when Taylor unearthed pre-operation consent forms which he could prove had been forged. The surgeon had written that the victim had no children - in fact she had had a son when she was a teenager.
One libel lawyer who has opposed Taylor in many cases says: "He does get very passionate about his issues, he takes cases to heart. I've had angry letters and thought, is he writing this just as a lawyer?"
Perhaps conscious of this image, Taylor spells out his greatest legal achievements. When the now-defunct Today newspaper published the previous convictions of two men arrested for an IRA murder, Taylor had the seemingly unanswerable task of defending the charge of contempt.
He argued that because the trial was scheduled so long after the piece appeared, the jury would be unable to remember the article. He won.
Generally, he is considered by his peers as "a robust performer" and "pragmatic". And everyone agrees that he has, well, a really cool job.
After interviewing most lawyers, their light-hearted warning is to watch what you write "or I'll get my lawyers onto you".
When I suggest that Taylor can go one better and can get his journalists onto me, he laughs. It has probably crossed his mind.
At this point our reporter made his excuses and left.
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