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Achieving a hat trick of libel apologies and damages from one article for three eminent Labour peers is something special.
The article "New peers to work harder" in the Independent on Sunday (IOS) (2 April) was a "naming and shaming" piece, listing the alleged worst Labour absentees in the Lords. It featured a photograph gallery containing five photographs, each with a plotted biography, showing "the absent and the dutiful"; four peers allegedly not pulling their weight and one that was.
Two of my three clients, Lords Dixon and Bragg, were featured in the gallery and described as "low profit" and "resting" respectively. The allegations against them were clearly defamatory, but were they true?
I was contacted by an angry Lord Dixon on the Tuesday after publication.
Far from being a bad attendee, he had an attendance record of 92 per cent, with a vote record of 72 per cent.
In response to a letter before action, the IOS put its hands up and agreed to publish an apology on 9 April and pay damages and costs.
Lord Cocks subsequently instructed me over references to him. Although he did not feature in the gallery, the article claimed that he had been conspicuous by his absence from an important vote on Section 28 of the Local Government Act. In fact he was there, but abstained.
As a former chief whip, the allegations were damaging. The IOS agreed to publish an apology on 16 April and pay damages and costs.
Instructions from Melvyn Bragg were next. The IOS had already published his letter on 9 May saying that the article was wrong but he had received no formal apology. The IOS initially sought to argue that the publication of the letter was in full and final settlement. But after protracted negotiations they published an apology on 23 April and paid damages and costs.
The original article had been published on 2 April, and apologies were published on 9 April, 16 April and 23 April on the same page as the original article. Three apologies, three weeks running!