Times Newspapers ordered to pay £180k damages, £500k costs in libel battle

The High Court has ordered the Sunday Times to pay £180,000 damages to former Conservative Party treasurer Peter Cruddas over allegations he profited from setting up meetings with the Prime Minister David Cameron.

Slater & Gordon senior principal Jeremy Clarke-Williams instructed two silks to take the case to the High Court for Cruddas, 5RB’s Desmond Browne QC and Matthew Nicklin QC.

Times Newspapers was named as a defendant alongside the two Insight reporters, Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake. Bates Wells & Braithwaite partner Rupert Earle, instructed for the newspaper, also brought in two heavyweight silks, Richard Rampton QC of One Brick Court and Doughty Street’s Heather Rogers QC.

As well as being ordered to pay £180,000 in damages, including £15,000 for aggravated damages, the defendants have been told that they must make an interim costs payment of £500,000. It is understood that the final costs bill for Cruddas could top £1m, making it one of the most expensive libel battles of recent times.

The Times is planning to appeal the ruling, which was handed down this morning by Mr Justice Tugendhat.

The claim was launched in July 2012 after a story appeared in the Sunday broadsheet in March of that year, claiming that Cruddas was corrupt and willing to act in breach of UK electoral law by accepting foreign donations. Cruddas was subsequently forced to resign from his post.

Tugendhat J today said that the two reporters knew the articles to be false, adding: “They did have a dominant intention to injure Mr Cruddas and they expressed delight when they learnt that they had caused his resignation.”

The judge also found that the journalists repeatedly misled their editors about their justification for pursuing the meeting with Cruddas and for using subterfuge against him.

The judge said: “It is very surprising that the journalists should so consistently and seriously have misled the editor as to the basis on which they sought authorisation for the use of subterfuge.”

Making the award Tugendhat J said: “It may be a small consolation to him that the trial has received almost no publicity in the media, so far as I am aware… But that makes it all the more important that the award of damages should be one that will receive publicity.

“In my judgment the sum which is necessary and proportionate to mark the vindication that Mr Cruddas is entitled to, and compensate him for his distress and humiliation is £180,000. That includes £15,000 for aggravated damages.”

For the claimant Peter Cruddas

Slater & Gordon senior principal Jeremy Clarke-Williams instructed 5RB’s Desmond Browne QC, Matthew Nicklin QC and Victoria Jolliffe

For the defendants (1) Jonathan Calvert (2) Heidi Blake (3) Times Newspapers

Bates Wells & Braithwaite partner Rupert Earle, instructing One Brick Court’s Richard Rampton QC, Doughty Street’s Heather Rogers QC and Aidan Eardley of One Brick Court