Times counsel slams Ashley Cole action

The Times general counsel Alastair Brett has lambasted the latest tactics employed in footballer Ashley Cole’s libel claim against News International stablemates the News of the World and The Sun.

“I think the world of libel actions has gone stark staring mad,” Brett said.

His comment came as it emerged that Teacher Stern Selby partner Graham Shear has turned to the internet in a search for witnesses to support Cole’s claim for libel and breach of privacy.

Shear filed Cole’s claim at the end of February following newspaper articles alleging that two unnamed Premiership footballers had participated in a “gay sex orgy”.

He has now set up an online questionnaire asking readers if they were aware of the articles, had associated them with a particular person or discussed the articles on the internet.

Shear said: “In any situation like this, one of the things you need to do is assess a relevant group. There are lots of examples of people who have picked up on this.”

The claim says that the articles were arranged in such a way that readers could identify Cole as being one of the footballers referred to, although he was not named. A variety of internet communities later linked Cole’s name to the articles.

Farrer & Co partner Julian Pike is defending the two newspapers against the claims.