High Court upholds McAlpine Twitter libel claim against Bercow

The High Court has ruled that Sally Bercow, the wife of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow MP, libelled former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine on social media network Twitter.


The ruling is a loss for Carter Ruck with partner Nigel Tait instructing Ely Place Chambers’ William McCormick QC for Bercow (13 December 2012).

Lord McAlpine turned to RMPI lawyer Andrew Reid to launch a case after Bercow, a prolific Tweeter, posted, “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*”, on Twitter in November last year (15 November 2012).

Today’s ruling concerned the meaning of the words complained of and whether they were defamatory of McAlpine.

Bercow’s posting appeared two days after a BBC Newsnight report wrongly implicated the former Conservative Party treasurer in allegations of sex abuse at Bryn Estyn children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bercow had always denied that the Tweet was libellous.

McAlpine’s case, the judgment states, was that “in their natural and ordinary meaning, and/or in the alternative, by the way of innuendo […] the Tweet meant that he was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care.”

Bercow, however, contended that the question she asked in her Tweet was simply a question. According to the judgment: “She accepts that the question implied that the claimant was trending, but that by itself is entirely neutral, and there is nothing else to be inferred from the question she asked.”

Mr Justice Tugendhat, who was asked to decide the meaning of the Tweet, upheld the claimant’s case, ruling that: “I find that the Tweet meant, in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that the Claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care.

“If I were wrong about that, I would find that the Tweet bore an innuendo meaning to the same effect.”

For the claimant Lord McAlpine

One Brick Court’s Edward Garnier QC leading One Brick Court’s Kate Wilson instructed by RMPI lawyer Andrew Reid

For the defendant Sally Bercow

Ely Place Chambers’ William McCormick QC & David Mitchell instructed by Carter Ruck Partner Nigel Tait