Wednesday 18 October 2017

Landlord of dead architect wins libel damages from eight newspapers

Jan Colley

Joanna Yeates's landlord Chris Jefferies today accepted "substantial" undisclosed libel damages from eight newspapers over allegations made against him over her death.

The retired schoolmaster was not at London's High Court for the settlement of his actions against the publishers of the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Daily Record, the Daily Express, the Daily Star and the Scotsman.

His solicitor, Louis Charalambous, told Mr Justice Tugendhat that "in recognition of the immense distress and damage" caused, they had all agreed to apologise for the "seriously defamatory" allegations made in the wake of the landscape architect's December 2010 death and pay substantial damages.

Mr Charalambous, of Simons Muirhead & Burton, said the newspapers had acknowledged the falsity of the allegations in question which were contained in over 40 articles published in late December 2010 and early January 2011.

Speaking outside court, he added: "Christopher Jefferies is the latest victim of the regular witch hunts and character assassination conducted by the worst elements of the British tabloid media.

"Many of the stories published in these newspapers are designed to 'monster' the individual, in flagrant disregard for his reputation, privacy and rights to a fair trial.

"These newspapers have now apologised to him and paid substantial damages but they do so knowing that once the conditional fee agreement rules are changed next year victims of tabloid witch hunts will no longer have the same access to justice."

Lawyer Bambos Tsiattalou, senior partner at Stokoe Partnership, advised Mr Jefferies following his arrest on December 30 2010 on suspicion of Ms Yeates's murder - he was released on unconditional bail two days later and subsequently released from bail with no further action.

He said today: "We warned the media by letter, immediately following Mr Jefferies' arrest, in the strongest possible terms to desist from publishing stories which were damaging or defamatory.

"We were dismayed that our warnings went unheeded and are pleased that the newspapers, in settling Mr Jefferies' claims, have acknowledged the extent of the damage to his reputation."

Mr Charalambous told the judge Mr Jefferies had taught English at Clifton College for 34 years and was of good character.

He said many of the articles suggested there were strong grounds to suspect that Mr Jefferies had killed Ms Yeates and several went on to allege he had acted in an inappropriate, over-sexualised manner with his pupils in the past and that he invaded the privacy of his tenants in his capacity as a landlord of two flats in the building where he lived.

Some of the articles suggested he was an associate of a convicted paedophile and there were grounds to investigate whether he was responsible for an unsolved murder from 1974.

Mr Charalambous said all the allegations were "entirely untrue".

In particular, the newspapers accepted that Mr Jefferies had nothing to do with Ms Yeates's death, that he helped the police as much as he could and there was no basis for suggesting he had ever acted inappropriately with any pupil during his long and distinguished career as a teacher.

Lawyers for the newspapers told the judge they very much regretted the distress caused and had agreed to pay Mr Jefferies substantial damages and his legal costs.

The offending articles were withdrawn from their websites when the complaint was received.

- A 33-year-old engineer has admitted killing Ms Yeates. Dutchman Vincent Tabak has pleaded guilty to manslaughter but denies murder. Tabak, who lived next door to Ms Yeates, is due to go on trial accused of murder at Bristol Crown Court in October.



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