Thursday 23 January 2020

Twitter libel: Sally Bercow's tweet about Lord McAlpine ruled libellous

File photos of Sally Bercow (left) and Lord McAlpine (right) as the High Court decided a tweet by the Commons Speaker's wife about the Tory peer was libellous. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photos of Sally Bercow (left) and Lord McAlpine (right) as the High Court decided a tweet by the Commons Speaker's wife about the Tory peer was libellous. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

James Legge

BRITISH Commons speaker Sally Bercow says she is "surprised and disappointed" by the London High Court ruling that her tweet about Tory peer Lord McAlpine was libellous.

The tweet - which read: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*" - appeared in November, two days after the BBC's Newsnight wrongly implicated the former Conservative Party treasurer in sex abuse allegations.

Lawyers for the peer said the tweet sent a "nudge and a wink to readers,” and pointed "the finger of blame" at him during a media frenzy.

McAlpine also reached an agreement with Guardian columnist George Monbiot - who also suggested McAlpine might be the unnamed subject of the story - whereby the writer will work for three charities of his own choice to the value of £25,000.

Monbiot, who quickly apologised for the insinuating tweet, said it was "a remarkable and eminently decent settlement."

During the case, Mr Justice Tugendhat heard that Mrs Bercow also promptly tweeted her apologies, provided letters apologising for the distress caused and making clear that the underlying allegations were untrue, and made an offer to settle the case which had not been withdrawn.

In a statement following the ruling, Mrs Bercow said: "Today the High Court found that my tweet constituted a serious libel, both in its natural meaning and as an innuendo.

"To say I'm surprised and disappointed by this is an understatement. However, I will accept the ruling as the end of the matter.

"I remain sorry for the distress I have caused Lord McAlpine and I repeat my apologies. I have accepted an earlier offer his lawyers made to settle this matter."

There will be another hearing at a later date on the appropriate level of damages, unless the two sides reach a settlement.

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