Apologise and pay or be sued, McAlpine solicitor tells long list of Twitter users
People who linked the British Conservative peer Lord McAlpine on Twitter to untruthful allegations that he was a paedophile must apologise and pay damages or be sued, his lawyers warned yesterday.
The move by the former Conservative Party treasurer came as British police arrested former BBC disc jockey Dave Lee Travis on suspicion of sexual offences. The early-morning arrest in Bedfordshire was made by detectives investigating hundreds of abuse allegations linked to the late Jimmy Savile.
Nearly 500 people have now come forward to allege that they were abused by Savile during his 30-year career with the BBC, with 200 doing so in the last two weeks alone.
Retweeted 100,000 times
Clearly distraught, Lord McAlpine said BBC television programme Newsnight could have been told that the allegations linking him to abuse at a North Wales care home were wrong by just a telephone call to him.
Saying that paedophiles are “quite rightly figures of public hatred”, Lord McAlpine said: “Suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.”
His lawyers have already put together a list of those who posted Twitter messages alleging that he was a paedophile, or strongly implying that he was – some of which were retweeted 100,000 times.
The list included Sally Bercow, wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, and Guardian journalist George Monbiot, while ITV presenter Phillip Schofield is also targeted.
ITV yesterday said they had disciplined Schofield, who handed a list of alleged suspects live on its Daybreak programme to British prime minister David Cameron.
“We know who you are and we know exactly the extent of what you have done. You must take responsibility. The public are fed up with it,” said Lord McAlpine’s solicitor, Andrew Reid. “Let it be a lesson to everyone that trial by Twitter, trial by the internet, is a very nasty way of hurting people unnecessarily, and it will cost people a lot of money.”
Compensation from BBC
In one tweet, Ms Bercow, who is frequently controversial, said: “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*”. She later apologised for her action. However, yesterday she insisted that the tweet had not been libellous, but rather was “just foolish”, before adding: “Best not comment any more ’til seen a lawyer.”
The BBC is on the verge of agreeing compensation with the 70-year-old peer, who has a “dicky” heart, as he put it. However, he said he believes his reputation will never recover.