McAlpine settles abuse libel actions
Lord McAlpine, who was wrongly implicated in child sex abuse allegations, has settled his libel actions against the BBC and ITV.
The former Tory Party treasurer was not at London’s High Court to hear solicitors for the broadcasters apologise unreservedly for the damage and distress caused.
His lawyers confirmed the agreements involved the payment of £185,000 (€227,000) in damages by the BBC and £125,000 (€153,700) by ITV, together with very substantial costs.
The peer’s counsel, Edward Garnier QC, told Mr Justice Tugendhat the action followed a Newsnight broadcast in November about the alleged sexual abuse of boys at the Bryn Estyn children’s home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.
Two victims claimed they suffered abuse “at the hands of a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years”.
The item did not name Lord McAlpine, but the programme-makers intended him to be the target of the allegations, he added.
“Unfortunately, in fact disastrously, names had already been named. Throughout the day on November 2nd, Newsnight’s forthcoming report had been widely trailed on the internet.
“Furthermore, Lord McAlpine’s name had been linked to it. In the aftermath of Newsnight’s broadcast, Lord McAlpine was widely identified as the subject of Newsnight’s allegations.
“In short, Newsnight made the most serious of defamatory allegations about Lord McAlpine, tarring him as a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing vulnerable young boys living in care. Those allegations are untrue.
“As the BBC now accepts, they were utterly baseless. These disgraceful allegations should never have been made.”
Sir Edward said that, before the broadcast, the BBC had not even contacted Lord McAlpine. If it had, he would have told them he had never been to the home in question.
Furthermore, it was only after the programme aired that interviewee Steve Messham was shown a photo of Lord McAlpine. Having seen it, he immediately withdrew his allegations and apologised.
Counsel said Lord McAlpine had nothing but sympathy for Mr Messham and for other boys who suffered abuse.
He wished it to be known that he generally held the BBC in great esteem. But Newsnight had broadcast the most highly defamatory allegations about him, which had not only caused him great distress and embarrassment, but had affected him to his soul.
Sir Edward said six days after the Newsnight broadcast, ITV’s This Morning included an interview with prime minister David Cameron carried out by presenter Phillip Schofield, which referred to the Bryn Estyn scandal.
Schofield passed Mr Cameron a card containing a list of names which were continually associated with the allegations that he said he had found on the internet.
Counsel said ITV and Schofield accepted Lord McAlpine’s name appeared on the list, which was briefly visible to viewers.
Lord McAlpine considered Schofield’s statements and actions amounted to an encouragement, albeit unintended, to viewers to perform similar internet searches and thus caused other people to discover the link between the seriously defamatory allegations and himself.
On the same day as the broadcast, both ITV and Schofield publicly apologised, but no public apology was made directly to Lord McAlpine until November 22nd.
Notwithstanding that the allegations against him were shown to be false, Lord McAlpine understandably remained extremely hurt and distressed by the broadcast and was not prepared to allow it to remain unchallenged, he added.
Solicitor David Attfield, for the BBC, said it withdrew the allegations unreservedly and apologised sincerely for the great damage and distress caused.
“Following the broadcast of Newsnight on November 2, the BBC realised that it had committed a grave error in broadcasting the report complained of. The disgraceful allegations should never have been aired.
“As a result, a week later, on Newsnight on the evening of November 9, the programme issued an apology to Lord McAlpine. It has also undertaken an internal review to look into what went wrong.
“The BBC is pleased to be able to take this opportunity to apologise to Lord McAlpine before the court. It accepts that it cannot put the clock back and
wishes to express its genuine remorse for the harm it has caused him.”
Ian Felstead, for ITV and Schofield, said they fully accepted and wanted publicly to state that there was no truth whatsoever in the allegations against Lord McAlpine.
“Mr Schofield sought to paraphrase a question that had previously been raised in the House of Commons and the fact that the list was briefly visible to viewers was entirely inadvertent, a mistake immediately acknowledged by ITV and Mr Schofield.
“Neither ITV nor Mr Schofield intended to make the allegations against Lord McAlpine referred to by counsel but they do accept full responsibility for the broadcast and the harm and distress caused to Lord McAlpine as a result.”
On behalf of them both, he apologised unreservedly.