I love English and Welsh libel

F**k Off, S**t and P**t, all in the same story

I love English and Welsh libel. For one, I earn part of my living training journalists and publishers in its pitfalls. For another it throws up such weird cases.

The latest is the MP, Martyn Jones, who was accused of telling a security guard to F**k Off, twice.

The MP, said the Mail on Sunday (MoS), had been challenged by a security guard at Portcullis House. “You should know who I am”, he is said to have told the guard.

Despite the evidence of the guard, the MP has just won £5,000 in damages. The Court believed his version of events in which he swore, “I don’t give a s**t who you are, you should know who MPs are.”

MoS went for the high ground defence: justification. The defence claimed the story was true and would prove it. The guard gave his evidence backing up the MoS story.

Justification is always a risky business. Who will the court believe? An MP who has represented Clwyd South for 20 years or a Metropolitan Police security officer? The MP has it.

A small incident between a man wearing a bow tie trying to enter his office building and a security guard on May 10 last year takes up valuable court time and results in damages of just £5,000.

It is clear that the Woolf reforms, attempts a few years ago to speed up civil cases, have failed in this one.

No doubt Jones feels vindicated. The security guard humiliated. The MoS angry. Only the lawyers really won. Both Jones and MoS employed QCs to represent them in the three-day hearing. With QCs charging something in the region of £4,000 a day, that’s quite a bill.

I may love the libel law because it gives me income and entertainment. But it does need a thorough overhaul in its procedures. What Jones did not have to do was to prove that he had been damaged by the MoS story. No claimant has to. It is assumed. But as the old core of libel was damage to reputation, surely that is what the claimant should have to prove.

Who thought any less of a bow-tie wearing 60-year old backbench MP because it was reported that he told a security guard to F**k Off twice? The good people of Clwyd South must be very sensitive if they through any the less of him. As for the rest of us, who cares?

As the case was going on, a blogger called Jones a “pompous arrogant p**t”. That is worth another £2,000 to Jones, I would have thought.

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