I have been asked by several emailers and callers, including two
radio producers, to provide evidence about my claim that
Express Newspapers (EN) has paid out more in libel
damages in recent times than any other newspaper group.
So I set out yesterday to research EN's extraordinarily dismal
libel record over the past three years. Similarly, I
looked at pay-outs by rival groups.
On the basis of my study, I am confident that Richard Desmond's
titles - the Daily Express and Daily Star with their
Sunday stablemates - top the league.
They have been required to pay many thousands of pounds in damages
plus huge sums in legal costs.
Even I was surprised by the number of occasions on which EN has
been forced to pay damages and issue apologies. It is,
quite simply, scandalous.
I have relied on published accounts that can be found on the net,
so there may be still more cases than appear on the
lengthy list below. (For example, details of one in
2009, involving Michael Winner and the Express have
proved impossible to trace. Help with that and any
further additions are, of course, welcome).
Note that when libel actions are settled it is rare for
the exact amounts of damages to be disclosed. But, after
consulting lawyers, I have no doubt that in almost all
of the cases cited below "substantial damages" means
I chose March 2008 as the starting point because that
was the first giant pay-out to Kate and Gerry McCann. So
March 2008: '550,000 to the McCanns for "utterly false
and defamatory" stories published in all four EN titles
about the disappearance of their daughter, Madeleine.
April 2008: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to Italian
footballer Marco Materazzi after the Star falsely
alleged he had used racist abuse to provoke an attack by
France's Zinedine Zidane.
June 2008: substantial undisclosed damages to Ozzy Osbourne for
false allegations by the Star about his behaviour at an
July 2008: '200,000 to Robert Murat for false allegations about him
by all EN titles during the hunt for Madeleine. (Three
other newspaper groups also paid '200,000 apiece).
July 2008: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to footballer
Andy Cole because the Star falsely accused him of
beating his wife.
October 2008: '375,000 to the so-called "tapas seven", friends of
the McCanns, for false allegations about them after the
disappearance of Madeleine.
December 2008: '45,000 plus costs to Inayat Bunglawala of the
Muslim Council of Great Britain for false claims in the
Express linking him to death threats against Prince
December 2008: damages to Matt Lucas and David Walliams for an
article in the Daily Star Sunday that claimed their TV
series had offended gay groups in the US. In fact, the
named groups did not even exist.
January 2009: substantial undisclosed damages to teenager Kelly
Marshall because the Star falsely claimed she had called
a murderer a hero.
February 2009: substantial undisclosed damages to Pentagon Capital
Management for false allegations in the Sunday Express
about the fund manager's bosses.
June 2009: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to footballer
Michael Owen for claims in the Express that he was
unwanted and about to retire.
June 2009: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to David
Beckham over false claims in the Star that he chatted up
a topless model.
July 2009: '20,000 plus costs to Kate Beckinsale for false claims
in the Express that she had been passed over for a movie
October 2009: undisclosed damages to Sheryl Gascoigne for a
"sensational and highly offensive" story claiming her
financial demands had caused her former husband, Paul,
to relapse into alcoholism.
December 2009: substantial damages plus costs to Earl Spencer and
his daughter for false allegations in the Sunday Express
that they had acted improperly over his divorce from his
second wife, Caroline.
January 2010: substantial damages and costs to Peaches Geldof for a
Star story that falsely implied she was a prostitute.
April 2010: substantial damages to four trustees of a UK charity,
Ummah Welfare Trust, after the Express falsely claimed
it had links to al-Qaeda.
May 2010: substantial damages and costs to comedian Matt Lucas for
a string of "grossly intrusive articles" in the Star
following the death of his former partner.
July 2010: damages and costs to Susan Boyle for a Star story
wrongly alleging she had to be sedated on a flight to
July 2010: '60,000 to the trustees of a charity, Interpal, for an
Express story falsely claiming it supported Hamas.
July 2010: undisclosed damages to actor Mohammed George for an
untrue Daily Star Sunday story accusing him of being
drunk and threatening BBC staff.
October 2010: undisclosed damages to Rockstar Games for an
"entirely false" Star story about the company having
invented a video game based on the exploits of the
gunman Raoul Moat.
November 2010: undisclosed damages and costs to former MP Stephen
Hesford for a false Express report that he had sexually
harassed an employee.
Added to this inglorious inventory are assorted apologies for false
stories secured after legal actions. They include agreed
apologies to Russell Brand, to Sharon Osbourne, to Leon
Jackson, and to Olga Kurylenko. An apology was given to
Sienna Miller for an intrusion into her privacy.
In addition, there were censures by the Press Complaints Commission
(see the PCC website) and several apologies negotiated
by the commission, notably one for publishing a fake
picture of a plane entering an ash cloud and a false
allegation about Heather Mills .
There were also a series of censures by the Advertising Standards
Association (see Daily Express is the Ryanair of Fleet
Street and Desmond enhances his rogue status).
I don't think I need to add any comment. The catalogue of
falsehoods speaks for itself.
Sources: The Guardian/Daily Mirror/Daily Express/Daily Star/Press
Muirhead & Burton