Apology for Rushdie over book lies

Author Sir Salman Rushdie came to the High Court in London today to hear apologies from the writers and publishers of a book which they admitted contained falsehoods about his time under police protection.

Former police officer Ron Evans, whose duties included driving for the Special Branch protection squad who looked after Sir Salman when his life was under threat, made an apology through his solicitor on 11 counts of falsehoods.

Mr Justice Teare made a Declaration of Falsity against Evans, his ghost writer Douglas Thompson, and the publisher of On Her Majesty's Service, John Blake Publishing.

Sir Salman, who did not seek damages, said after the hearing: "This has been an unattractive affair.

"My only interest was to establish the truth. I'm happy that the court has made its declaration of falsity and that the authors and publishers have recognised their falsehoods and apologised. As far as I am concerned that's the end of the matter."

David Sherborne, representing Sir Salman, told the judge that Mr Evans met his client while he was living under the strain of a fatwa issued against him by the Iranian regime in 1989 over his book The Satanic Verses.

Mr Evans left the police force following his conviction on nine counts of dishonesty, Mr Sherborne said.

He said Mr Evans's book, and extracts from it published in the Mail on Sunday, contained "many so-called revelations about Sir Salman's home life, his relationship with his wife, son and interactions with police protection officers.

"In addition to the invasion of his privacy which this book represented, of particular concern to the claimant were a series of utterly and demonstrably false statements which it contained."

The statements admitted to be false included:

* That Sir Salman was locked in a room by protection officers because of his objectionable attitude towards them;

* That protection officers who asked Sir Salman if they could buy alcohol from him were charged for the drinks;

:: That Sir Salman sought to profit from the fatwa inviting Muslims to kill him for insulting the prophet Muhammad;

* That he sought and was advised by the Intelligence Services not to publish a book about his experiences;

* That safe houses were provided for Sir Salman at Government expense, rather than having to provide them himself at great personal expense;

* That the relationship between Sir Salman and his protection teams was unprofessional, hostile and unfriendly;

* That Sir Salman was unhygienic;

* That Sir Salman was suicidal and was being supervised or examined by a police psychiatrist;

* That Elizabeth West became his girlfriend and then his wife because of Sir Salman's wealth.

Mr Sherborne said: "Allegations of this nature are, of course, highly defamatory and they were particularly offensive to the claimant because they are simply not true.

"In fact, as a number of his protection officers volunteered to testify in the event that this matter came to trial, Sir Salman conducted himself with dignity and courtesy throughout a time of great personal danger and concern."

Mr Sherborne said John Blake Publishing, Mr Evans and Mr Thompson were being represented by solicitor Theo Solley to confirm that there was no truth in any of the allegations.

"They are also here to apologise unequivocally to Sir Salman Rushdie, as well as Ms West, for the hurt and damage which they have suffered as a result of the publication of these allegations."

They are also paying Sir Salman's legal costs estimated at around £15,000.

The publishers have also destroyed the first run of 4,000 copies of On Her Majesty's Service and are correcting two chapters.

The Mail on Sunday will carry an apology next Sunday.

Sir Salman's publishers, Random House, said in a statement: "In view of Sir Salman Rushdie's belief in free expression he has, uniquely in a British libel action, not sought damages, nor has Sir Salman asked for any opinions in the book to be altered, only that the false and defamatory content be taken out."

Geoffrey Robertson QC, who headed the legal team representing Sir Salman, said his client had "pioneered a new way of reconciling the right to freedom of speech with the right to reputation - you nail the lie for all time with a court ordered declaration of falsity and you receive your legal costs, but you decline to chill free speech by putting authors and publishers to an expensive trial and making them pay heavy damages".

Sir Salman, who was in court with Ms West, said afterwards: "I am very gratified by the outcome. It seems to me to have been an avoidable business - the facts were not checked before publishing these allegations.

"My interest was solely to establish the truth over the number of serious allegations about myself, Elizabeth West and, indeed, about the behaviour of the police force."

He said he appreciated that for the writers and publishers it was difficult to "stand up in the High Court and own up to being a liar".

"I hope it will be an original and new method by which to establish facts rather than going for enormous financial damages.

"This was a very satisfactory outcome."

He said the allegations against him and Ms West were "appalling" and the allegations against members of his protection squad were "extremely offensive".

"No police officer was ever drunk on duty and certainly not while in possession of firearms."