Botham and Lamb bowled over by defeat in pounds 500,000 High Court test

Cricket's most expensive libel case has ended - with a surprise verdict. Jojo Moyes reports

Imran Khan won the most expensive libel case in cricketing history yesterday when he successfully defended himself against accusations that he had labelled former England captain Ian Botham a ball-tamperer and a racist.

Botham said, after the trial at the High Court, that he was "astonished" at the verdict of the case, the costs of which are estimated to be up to pounds 500,000.

He and fellow cricketer Allan Lamb had sued Imran, the teetotal, Oxford-educated former Pakistan captain, over an "offensive personal attack" in India Today magazine, which, they claimed, suggested that they were racist, not properly educated and of inferior social standing.

Botham alone sued over a report in the Sun which, he alleged, accused him of ball-tampering - something he says he has never done.

Imran, who denied libel, said his words were taken out of context and he was only trying to defend himself against allegations of cheating that were made against him in a previous newspaper report.

As the jury returned two majority verdicts in his favour, after five hours of deliberation, Imran appeared stunned. His pregnant wife Jemima, who had accompanied him throughout the two-and-a-half-week trial, appeared to be as surprised as he was, and as she left the court said the result was "amazing", telling her mother: "I'm such a cynic". Outside the court Imran said he was "overjoyed" by the result and paid tribute to the support of his wife.

"I thank the Almighty, that whatever I've been saying for the past two years, that I've been vindicated, that I never called anyone a racist, under-class or cheat," he said.

Imran believed that the result vindicated Pakistani cricketers, who he said had been called cheats, and he added that he hoped the issue of ball-tampering would be laid to rest once and for all.

He also said he was sad that the case had come to court and that he felt "sad" for Botham. Imran, his wife, and her family were said to be celebrating last night.

Imran's solicitor, Howard Cohen, said he was "absolutely delighted" and that Imran would pay only a "very small proportion" of the costs which, he said, for Botham and Lamb, were estimated at more than pounds 300,000 for last week alone.

In a brief press conference held outside his solicitor's offices shortly after the case ended, Botham expressed feelings of astonishment over the result, which had appeared to be heading in his favour last week, when Imran withdrew a plea of justification with regard to the allegations of ball-tampering.

"I'm a little confused as to how it went against us," Botham said.

"If you had been there two-and-a-half weeks, then I think it's a conclusion you are entitled to come to and it's one I came to," he added. Botham said he had fought for his dignity and honesty and added that he did not feel that the verdict had affected his reputation.

"Imran Khan had to withdraw justification and therefore had to admit I was not a cheat which is why I'm finding it confusing. I'm sure other people will find it confusing as well," he added.

On the issue of the costs, Botham said he had not had time to think about the implications, but he added: "Life goes on. I'll just have to do a couple more road shows to pay for it."

Allan Lamb, who also professed himself "astonished" said: "The jury's got to make their decision and we've got to accept it." Asked his opinion of Imran, he said: "Still the same".

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