...but you can still be funny about Allason

A jury yesterday rejected claims for damages by former Tory MP Rupert Allason after he was called names in a Have I Got News For You diary. Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, hails a victory for those with a sense of humour.

The hearts of satirists were gladdened when a court made it permissible to describe the litigious Mr Allason as a "conniving little shit". Mr Allason, who has launched and won 17 libel actions in the past, lost a High Court case against the BBC and Hat Trick Productions for a reference to him in the Have I Got News For You diary for 1997.

Mr Allason, who writes spy books under the name of Nigel West, faces a legal bill of about pounds 50,000. He was in court with his 77-year-old mother Nuala, who is credited with alerting him to a diary paragraph that he found "vicious and revolting".

The entry said: "The maverick Tory MP, when he is writing spy novels, is called Nigel West, and when he is fighting against his own Government is called something unprintable. Indeed, given Mr Allason's fondness for pursuing libel actions, there are also excellent legal reasons for not referring to him as a conniving little shit."

Lawyers for BBC Worldwide, which published the book, and Hat Trick, which makes Have I Got News For You, argued that the references were what Tory MPs would have been saying when the then MP refused to support a government confidence vote on the Maastricht Treaty. It claimed that they were fair comment on a matter of public interest.

The book's editor, Colin Swash, said after the case: "The principle for me is with regard to standing by a joke and not bowing to a man who I think should be able to take it as a joke."

A spokesman for Hat Trick said the decision was important for all satirists: "It is a healthy and welcome sign that the jury decisively rejected a politician's attempt to secure large damages for a humorous comment."

During the case Mr Allason had rejected suggestions that he had a "fondness for litigation" despite being involved in 22 court actions and 17 successful libel cases.

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