In the courts: Allason tells court of `revolting slur'

Author and former Tory MP Rupert Allason yesterday asked a High Court libel jury to award him damages over references to him in a diary based on BBC2's Have I Got News For You programme.

A reference in the book to his opposition to the Maastricht treaty and his refusal to support the Government in a Commons no confidence vote on the issue was a "vicious and revolting slur" on his reputation, he claimed.

That opposition, Mr Allason said, reflected his determination to stick to his guns and keep his promise to his Torbay constituents and political supporters. He did not deserve to be defamed by people who thought it was clever to sneer at those in public life. But the publishers of Have I Got 1997 For You insisted that the book was light-hearted and funny, like the television programme.

Mr Allason, 45, is conducting his own case. The defendants, publishers BBC Worldwide Ltd and Hat Trick Productions, deny libel, pleading fair comment on a matter of public interest.

The diary, published in December 1996, contained a photograph of Mr Allason with the caption: "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 quite 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."

"This is not a jolly joke," Mr Allason told the jury. "As you look through the book, you will see there are rogues and scoundrels, Robert Maxwell included, but there is nothing that comes as close as this vile description, which I utterly refute."

He accepted that Have I Got News For You was a "robust" satirical programme, but he rejected the defence argument that only those who knew about the show would read the book and that no one would think any the worse of him. His stance over Maastricht drew no criticism from other politicians, he said, and the description of him in the book was entirely unjustified.

He was "all for humorous satire", but the book "goes far beyond what is reasonable and acceptable".

Mr Allason asked for damages to "punish the arrogance of staff who ignore legitimate complaints and a [BBC] management that allows them to do so, and to ensure that ... editors consider carefully before trampling over hard-won reputations".

Defence counsel Charles Gray QC said the publishers would argue that no reasonable reader would find the words defamatory in the light of the programme's light-hearted repartee.

The hearing was adjourned until today.