Major settles 'Statesman' libel action

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR yesterday suffered the humiliation of a significant climbdown on his libel action against New Statesman & Society when he accepted a token pounds 1,001 damages without the magazine admitting liability, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Mr Major took the money at 5pm as the 21-day deadline for accepting payments into court expired, signifying the end of what begin as one of the most high-profile defamation claims in recent history.

Clare Latimer, a caterer, whose name had been linked with Mr Major's in an article in January, accepted the same sum.

Their actions signal that they were unwilling to take the risk that a libel jury might not award more and put them at risk of paying their own legal costs even if they won, and follows growing speculation that the Prime Minister was keen to bring an end to the case by settling it.

With no admission of liability, Mr Major has applied to the High Court to make a unilateral statement about why he accepted the payment. Whether he is granted permission to do so is likely to be decided on Friday by Mr Justice Drake, the senior libel judge.

Although the settlement is low, the magazine will still have to foot the bill for everyone's costs and has already paid substantial sums as a result of indemnities to printers and distributors who did not contest the action. The total bill will come to considerably more than pounds 200,000. A campaign has raised pounds 100,000 for the magazine.