EasyJet founder wins Ryanair libel payout

EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou accepted undisclosed libel damages today over Ryanair advertisements which accused him of lying.

Sir Stelios brought proceedings in London's High Court over the adverts which appeared in The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and on Ryanair's website in January and February.

The adverts concerned the flight on-time statistics of easyJet plc, which had not been published on the airline's website for 37 weeks.

They featured a picture of Sir Stelios distorted so that his nose was elongated in the style of Pinocchio and referred to him as "easyJet's - Mr Late Again".

They called on Sir Stelios to "stop hiding the truth" about easyJet's flight delays and resume publishing details of its on-time performance.

Sir Stelios's solicitor, Chris Scott, told Mr Justice Eady that Ryanair and chief executive Michael O'Leary had made a complete offer to settle the claim and fully accepted that Sir Stelios did not lie about the matter.

They had unreservedly apologised and agreed to pay him damages and his legal costs.

Mr Scott said that Sir Stelios, who was not in court, wrote to the defendants asking them to withdraw the advertisements and apologise.

But they suggested instead that Sir Stelios should resolve the dispute by a sumo wrestling contest or by a race around Trafalgar Square, issued further advertisements calling him a "chicken" and brought further publicity to their allegations.

Mr Scott said the publication and ensuing publicity caused Sir Stelios significant distress and embarrassment, and he issued proceedings to vindicate his reputation.

Until this month, the defendants robustly defended the proceedings, but now accepted that the adverts should not have been published referring to Sir Stelios, who was a non-executive director at the time.

Mr Scott said: "Both Michael O'Leary and Ryanair accept that Sir Stelios is not in any way responsible for easyJet's management's continuing failure to publish weekly details of their on-time stats.

"They accept that Sir Stelios did not lie about the matter.

"With that vindication achieved, the claimant is happy to accept that matters are at an end."

In a statement, Sir Stelios said: "This was an unpleasant personal attack on me by a large public company, made worse by the way O'Leary responded to the legal complaints.

"I am pleased the law provides protection to individuals like me from unpleasant attacks on reputations from large companies like Ryanair."

His representatives said that the sum offered was £50,100, which Sir Stelios had accepted and would donate to his philanthropic foundation.

It would be used for the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK 2010, which is run in partnership with Leonard Cheshire, the disability charity.

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary said: "We are happy to apologise to Stelios for including his photograph and referring to him personally in the advert about easyJet's missing weekly punctuality stats.

"And since he was not responsible for easyJet's decision to stop publishing these on-time statistics, I think it is only fair and reasonable that we say 'sorry' and pay him damages and his legal costs, rather than waste court time on this issue."