Ken Bates gets £9,000 damages for 'Evening Standard' libel

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The Independent Online

Ken Bates, the former chairman of Chelsea Football Club, won £9,000 in libel damages from the London Evening Standard yesterday after accusing the newspaper of waging a "spiteful vendetta" against him.

Ken Bates, the former chairman of Chelsea Football Club, won £9,000 in libel damages from the London Evening Standard yesterday after accusing the newspaper of waging a "spiteful vendetta" against him.

At the end of a three-day hearing at the High Court in London, a jury decided that the newspaper was wrong to report that Mr Bates used foul language in a meeting with a representative from the fish and chip shop chain Harry Ramsden's.

Mr Bates, who stepped down from Chelsea in March, sued the newspaper after it alleged in its City diary that he had missed out on a business opportunity by keeping the representative waiting for two hours and then telling him to "f*** off".

The article, "Harry Ramsden's Gets A Mouthful", appeared on 4 July 2003, three days after Mr Bates sold his Chelsea shares to Roman Abramovich, the Russian tycoon. Mr Bates branded the story a "meaningless, scurrilous article" and said he had no recollection of the November 1996 meeting with the representative, Graham Parr, but would "certainly not" have sworn at him.

The newspaper admitted that it may have got one or two details wrong, but argued that the "sting" of its story was accurate. It accused Mr Bates of making the "foul and unprofessional" comment in Mr Parr's presence, although not to his face. Mr Parr "took a dim view" of the football chief's behaviour and decided he would not continue to do business with him, the newspaper said.

Mr Bates told the court that it was his decision not to enter into further business with Harry Ramsden's. He added that a follow-up diary item five-days later about his partner, Suzannah, now his wife, was "malicious, gratuitous and untrue".

The second article, on 9 July 2003, alleged that his partner had burst into tears in a restaurant three years earlier when he told her that Gianluca Vialli, who was Chelsea's manager, was going to be sacked. Mr Bates did not sue over the second story, but he told the court it was "a load of rubbish".

It emerged during the hearing that an Evening Standard reporter approached Mr Bates's office with an allegation that he had said, at a dinner party, "three years of cancer would not have been good enough" for the Chelsea vice-chairman Matthew Harding, who was killed in a helicopter crash. Mr Bates said this was a "total distortion".

Summing up the case yesterday, Mr Justice Eady, said the allegations against Mr Bates were "towards the lower end of the scale". He said there was "no evidence" to suggest the former Chelsea chairman's reputation was affected by the Evening Standard's story.

The judge told the jury they should exercise reserve in awarding damages to Mr Bates, who made £17.5m from the sale of his shares in Chelsea.

Although the damages are relatively low, Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Evening Standard faces a bill of up to £200,000 in legal costs.

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