Stephen Glover on The Press: How easy it is to slip on a banana skin when your nose is in the air

Tesco has won its epic legal battle with The Guardian. Last Tuesday the paper published an apology that can only be described as abject. It was wrong to run a "splash" last February accusing the supermarket chain of trying to avoid paying £1bn in corporation tax. The article should not have been published, and the allegations were unfounded.

Two questions fascinate me. How could The Guardian have published such a wildly inaccurate piece in the first place? And why did the paper take so very long – and spend so much money on lawyers – before admitting an error that a child of three could have spotted?

Even I, knowing practically nothing about tax, wrote in this column on 14 April that The Guardian had got its taxes in a muddle. The paper had accused Tesco of avoiding corporation tax when it meant stamp duty land tax. Of course, it was wrong about that, too. It seems incredible that competent financial journalists could get things so badly mixed up, and equally incredible that such serious allegations could be published without being properly checked. We know from the paper's defence document that its editor, Alan Rusbridger, was barely involved in the decision to run this incendiary story.

Why, having got almost everything wrong, did it not simply capitulate? On 3 May the paper admitted its muddle over taxes, but it did not withdraw the imputation of some tax avoidance, and went on to preach at Tesco in an editorial about the company's social responsibility in meeting its tax obligations. This from a newspaper whose parent company, the Guardian Media Group, had been recently involved with its private equity partner Apax in a scheme to minimise its tax liabilities! Such a combination of sanctimony and hypocrisy is hard to beat.

If The Guardian had had the grace and good sense on 3 May to admit its fault in the way that it was required to do last week, Tesco would have dropped the case. The company felt so baited that it made the mistake of accusing Mr Rusbridger of malicious falsehood. He could not have been malicious in publishing the article because he had played virtually no part in it. I doubt any Guardian journalists were moved by malice. More likely some of them were driven by an anti-capitalist agenda which allows facts to be bent so as to fit a prejudice. That does not mean I love Tesco; I certainly don't.

The paper published a false and damaging story and misled its readers, many of whom probably lapped up the smears, and some of whom will doubtless go on believing them. It has presumably spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on lawyers' fees. And yet, so far as I know, no knuckles have been rapped. The Guardian sails on serenely under Mr Rusbridger's light-rein editorship as though nothing untoward had happened. The apology was tucked away at the bottom of the front page, and continued discreetly on page 32. Why Tesco accepted this downplaying, God only knows. Even in the act of apologising, the paper has its nose in the air.

The press has its own transfer market

There has been a great deal of recent activity in the lucrative football transfer market... I mean the newspaper one.

Martin Samuel, the award-winning chief football writer at The Times, is defecting to the Daily Mail, allegedly for £400,000 a year. This may be what Frank Lampard of Chelsea earns in three weeks, but it is a lot of money in Fleet Street.

At the Mail, Samuel will be taking over the shirt worn by Paul Hayward, who is moving to The Guardian. The Mail signed Hayward from The Daily Telegraph three years ago amid much hoopla, but in the view of some he has never really fitted into the paper's formation. He has been compared to the striker Andrei Shevchenko, who, having been AC Milan's second most prolific striker, found it difficult to put the ball in the back of the net for Chelsea.

Meanwhile, Harry Harris, one of the country's top football writers, has left the Daily Express. In 2002, Harris transferred from the Daily Mirror to the Express for what was then close to a record fee of £300,000 a year. He has had a notable career, being responsible for many scoops, but had his differences with management. Harris has not yet been snapped up by a rival, though according to reports he may turn out occasionally for the BBC.

Like the Premier League, sports pages have their own financial scandals. According to reports this week, The People has just sacked its sports editor, Lee Horton, after an investigation into alleged "financial irregularities", and some expect police to mount an enquiry. Perhaps they should call in Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and a writer for the News of the World, who has been investigating real-life football "bungs". If life sometimes imitates art, sports pages would appear increasingly to imitate football.

A year is a long time in Polly-tics

Before Gordon Brown gets up tomorrow to make the most important speech of his life, he may reflect that very few of the columnists who cheered him a year ago are still by his side.

This is what The Guardian's Polly Toynbee wrote on the eve of last year's Labour Party Conference. "Gordon Brown has put to rest his ghosts with deft brushstrokes. Blairites said he would never be agile enough, but in just three months he has coped with crisis after crisis and emerged all the stronger. They said people would never warm to his manner, but he has charmed and pleased with his blend of seriousness and sincerity."

And this is what Polly wrote last week. "Brown had strength – not charm, nor ease – but he was prudent and purposeful. Now he is left politically naked . . . Many in his party want him gone . . . They want it for the same reason all parties ditch leaders about to take them to destruction."

David Cameron, be warned.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power