Black speaks up for Desmond in libel case

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The Independent Online

The disgraced press baron Conrad Black gave evidence in support of his former business rival Richard Desmond yesterday – despite being incarcerated in a Florida prison.

Mr Justice Eady told the jury hearing Mr Desmond's libel action against the writer Tom Bower at London's High Court, that Black, "can't be with us". He said Mr Desmond's counsel, Ian Winter QC, would read out a witness statement supplied by the one-time owner of The Daily Telegraph, who is serving six and a half years for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Mr Desmond is suing over claims in a 2006 biography, Conrad And Lady Black: Dancing On The Edge, that he had abused his position to pursue a personal campaign against Black in the wake of a dispute over the West Ferry printing plant in London and was then forced into a humiliating climbdown.

Mr Winter has branded the allegations as, "highly defamatory and wholly false". Mr Bower denies libel and says what he wrote was substantially true and was not, in any event, defamatory.

Black, whom Mr Desmond revealed he had tried unsuccessfully to visit last Thursday, said it was not his impression that Mr Desmond had any desire for revenge after the West Ferry litigation. They had tried to make the joint venture work as well as possible.

Giving evidence for Mr Bower, Roy Greenslade, the former Daily Mirror editor, said Mr Desmond had a bad reputation for editorial interference and for using his papers to further his own personal agenda. The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.