Hunger striker wins damages over burgers claim

A Tamil refugee hunger striker today accepted substantial undisclosed damages over claims that he had secretly eaten takeaway burgers throughout his protest.

The articles in the Daily Mail and The Sun struck at the heart of Parameswaran Subramanyam's integrity and undermined the single achievement for which he became known and respected, the High Court in London heard.

His solicitor, Magnus Boyd, told Mr Justice Eady that Mr Subramanyam began his protest outside the Houses of Parliament on April 7, 2009, in a bid to raise awareness of the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils and to encourage intervention by the UK government.

Mr Subramanyam officially ended his strike after 23 days and was treated in hospital for five nights.

Six months later, the Daily Mail and The Sun ran stories which reported claims that specialist monitoring equipment had caught Mr Subramanyam secretly eating McDonald's burgers and that he had caused the police to waste a fortune in public money.

Mr Boyd said that the allegations were "entirely false", which both newspapers now accepted.

"The claimant did not consume any food at all throughout his hunger strike. The Metropolitan Police superintendent who was in charge of the operation in Parliament Square confirmed that there was no police surveillance team using 'specialist monitoring equipment' and that no video evidence existed."

Because of the publications, added Mr Boyd, Mr Subramanyam was ostracised by the Tamil community who believed he had betrayed them and undermined their struggle globally.

Victoria Jolliffe, counsel for News Group Newspapers and Associated Newspapers, said they withdrew all the allegations and apologised sincerely and unreservedly for the hurt and distress caused.

They each agreed to pay Mr Subramanyam substantial damages and his costs.

She said that Associated published the article - upon which News Group's article was then based - in good faith based on information that, at the time, was understood to be reliable.

Afterwards, Mr Subramanyam said: "I am relieved that this matter is now resolved and I can start to rebuild my life again.

"The past eight months have been an unbearable strain on my life, to the extent that at times I have even contemplated taking my own life.

"As a result of the lies that the newspapers published about me, and through no fault of my own, I have lost friends, been shunned by family members and completely ostracised from the Tamil community.

"I felt I had a responsibility to all those who had supported me during the hunger strike, and were sullied by association with me, to take legal action against both newspapers to prove that the allegations that were published were false.

"Now that both newspapers have declared that the allegations are completely untrue and apologised, I sincerely hope that those people will accept the newspapers' apologies and understand that I have done nothing wrong.

"My sacrifice during the 23-day hunger strike was real and for the sake of my fellow Tamils who are suffering in Sri Lanka.

"I would like to thank all those who have stuck by me through this nightmare and have not doubted my integrity."