'New Statesman' offers Major an olive branch

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THE New Statesman held out an olive branch yesterday to the Prime Minister after his decision to sue the magazine over coverage of rumours about his private life.

Lawyers for the magazine, which faces rapidly rising legal costs, said in a statement that it 'very much regretted' any personal distress caused by its report highlighting gossip about John Major and Clare Latimer, a caterer whose company has worked for 10 Downing Street. Both issued writs last week, leading to 15,000 copies of the publication being withdrawn.

But a defiant statement yesterday from Scallywag, the London satirical magazine which is also being sued over similar allegations, may yet place the Prime Minister in a no-win situation. Simon Regan, the magazine's editor, an undischarged bankrupt, said he had 'nothing to lose' by defending his coverage 'all the way'.

Mr Major's dilemma is that suing the magazine could lead to a highly publicised court case with little prospect of recovering damages from a penniless publication. But inaction by the Prime Minister could pave the way for further speculation about his private life.

Steve Platt, the New Statesman's editor, said yesterday's statement, contained in a letter sent to Biddle and Company, the Prime Minister's solicitors, was meant to reiterate that the article published in last week's edition had not been intended to sully the reputation of Mr Major or Ms Latimer. He said he was offering 'an olive branch aimed at reaching a settlement without going to court.'

But he continued to assert that the article, which featured on the cover of the magazine's 80th birthday issue, did not defame Mr Major or Ms Latimer.

Last week's writs have cost the magazine pounds 25,000 in lost sales, reduced advertising revenue and legal costs. The magazine has engaged the services of George Carman QC, the highly regarded advocate, but Mr Platt said he wants to avoid an 'enormously costly' court case.