Singer wins pounds 15,000 in libel case

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THE SINGER and aspiring politician Patti Boulaye yesterday accepted pounds 15,000 libel damages and a public apology over The Guardian's allegation that she was a supporter of apartheid.

Her QC, Edward Garnier, told Mr Justice Eady at the High Court in London that there could be little that was more defamatory of anyone - but certainly not of a well-known black woman seeking elective office in London. "This terrible article has been the cause of a huge amount of anguish for Ms Boulaye. She is not, and never has been, a supporter of apartheid."

It was particularly damaging as Ms Boulaye made clear in the article her desire to encourage more black people to go into politics.

The article headed "Black and blue", which appeared in March, was based on an interview with Ms Boulaye, who had recently announced her intention to stand as a Conservative candidate for the Greater London Assembly elections in 2000.

It was reported that Ms Boulaye said: "This is a time to support apartheid."

When asked why she did not support it when it was in government, she was reported as replying: "Because it would have been the fashionable thing to do. This is a time to support apartheid because it's unfashionable."

Mr Garnier said Ms Boulaye was "devastated" to read the words attributed to her. The article went on to quote her as having made some observations about West Indians, Indians and Africans not getting along.

These remarks, said counsel, were made to explain how Ms Boulaye despised racial prejudice in all races, including black people.

She objected to the upsetting comment which followed in the article: "Close your eyes and you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to a racist at last orders."

Mr Garnier said that Ms Boulaye also took issue with comments on her appearance and her alleged remarks about prostitution. It was fair, he added, to say that Guardian Newspapers Ltd and the journalist, Raekha Prasad, accepted that they had made a serious error as soon as Ms Boulaye complained and they published an apology the day after the article appeared.

The journalist had misheard what Ms Boulaye said and had understood her to be saying "apartheid" when she was in fact saying "a party". The journalist did not ask follow-up questions about what she thought she had heard.

The newspaper's counsel, Catrin Evans, said that it was "a very bad mistake", for which the newspaper offered its wholehearted apologies.

It had agreed to pay Ms Boulaye substantial damages and her costs.

Afterwards, Ms Boulaye said: "I cannot express the relief I feel, now that this personally devastating matter has been resolved in the public eye. It was important not only for myself, but also for all political candidates, especially those from black and ethnic backgrounds, to set the record straight.

"If outrageous and reckless errors by sections of the press, such as this, go unchecked, then the public will be denied the services of many talented and dedicated people, of all backgrounds, who would otherwise be willing to enter public life to serve the community."