Sixties activist sues Random House over `damaging lies'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CAROLINE COON, once the epitome of Sixties hippie chick, a former artist, model and ballerina, turned radical activist and co-founder of Release, the drugs advice organisation, is suing Random House, Britain's largest publishing conglomerate, for libel.

Ms Coon claims the company printed "libellous damaging lies" and "a sexist fraud" about her and the female fundraisers of Release, in the book All Dressed Up by Jonathon Green, published in August last year by Jonathan Cape.

The book is a long, exhaustive history of the "counterculture" that prevailed among hip metropolitans during the Sixties: the rock bands and their hangers- on, the drugs scene, the clubs, the "underground" magazines, the avant- garde poetry circuit. The passage to which Ms Coon objects concerns a Beatle, a Rolling Stone and a suggestion that one Release's female helpers tried on two occasions to extract contributions to the charity in exchange for sexual favours.

On the first occasion, Green alleges, the woman was given pounds 1,000. On the second, she came away with nothing - and the disobliging pop star remarked, on leaving the bedroom: "If she thinks she's getting five hundred quid for a blow-job, she must be joking. She may have got a grand out of [him] but she won't get a penny out of me."

When the book was published on 27 August last year, it ran straight into trouble. Six days after publication, the publishers received a solicitor's letter from Ms Coon. Two days later, they received another from one of the pop stars, flatly denying the sex-for-charity story. On the basis of the latter complaint, Random House withdrew the book from the nation's bookshops. By December, they had reached an agreement with the pop star, paid costs and damages and agreed to make an apology in open court. The book All Dressed Up will now be republished in July this year, with the offending passages removed.

It is understood that Ms Coon was also offered an apology and a sum of money (believed to be pounds 5,000) by Random House, but turned both of them down. In a recent communication to friends, however, Ms Coon complains that Gail Rebuck, chief executive of the publishing empire, "is refusing to compensate for this deception of the reading public by making a sincere apology to those her company have distressed and damaged"; and that she failed to make "an appropriate financial settlement".

What also puzzles Random House is that Ms Coon's reaction is as though she had been named as the charity worker.

"We do not believe that we libelled Ms Coon," said Dan Franklin, publishing director of Cape, "She isn't even mentioned in the offending paragraph. Neither Jonathan Green nor I have anything but respect for everything she has achieved with Release."

"Random House must explain their behaviour to a judge and jury," says Ms Coon.