Tories have last laugh on Scallywag

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The Independent Online
Conservative Central Office has driven the satirical magazine Scallywag off the streets by threatening newsagents and distributors that they could be liable for libel damages if they continue to stock it.

Dr Julian Lewis, the Tory party's deputy director of research, has written to news-agents and magazine wholesalers claiming articles in the last two issues about plans for an alleged "dirty tricks" campaign against the Labour leader Tony Blair were defamatory. Retailers and freight companies have also been contacted by telephone by Mr Lewis and asked to cease taking the magazine.

Angus James, co-editor of the monthly magazine which hit the headlines two years ago when it erroneously reported the Prime Minister was having an affair with his cook, confirmed last night that publication had ceased. "We have had to suspend publication, we have no office now and no distributor."

The final straw came when wholesalers, fearful of a libel suit, held on to £16,000 from sales of the last issue. The journal's bank moved to foreclose its credit and Mr James, co-editor Simon Regan, and their few staff have been ejected from their office in Camden, north London. The magazine had a circulation of about 20,000.

Dr Lewis wrote to a distributor , BJB Magazines, on Conservative Research Department paper: "I refer to our telephone conversation on 18th January 1995, in which you confirmed your role as a distributor of Scallywag and your awareness that this is the magazine which libelled the Prime Minister by falsely claiming that he was having an affair with a cook . . . As I informed you then, Issue 26 of Scallywag (also known as Sleazewag), disseminated by you, contained on page 15 an article grossly defamatory of me.

"I am writing formally to advise you that a writ for libel will shortly be issued in this matter, and that it is probable that your company will be named amongst the defendants."

Colin Reed, general manager of Magazine Contracts at TNT Newsfast, one of he biggest distributors, confirmed he, too, had been contacted by Dr Lewis. "He rang up and asked if I was aware Scallywag had been taken to court over the John Major article? He started pushing it further by saying as a carrier we are liable to libel."

Mr Reed referred Dr Lewis to his superiors and TNT stopped carrying the magazine.

Mr James said Dr Lewis's behaviour amounted to "a campaign of unfair intimidation". He said no writs had been received and he warned Scallywag would itself issue writs against Dr Lewis and Mr Major, as leader, for malicious falsehood.

Dr Lewis said he was not aware Scallywag had closed.While no writ had been issued, he claimed he was "in the process of finalising what action I'm going to take". He refused to comment about his dealings with the distributors.