Tories issue writs against `Scallywag'

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The Independent Online
Conservative Central Office has followed through its threat to close down Scallywag by serving writs for libel on nine companies distributing the monthly satirical magazine.

The writs, issued in the name of Dr Julian Lewis, party deputy head of research, have been served on six distributors and two newsagents. The printer has also been sued. No writ has been issued against the magazine or its co-editors, Simon Regan and Angus James.

They have been forced to suspend publication since Dr Lewis contacted distributors last month, claiming an article alleging the Tories were planning a "dirty tricks" campaign against Labour, was libellous and, under the law, they could be liable for damages.

The companies held on to £16,000 from sales of the last issue, forcing Scallywag, always run on a shoestring, to move out of its offices and cease publication.

In the writ, Dr Lewis, who describes himself as "a defence consultant and author, and joint deputy director of the Conservative Research Department," claims an article accusing him of, among other things, personally supervising an information- gathering exercise on the early life of Tony Blair, the Labour leader, was libellous.

Scallywag alleged a dossier had been prepared on Mr Blair, which was "said to contain... damaging material". Scallywag said in the article that Dr Lewis is no stranger to dirty tricks having waged, with a man now a Tory MP, a war of disinformation against CND in the Eighties.

The magazine claimed that the two men's tactics included getting meetings cancelled, disrupting CND events and putting "covert pressure on key members over financial and sexual matters".

The article added that he was rumoured to be a "raving homosexual himself". It added that the research department was "gay to a man". Female employees at Central Office in Smith Square, it claimed, had their promotions blocked.

The Tories, alleged Scallywag, "often" broke the law to gather information by bugging politicians. All these claims, Dr Lewis said in his writ, were seriously harmful and had brought him into "public scandal, odium and contempt".

He has not moved against the magazine's editors because they constantly claim to be financially destitute. Two years ago, when Scallywag falsely claimed the Prime Minister was having an affair with his cook, John Major backed down from pursuing a claim for damages - having received an undertaking by the magazine not to repeat the allegations - because it had no money.