Carter-Ruck, legendary libel lawyer, dies at 89

Libel lawyer Peter Carter-Ruck, whose legal tangles with Private Eye and a succession of national newspapers turned him into a Fleet Street legend, has died. He was 89.

For years his pursuit of the slightest real or imagined slur on his clients' reputation would provoke one of his notoriously intimidating letters. His signature at the bottom of a letter could wipe the smile from the face of even the most cocksure of newspaper editors. Often seeming at first reading almost emollient, they invariably contained the veiled but unmistakable threat of writs and huge costs to come.

And they worked; hence an A-list clientele including Laurence Olivier, Harold Wilson, Cary Grant, Lucian Freud, Cecil Parkinson, Michael Heseltine, Winston Churchill and Ranulph Fiennes. Most of them were extremely grateful for his services. Winston Churchill, for example, said he previously always believed "the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow" but: "I shall now have to revise that judgement. You have broken all records." Harold Wilson said after a settlement with the Daily Mail: "They seem to have printed your formula exactly as required and in a somewhat grovelling fashion."

Born in 1914, Carter-Ruck was educated at St Edward's School, Oxford before he was admitted as a solicitor in 1937.

He served with the Royal Artillery during the Second World War before becoming a senior partner with Oswald Hickson Collier & Co from 1945-1981. He then set up Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners, which he left after a falling out with colleagues in 1998.

The legendary lawyer's knowledge of libel was regarded as second to none. He claimed three years ago to have lost only one high-profile case - that involving Jani Allan, a South African journalist, who sued Channel 4 over allegations she had an affair with extremist Afrikaner Eugene Terre'Blanche.

Mr Carter-Ruck said later: "The only certainty in litigation is the expense. There is always a risk in going to court and you have to have very good judgement. I settle on more than 90 per cent of the cases I am asked to advise on."

Yesterday, a partner in Mr Carter-Ruck's old firm, Nigel Tait, recalled how Mr Carter-Ruck's big break came not working for the plaintiff but the defendant in a defamation case against the Bolton Evening News in 1948. Bessie Braddock, an MP, had been accused of dancing a jig across the House of Commons by the newspaper. She sued. Mr Carter-Ruck won.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn