Galloway wins £150,000 damages as judge lambasts 'Daily Telegraph'

George Galloway won a comprehensive victory in the High Court yesterday in his libel trial against The Daily Telegraph over reports that he was in the secret pay of Saddam Hussein.

The former Labour MP was awarded £150,000 in libel damages by the High Court and later claimed the newspaper had been administered a "judicial caning". He was also granted costs against the Telegraph, which faces a bill of more than £1.2m. Mr Justice Eady denied the paper permission to appeal, although Telegraph lawyers are expected to seek the right directly from the Court of Appeal over liability and the "excessive" scale of the damages.

The anti-war campaigner, who represents Glasgow Kelvin, said he was angry that he had been forced to seek legal remedy. "I have had to risk total and utter ruin in order to bring this case. If I had lost it, I would be bankrupt, my house would be taken away from me, my job would be lost," he said.

Turning on the Government and its media supporters over the war in Iraq, Mr Galloway said he would use the House of Commons to "ventilate" the issues raised in the trial.

He added: "I am glad and somewhat humbled to discover that there is at least one corner of the English field which remains uncorrupted and independent, and that corner is in this courtroom."

Mr Justice Eady told the court that the newspaper had conveyed to "reasonable and fair-minded readers" seriously defamatory claims that Mr Galloway was secretly receiving £375,000 a year from Hussein. The newspaper also suggested he had diverted money from the oil-for-food programme, depriving the Iraqi people of food and medicines. It was inferred he had used his Mariam Appeal to personally enrich himself and that his actions had been tantamount to treason.

The newspaper's claim that its coverage was no more than "neutral reportage" of important documents found in post-war Baghdad was untenable. Journalists had also failed to give Mr Galloway sufficient opportunity to respond to the allegations, made in a series of articles in April 2003. The judge described the Telegraph's Neil Darbyshire, who was acting editor at the time, as an "engaging and frank witness". But he said was "deluding" himself if he thought the coverage was neutral.

In his judgment, he said: "They did not merely adopt the allegations. They embraced them with relish and fervour. They went on to embellish them in the ways I have described."

Mr Darbyshire described the ruling as "a blow to the principle of freedom of expression in this country."

"If, as we understand the court to have held, English law offers no real protection to newspapers that publish documents which raise such important questions ... then freedom of expression is an illusion."

Lawyers warned yesterday that Mr Galloway's win seriously weakened a newly-created defence, used by the Telegraph, that papers had come to rely on when printing allegations about the famous.

The 10-point public figure defence first emerged when the former Irish prime minister, Albert Reynolds, sued the Sunday Times for defamation in 1999.

In that case, a panel of law lords ruled that a newspaper need not have to prove the truth of an allegation provided the journalism was responsible and in the public interest.

Many journalists hoped that this defence - which sets out 10 tests for responsible and accurate journalism - would allow them to pursue stories that would only normally be capable of substantiation by using the kind of resources available to professional investigation agencies such as the police.

But yesterday's judgment, said media lawyers, showed that the Reynolds case could only be relied on in very rare cases and probably not at all when the allegations were forcefully made.

Simon Smith, managing partner of the libel law firm Schillings, said: "The Reynolds defence has only succeeded once, which shows it is simply not the big weapon that journalists hoped it would be. But it is certainly fatal [to a defence] if the newspaper has not put all the allegations to the claimant."

Privately, many judges are known not to favour the Reynolds defence because it creates uncertainty in the law.

Edward Garnier QC, an expert in defamation and a former shadow attorney general, said: "What newspapers can't do is scream 'Reynolds' and hope that this will be enough to let them sail through if they haven't done their homework." Caroline Kean, the head of litigation at the defamation experts, Wiggon & Co, said: "It seems very unlikely that publishers will rely on the Reynolds test if that is their only defence. It has even less chance of succeeding when an article is published with attitude, like the Telegraph story.

"In reality, it will be only useful in the most bland articles where there is no editorial slant. Otherwise, to rely on it will be very dangerous."

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on