As editor of The Sun, the word Rottweiler could have been invented for Kelvin MacKenzie. During his time at the helm of the top-selling tabloid, he loved nothing more than to sink his fangs into his hapless victims – much to the delight of a readership that then touched four million.
But yesterday, the architect of such unforgettable headlines as "Freddie Starr ate my hamster" and "Stick it up your junta", was left licking his wounds after coming out second-best in a bitter legal dog fight with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The Czech international and his wife Martina accepted substantial damages at the High Court, thought to be between £50,000 and £100,000 plus costs, for a libellous article written by the former editor on his return to his old paper as a columnist in May last year.
The article, which was described by the footballer's counsel Jonathan Price as "gratuitously offensive" appeared under the headline "Keeper Cech's dog crocked my missus".
It inaccurately retold a version of events which took place when Mr MacKenzie's partner Sarah was out walking the couple's pet retriever Paddy near their home in Surrey a few months earlier.
The journalist claimed she had been hit "broadside" by his near-neighbour Mr Cech's labrador when it attacked his dog – with his partner suffering a snapped cruciate ligament and having to have two operations after being bowled over as she tried to intervene in the fracas.
The court heard that it was, in fact, Paddy that pulled her over when he attacked Mr Cech's pet. Mr Price said the article falsely accused the Cechs of having acted in a callous, heartless and uncaring way in failing to apologise for the injury and of falsely accusing them not only of knowing the injury had been caused by their dog but also of being irresponsible owners of a dangerous animal.
"On the day in question, Mr MacKenzie's partner was injured when she was pulled off her feet by the dog that she was walking close to the Cech's home when her dog made to attack Mr and Mrs Cech's dog, an attack which was only stopped by the intervention of a nearby landscape gardener," he said.
He said the article had caused "immense upset" to his clients, who planned to donate the proceeds to Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, where Mr Cech was treated for a serious head injury in 2006.
Mr Price said that the couple took their responsibilities as dog owners very seriously. Far from failing to apologise, Mrs Cech waited with Mr MacKenzie's partner until an ambulance arrived and she and her husband visited her a few days after the accident offering their sympathy even though their dog wasn't to blame.
They suggested both dogs should be assessed – together and separately – by an animal behavioural specialist to prevent any further repeat of the incident. They also offered to pay for the sessions, the court heard.
But in his column Mr MacKenzie mocked the proposal that his pet see a "doggy psychiatrist" and suggested "by the look in Mr Cech's eyes I couldn't help wondering whether it might be more use if he popped down to the shrink instead."
Mr Price added: "The appearance of the article, with its gratuitously offensive tone and factual inaccuracies, coupled with the absence of any attempt to check the story with Mr and Mrs Cech or the witnesses severely aggravated the distress caused."
The defendants News Group Newspapers Ltd printed an apology and undertook not to repeat the unfounded allegations.Reuse content