Harrods in libel claim over April Fool spoof

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The Independent Online

April Fool's Day jokes can have a habit of going wrong, but Mohamed Al Fayed's Harrods store surely never dreamt when it issued a joke press release on 31 March last year that it would end up suing one of the world's most prestigious newspapers.

Harrods began libel proceedings yesterday against Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, over an article in which the Knightsbridge store was equated with disgraced American firm Enron.

It all began when Harrods issued a press release the day before April Fool's Day, saying that the chairman, Mr Fayed, was planning to float the store. Further details on his personal website revealed that he was considering floating a Harrods-branded store on a canal boat, not the London Stock Exchange. The contact name for interested parties was listed as Loof Lirpa ­ April Fool spelt backwards.

But several days later,The Wall Street Journal ran an article under the headline: "The Enron of Britain?" in which it said that if Harrods went public, "investors would be wise to question its every disclosure".

In the High Court in London yesterday, lawyers representing Harrods condemned the 5 April article as an "extraordinary attack" on the store. The US newspaper had fallen "hook, line and sinker" for the April Fool's Day announcement, said James Price QC, for Harrods.

After reading the article to the court, he said: "You might think that there is not a great deal of doubt that The Wall Street Journal is making a serious point in this article. We say that it is an extraordinary attack."

The newspaper denies libelling Harrods. It emphasised that the reference appeared only in the American edition. The hearing is due to finish today.