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Harrods to sue 'Wall Street Journal' for defamation

Harrods has been given the go-ahead to pursue a High Court defamation claim against the publishers of The Wall Street Journal after a dispute arising from an April Fool's joke.

The case involves a press release issued by Harrods on 31 March 2002 under the heading "Al Fayed Reveals Plan to 'Float' Harrods", indicating that an important announcement would be made the following day and only available up until 12 noon on the chairman's relaunched personal website Alfayed.com. Anyone interested was invited to contact Loof Lirpa at Harrods.

"It will be noted," Mr Justice Eady said in his judgment yesterday, "that Loof Lirpa is simply April Fool backwards."

He said that the announcement attracted a good deal of media attention, and that an article appeared in the Deals & Deal Makers column of the 5 April 2002 Wall Street Journal headlined "The Enron of Britain?" It said: "If Harrods ... ever goes public, investors would be wise to question its every disclosure."

Yesterday the judge rejected moves by Dow Jones & Co Ltd, publishers of the Journal, to have the proceedings stayed on the grounds that the UK was the wrong jurisdiction to make a claim in.

Granting permission to Harrods to bring the claim, the judge said the publishers were expected to defend their case on the basis that their article was a humorous response to the initial joke by Harrods. He did, however, encourage both parties to arrive at a "sensible compromise".