Lord McAlpine libel row with Sally Bercow settled in High Court

Mrs Bercow agrees to pay £15,000 in damages

Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons speaker, has agreed to pay former Tory peer Lord McAlpine £15,000 in damages for a libellous tweet posted last year.

Mrs Bercow was sued for damages by the former Conservative party treasurer after naming him on Twitter in the wake of a controversial BBC Newsnight report that claimed a leading politician from the Thatcher years had abused boys living in care. The report, aired last November, did not name Lord McAlpine, but led to a flurry of online speculation. Mrs Bercow tweeted at the time: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*".

After McAlpine threatened to sue Twitter users who had named him, Bercow followed up her Tweet: "*Gulps*." She added: "I guess I'd better get some legal advice then. Still maintain was not a libellous tweet - just foolish."

Mrs Bercow had initially denied that her tweet was defamatory, but high Court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat agreed that it pointed "the finger of blame".  

Sir Edward Garnier QC said that, at the time of her tweet, Mrs Bercow, who has since deactivated her account, had in excess of 56,000 followers and that a substantial number of them re-tweeted her "unsubtle message".

Mrs Bercow appeared to concur with that view, reactivating her Twitter account yesterday, where she wrote: “I have apologised sincerely to Lord McAlpine in court – I hope others have learned tweeting can inflict real harm on people’s lives.”

The payout is the latest victory for Lord McAlpine in light of last year’s news report, which aired as the BBC was in the height of fallout over the Jimmy Savile scandal.
McAlpine recouped a total of £310,000 from the BBC and ITV for their part in the mass libel, while several other Twitter users made a small donation to charity.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot pledged to do three years of charity work amounting to £25,000, while comedian Alan Davies, also swiftly apologised.

Yesterday McAlpine’s lawyer, Andrew Reid of RMPI LLP, said: "Today has seen closure of a piece of litigation, which has now become the leading case in terms of internet responsibility. Our client had never wanted the situation to get to this stage.

"It was always his intention to avoid litigation if at all possible, just as it was always Mrs Bercow’s intention, until today, not to provide an apology satisfactory to our client."

Sir Edward Garnier QC told the judge that Mrs Bercow had apologised for her “irresponsible use of Twitter”, which had caused the peer great distress and embarrassment. She had also undertaken never to repeat the allegations about him and had withdrawn them unreservedly.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home