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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory