Man accused of Beckham kidnap plot wins apology

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The Independent Online

A man accused by the News of the World of involvement in an plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham has been given a public apology in the Court of Appeal following the emergence of new evidence which cleared his name.

Two years ago, Alin Turcu, a Romanian whose real name is Bogdan Maris, lost his High Court claim that he was libelled by a front page story, "Posh Kidnap", in the News of the World in November 2002, and by a follow-up in The Sun.

The NoW report, which followed an undercover operation by its investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, told how the newspaper had foiled a plot by an international terror gang to kidnap David Beckham's wife and their two infant sons. The story said the gang intended to kill Mrs Beckham if her husband did not meet a £5m ransom demand.

Mr Turcu, 25, who came to the UK in 1999, was identified in both articles by photographs accompanied by his pseudonym. He was arrested the next day and held on remand for eight months, but returned to Romania after the trial collapsed in June 2003. The newspapers called him a surveillance expert.

At the High Court hearing in 2003 before Mr Justice Eady, who sat without a jury, News Group Newspapers, the publisher of both newspapers, denied libel and insisted the articles were true or substantially true.

Mr Turcu went on to win permission to challenge the High Court's rejection of his claim for libel, and his appeal was due to have started this week.

But News Group's solicitor, Ben Beaby, told Lord Justices Ward, Laws and Toulson: "Mr Justice Eady found that there was a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham. The defendant [News Group] now accepts that this plot did not include the claimant."

The judges were told by David Price, the solicitor-advocate for Mr Turcu, that News Group had agreed to make a "modest" donation to a charity of Mr Turcu's choice and a contribution to his legal costs. The settlement also cancels an order made in the High Court for Mr Turcu to pay the newspaper's £400,000 in legal costs.

It is thought the appeal was based on fresh evidence from Florim Gashi, which emerged after the High Court libel trial. Mr Gashi was the main source for the story, but had not been called by the newspaper to give evidence.

Mr Turcu said after the settlement: "I am just very relieved that after almost five years the News of the World has finally accepted that I was not part of any plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham."

Mr Price said: "We took on this case because we believed that the serious allegations made against our client were untrue.

"That is why we stuck with it even after the trial and notwithstanding the criticism that we faced."

'News of the World' in court

* On 26 January, Clive Goodman, the News of the World's royal editor, was jailed for four months for intercepting phone messages. On the same day, it was announced that Andy Coulson, the News of the World's editor, had resigned, having given in his notice a fortnight earlier. He was immediately replaced by Colin Myler.

* In July, a libel action brought by the Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan came to court in Edinburgh. Mr Sheridan denied the NoW's allegations, in November 2004 and January 2005, that he had had an affair, engaged in group sex and attended a swingers' club. Mr Sheridan won and was awarded £200,000 in damages. The NoW intends to appeal against the jury's decision.

* In June 2006, the England footballer Ashley Cole received damages from the publishers of the NoW over articles falsely alleging the footballer had used a mobile phone as a gay sex toy. Together with its sister paper The Sun, the NoW paid Cole £100,000 to settle the case.

* In April 2006, the footballer Wayne Rooney received £100,000 in damages from the publisher of the NoW andThe Sun over articles falsely reporting that he had slapped his fiancée, Coleen McLoughlin. Both had denied the reports.