Met Police fails to halt libel action
Thursday 31 March 2011
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has failed to halt a libel action brought against it by a solicitor active in the News of the World phone-hacking case.
Mark Lewis is suing over a two-line email written by a lawyer in the MPS's directorate of legal services in November 2009 addressed to the director of the Press Complaints Commission.
Mr Lewis, who has represented Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, claims that it meant he lied to a Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by a Metropolitan Police officer, Detective Sergeant (now Detective Inspector) Mark Maberly.
At an hearing earlier this month, the MPS's counsel Jacob Dean applied to Mr Justice Tugendhat at London's High Court for the case to be struck out as an abuse of process.
He said Mr Lewis had obtained "full vindication" through the settlement of his claim against the PCC and its chair, Baroness Buscombe, over comments she made to the Society of Editors annual conference in November 2009.
This involved a public expression of regret that her words may have been misunderstood and payment of £20,000 libel damages and Mr Lewis's legal costs.
Desmond Browne QC, for Mr Lewis, a consultant to Taylor Hampton Solicitors, said this vindication, such as it was, was not to be compared with what Mr Lewis would obtain if he succeeded in his action against the Metropolitan Police.
True vindication, he added, could only come by testing the stories of Mr Lewis against that of DI Maberly if he was put forward as a witness.
Allowing the case to proceed, the judge said today: "This claim against the MPS was not an abuse of process when it was started, and the MPS did not suggest it was. It has not become an abuse of process for Mr Lewis to continue it, as submitted by Mr Dean, for the reasons advanced by Mr Browne."
He added that justice required that the eventual trial of the action should not be confined to the publications to the immediate recipients of the email.
Whether it was heard by a jury, or a judge sitting alone, they should be able to consider also whether the MPS, if held liable at all, should be liable not only for the words complained of in the email, but also for those written and spoken by Baroness Buscombe.
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