Twitter libel: Sally Bercow says she has 'learned the hard way' as she settles with Tory peer Lord McAlpine over libellous tweet

Commons speaker's wife called the ruling 'a warning to all social media users,' as McAlpine's lawyer indicates settlement will go to charity

Sally Bercow, wife of the Commons Speaker, has paid damages to Lord McAlpine, after the High Court found that a tweet posted by her which falsely linked him to an allegation of child sexual abuse was highly defamatory.

The wife of John Bercow said: “I have learned my own lesson the hard way” after losing her libel battle with the Tory peer.

Mr Justice Tugendhat found that her tweet - “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*” - posted after Newsnight made allegations about a high-profile Tory politician, would have been understood to mean the former Tory chairman was a paedophile.

Mrs Bercow denied that the tweet, which appeared two days after the BBC programme wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine in allegations of sex abuse at Bryn Estyn children’s him, was defamatory.

After Britain’s most senior libel judge handed down his ruling, Mrs Bercow said: “I very much regret my tweet. I have accepted an earlier offer his (McAlpine’s) lawyers made to settle the matter.”

Mrs Bercow has agreed to an offer of settlement, first made by the peer in January, which is thought to be in the region of £15,000. She will donate the damages payment to a charity of McAlpine’s choice.

The affair is believed to have cost the Speaker’s wife, who must make a public apology in court to Lord McAlpine, around £100,000, although she will be able to claim legal expenses insurances.

The peer, who has already received six-figure payouts from the BBC and ITV, said Mrs Bercow’s tweet pointed “the finger of blame” during a media frenzy.

Mr Justice Tugendhat, said in his judgment that her tweet meant “in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning that the claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care. If I were wrong about that, I would find that the tweet bore an innuendo meaning to the same effect.”

The judgement would provide “both a warning to, and guidance for, people who use social media,” said Andrew Reid of RMPI Solicitors, which acted for Lord McAlpine.

He said: “It highlights how established legal principles apply to social media, and how the courts take account of the particular way in which social media operates when reaching decisions on whether publications are defamatory.”

The failure of Mrs Bercow to admit that her tweet was defamatory “caused considerable unnecessary pain and suffering to Lord McAlpine and his family over the past six months,” the solicitor said.

Mrs Bercow, who was not in court, agreed that the ruling “should be seen as a warning to all social media users.”

She said: “Things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation. On this, I have learned my own lesson the hard way.”

Mrs Bercow said she had “promptly apologised publicly and privately to Lord McAlpine for the distress I caused him. I also made two offers of compensation.”

“The High Court found that my tweet constituted a serious libel, both in its natural meaning and as an innuendo,” she said. “To say I’m surprised and disappointed by this is an understatement.

“However, I will accept the ruling as the end of the matter. I remain sorry for the distress I have caused Lord McAlpine and I repeat my apologies.”

Mr Reid said Mrs Bercow had “finally seen sense and has accepted an offer of settlement, which Lord McAlpine made back in January.”

Guardian columnist George Monbiot agreed to do £25,000 worth of charity work over the next three years as part of an unprecedented legal settlement after he also libelled McAlpine on Twitter.

In his judgment, Tugendhat said there was no sensible reason for Mrs Bercow to include the words “*innocent face*” in her tweet, which sensible readers among her 56,000 followers would have understood to be “insincere and ironical”.

He decided that her tweet “provided the last piece in the jigsaw” and allowed readers to wrongly link McAlpine with the allegation of child sexual abuse. “It is an allegation of guilt. I see no room on these facts for any less serious meaning,” Tugendhat added.

News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
health
Life and Style
fashion

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tv
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Brendan Rodgers as a manager, writes Paul Scholes
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game