Lord McAlpine defamation case: Only a 'moron in a hurry' would not have understood Sally Bercow tweet

Lord McAlpine, wrongly accused of child abuse, claims victory in early stage of defamation case

Only a “moron” would not have linked Lord McAlpine to false claims that he was a paedophile, following a tweet by Sally Bercow, the High Court heard, as the peer claimed victory in the first stage of a libel battle.

A court hearing will decide whether Bercow’s tweet in November last year – “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*” – was defamatory, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled. If Lord McAlpine is successful, a further hearing will decide the level of damages.

Mrs Bercow, the Speaker’s wife, was one of several high-profile figures who mentioned Lord McAlpine’s name on Twitter, wrongly linking him to claims of child abuse at the Bryn Estyn boys’ home in North Wales.

The peer was falsely accused after a Newsnight investigation accused “a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years” of sexually abusing boys at the home in the Seventies and Eighties.

Lord McAlpine’s QC, Sir Edward Garnier, told the hearing that Mrs Bercow’s Twitter following of almost 60,000 was bigger than the readership of some local newspapers.

“We are not talking about some kitchen table blogger addressing perhaps herself and one other person,” he said.

Sir Edward told the court that, in the context of the Newsnight broadcast and the media coverage, only “a moron in a hurry” or an “anchorite in a sealed cave” could not have known the meaning of the tweet.

William McCormick QC, Mrs Bercow’s counsel, said she had promptly tweeted an apology. She had written letters apologising for the distress caused, making clear that the underlying allegations were untrue. He said she had made an offer to settle the case which had not been withdrawn.

In February, the former Conservative party treasurer, who has already received six-figure pay-outs from the BBC and ITV, announced he was dropping defamation claims against Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers and instead asked for a charitable donation to BBC Children In Need.

Neither Lord McAlpine nor Ms Bercow were in court for the peer’s contested application for the trial to be split in two, with the first hearing deciding the meaning of the tweet and, if that went in his favour, a second hearing on the appropriate level of damages.

Sir Edward said that the sooner the meaning was fixed upon the better. “There will be a huge saving of time and costs and it will allow the parties to get this matter behind them and get on with the rest of their lives however they choose to lead them.”

Granting the application, the judge said that there should be a preliminary hearing on what was the actual meaning of the words complained of - both a natural and ordinary meaning and an innuendo meaning.

The first part of the hearing should be heard by July, the judge directed, with Lord McAlpine and his wife expected to give evidence.

Speaking outside the court, Andrew Reid, Lord McAlpine’s solicitor, claimed a victory for his client and argued that the judge “found himself to be somewhat baffled in dealing with her (Mrs Bercow’s) defence.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine