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 He said she had made an offer to settle the case which had not been withdrawn.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.”

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
News
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star