Lord McAlpine is to drop many of the defamation claims he took out against Twitter users who falsely labelled him a paedophile, and has instead chosen to set his sights on a far less intangible target – Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
Anyone with less than 500 followers on Twitter can consider themselves no longer in the crosshairs of the former Conservative treasurer – as long as they meet his condition of sending £25 to Children in Need. However, he made clear that Ms Bercow, who has 57,000 followers, would not be afforded such generosity of spirit.
“I have requested that my lawyers focus on the action against Sally Bercow and that damages arising from this are donated to a charity of her choice,” he said in a statement.
A prolific user of the site, Ms Bercow temporarily deleted her account when it became clear that the widely repeated allegations, which surfaced in the wake of a BBC Newsnight programme last year, were completely false.
The Newsnight broadcast on 2 November was about historical allegations of child abuse at care homes in north Wales.
Former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine was not named in the broadcast, but he was incorrectly linked to the claims on the internet.
Newsnight carried a full, on-air apology for the broadcast a week later when it become clear that Lord McAlpine was not involved.
The incident contributed to the then BBC Director George Entwistle losing his job only a few weeks after beginning it. Lord McAlpine is a multi-millionaire, but has actively pursued settlements from a number of organisations.
He has already won six-figure sums from the BBC and ITV.
But he said that he wanted to draw the “unfortunate episode” to a close. The peer had previously said it was “terrifying” to find himself “a figure of public hatred”.
The peer’s statement read: “Whilst I reached a settlement last year with both the BBC and ITV, I would like to now draw this unfortunate episode, forced into my life, to a close.
“I have dropped all claims against those tweeters with less than 500 followers, in return for a very modest donation to BBC Children In Need, which funds 2,600 projects supporting disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.”
Ms Bercow, who is a Labour activist, claimed Lord McAlpine’s legal action against her was “totally politically motivated”, and described his lawyers as “ambulance chasers” and “big bullies”.