Lawyer in Bauwens libel case accused of cruelty

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The Independent Online
GEORGE CARMAN QC, was yesterday accused of being 'cruel and cowardly' in the way he has conducted the defence for the People in a libel action brought by Mona Bauwens, a friend of David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Richard Hartley QC, accused Mr Carman in the High Court of 'painting a crude picture' of Mr Mellor and using 'wink wink, nudge nudge' tactics to influence press coverage.

Mr Carman had been cowardly 'because he was prepared to wound but afraid to strike'.

He added: 'Mr Carman is the past-master of the wink wink, nudge nudge but he never puts a specific allegation to Mrs Bauwens. It's classic smear tactics in that, if you go on long enough, something will stick.'

Mrs Bauwens, daughter of an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Jaweed al-Ghussein, is suing the People over articles which criticised Mr Mellor for taking his family on holiday at her expense to a Marbella villa, at the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

She claims the stories, published in September 1990, made her out to be a 'social leper' who was not fit to be seen with a government minister.

The newspaper denies libel, claiming that the story is not an attack on Mrs Bauwens, but rather fair comment on Mr Mellor's political judgement in being on holiday with the daughter of a member of the PLO, which openly supported Saddam Hussein.

In his closing speech on the sixth day of the case, Mr Hartley said: 'Mr Carman got a little upset when I told him to remember this courtroom was not a theatre. At that time I did not think he would be doing a music-hall turn as a stand-up comic and painting a rather crude picture of Mr Mellor behaving like an ostrich and putting his head in the sand 'thereby exposing his thinking parts'.

'It is good knockabout stuff. It has them rocking in the aisles. And next day's headlines are as predictable as night follows day.'

Earlier in the week, he said Mr Carman used photographs of Mrs Bauwens astride a rocking horse, and questions about Mr Mellor's visits to her flat, to get 'maximum headline publicity'.

He said Mr Carman's 'verbal mugging' continued when he suggested that the appearance last week of Mr Mellor's wife, Judith, at court and in front of the television cameras with Mrs Bauwens was 'stage managed'.

Mr Hartley continued: 'You may think that, coming from Mr Carman, that's a bit rich. In this court, on behalf of the defence, he has been stage manager, producer and leading actor.' He said 'only the most cynical person' would criticise Mrs Mellor's conduct.

Mr Hartley said that the jury might also take the view that the defence never had any intention of subpoenaing Mr Mellor and that this was a ploy to ensure the court was packed with reporters.

Because Mrs Bauwens had been 'dragged through the dirt' Mr Hartley urged the jury to go 'to the top of the compensation tree'.

Summing up, the judge, Mr Justice Drake, told the jury that at the heart of the case was the link between Mrs Bauwens and her father, and whether this link was strong enough for the People to criticise Mr Mellor's judgement.

If the jury found against the newspaper, it was for them alone to decide on damages. But he urged them not to 'think you have to have football pool figures.'

The jury is expected to retire to consider its verdict today.