Magazine pays libel damages to Tebbit: New Statesman admits error in article

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The Independent Online
The New Statesmen and Society magazine, which faces a potentially crippling law suit from the Prime Minister, yesterday paid libel damages to Lord Tebbit for repeating the allegation that he once said 'nobody with a conscience votes Conservative'.

Lord Tebbit won 'substantial damages' from the Guardian after it attributed the remark to him six years ago. Steve Platt, the New Statesman's editor, apologised and said a columnist had repeated it in error last summer. He published an apology two weeks later in response to a complaint by Lord Tebbit.

Yesterday's outcome is a further blow to the magazine that is attempting to raise pounds 200,000 to meet the cost of libel actions being taken by John Major and Clare Latimer, the caterer with whom he was linked in an article published in January.

It is understood that the magazine incurred expenses of nearly pounds 8,000 as a result of the action by Lord Tebbit. The bulk of the expenditure related to paying the costs of the plaintiff and the magazine's printers, BPCC, named as a third party in the action.

The figure is comparatively small in terms of libel actions, but the magazine's financial situation is precarious. Last year it made a profit of pounds 15,000. This year, but for the pending cases, the profit would have been pounds 20,000.

Mr Platt expressed his concern yesterday that, under libel law, publications were particularly vulnerable when third parties were included in actions. In the legal battle with the Prime Minister, the magazine has already been exposed to claims by its printers, its distributors, Comag, and its retailers, W H Smith, to indemnify them for pounds 120,000 damages and costs paid after out-of-court settlements.

Mr Platt said that it was not reasonable to hold third parties responsible for the contents of magazines. He said: 'Third parties have no incentive to fight a libel action because they can just pass on their costs to the publication concerned.'

About 400 leading figures, including politicians and people from the media, arts and literary worlds, are now supporting the magazine's defence fund which was set up earlier this month.

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