Mellor behaved 'like ostrich' over PLO link: Newspaper says article was justified comment on minister's behaviour. Andrew Gliniecki reports

A NEWSPAPER has the right to comment if it thinks a senior politician such as David Mellor behaves like an ostrich, puts his head in the sand 'and thereby exposes his thinking parts', a High Court libel jury was told yesterday.

George Carman QC, for the People newspaper against an action brought by Mona Bauwens, an independent film producer, said that such a right was enshrined in the 'freedom of the press'. Mr Mellor, then Arts Minister, was criticised in an article published in September 1990 for taking a holiday in Spain paid for by Mrs Bauwens at the time of the Gulf crisis, despite her father's membership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee.

In his closing speech, Mr Carman said: 'Marbella has sand, sea and sunshine and if a politician goes there and, in the honest view of some, behaves like an ostrich and thereby exposes his thinking parts, it may be a newspaper is entitled to say so.'

Mrs Bauwens, 31, claims the newspaper suggested she was a social leper because of her father's involvement with the PLO and was not fit to be seen with a Government minister. The People denies libel.

Mr Carman said that it was significant that Mr Mellor, now Secretary of State for National Heritage, had not started the libel action and had not been called by Mrs Bauwens to give evidence. The 'deafening silence' from both Mr Mellor and Mrs Bauwens' father, Jaweed al-Ghussein, 'spoke volumes', he said. Mr Carman said it was 'fair inference' that both would have felt uncomfortable in cross-examination. The defence could have called Mr Mellor under subpoena, but Mr Carman decided not to do so because he would not have been able to cross-examine him.

He also called the jury's attention to a visit to the court earlier in the week by Judith Mellor. 'We had the spectacle of Mr Mellor's no doubt kind and friendly wife coming along to the courtroom and going out in front of the TV cameras, arms linked with Mrs Bauwens . . . Am I being unfair . . . in saying that Ministers of the Crown are not averse to public relations exercises?'

Mr Carman reminded the jury that the PLO was firmly behind Saddam Hussein at the time the People's article was published and asked them what they expected of their politicians at the time of crisis leading up to the Gulf war.

'When the clouds of war gather around the country and the nation takes the strain, you expect, do you not - each and every one of you - from Ministers of the Crown, undivided, unambiguous loyalty in conduct and never ever for a minister to put himself in any association with a friend of an enemy?

'Is that not the least one can expect from a Minister of the Crown?'

Richard Hartley QC, for Mrs Bauwens, said that the defence was using freedom of the press as a 'smoke-screen'. He said: 'It is a joke, members of the jury, and a pretty sick joke at that.' The press also had a responsibility to get its facts right, he said.

Mr Hartley will continue his closing speech on Monday.

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