Mersey policemen win libel damages

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The Independent Online
FOUR Merseyside police officers were given 'substantial' undisclosed libel damages yesterday over a suggestion in the New Statesman magazine that they should have been disciplined or charged following the death of a man in custody.

The settlement was announced at the High Court, just a month after the magazine paid an estimated pounds 20,000 to two employees it had wrongly made redundant.

Duncan Campbell, the chairman of National Publishing, the New Statesman's owner, said then that the costs were enough to bring the magazine to its knees. But yesterday, Steve Platt, the magazine's editor, said that losing the latest legal battle 'does not add substantially to the difficulties we face'.

The magazine now faces a third legal action, from Lord Tebbit, former chairman of the Conservative Party, over a reference in a satirical column.

Yesterday, the New Statesman apologised to the policemen for the distress and embarrassment the article caused. The High Court was told that in June 1979 Sergeant David Berrington and Constables Frederick Browning, Robert Evans and John Taylor detained James Kelly, who was drunk and violently resisted arrest. He died soon afterwards. An inquest jury returned a unanimous verdict of death by misadventure.

In July 1989 the New Statesman published an article about police accountability. It referred to Mr Kelly's death but failed to mention the inquest verdict or the fact that he had resisted arrest.

It reported that the division to which the arresting officers belonged had been disbanded, and said that 'no officers were disciplined or charged with any offence relating to these controversial deaths'.

Andrew Caldecott, counsel for the policemen, told Mr Justice French that the four were not named in the article, but their identities were widely known.