Patten admits 'Nuttergate' libel: Personal bill for damages and costs estimated at pounds 50,000

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JOHN PATTEN, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday suffered a humiliating climbdown when he settled a libel action brought against him by Professor Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, whom he had called 'a nutter'.

Mr Patten agreed to pay Professor Brighouse a 'substantial sum' in damages and also to pay his legal costs. Sums were not mentioned in court but Mr Patten will be lucky to escape a total bill of less than pounds 50,000.

The case is a severe embarrassment to Mr Patten, and may help to bring about his reshuffle out of government. He will have to pay the bill himself and cannot call upon the Department for Education for assistance.

Yesterday the Friends of Tim Brighouse, who have collected pounds 27,000 in donations to help him fight the case, said they were delighted. Professor Brighouse intends to give the damages and donations to a charity for disadvantaged children in Birmingham.

The case, known as 'Nuttergate' in educational circles, arose out of remarks made by Mr Patten at a fringe meeting organised by the Grant Maintained Schools Centre at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, last October. Answering questions he said: 'You know, Birmingham have put this nutter in as its director of education - Brighouse . . . I fear for Birmingham with this madman let loose, wandering around the streets, frightening the children.'

The speech was taped by Parents Against Opting Out, and released to journalists. Mr Patten apologised and said he had been joking.

The High Court was told yesterday that Mr Patten accepted 'that his remarks were false and without any justification whatsoever'. He deeply regretted making them and withdrew them unreservedly.