Simon Regan maintained that his London-based magazine, which along with New Statesman and Society highlighted gossip linking the pair, would not pay damages or apologise. 'We are absolutely intransigent on that. We have nothing to lose because we have no money,' he said.
Negotiations between Scallywag's lawyers and those acting for John Major and Ms Latimer have been going on for some months and Mr Regan said that a deal, tantamount to a 'capitulation' for the Prime Minister, might not be far away. However, David Hooper, the Prime Minister's solicitor, said yesterday that the case would go to court unless Scallywag chose to reach an agreement.
Yesterday, lawyers acting for the New Statesman stuck to the line that acceptance of the pounds 1,001 each in damages represented a 'moral victory' for the magazine. But the Prime Minister said that the settlement coming on top of substantial damages and costs paid by the printer and distributors, represented an admission that they were wrong. Mr Major said in Tokyo: 'Everyone concerned has now paid damages. The size of the damages was never to be a relevant factor. It is now no longer an issue I need concern myself with. It is dead and gone.'
Asked if he considered it a moral victory for the New Statesman, he replied: 'Well, it's a curious moral victory when they admitted it has cost them pounds 250,000. If this is a moral victory it is not the sort . . . they would like every week.'
But Geoffrey Bindman, the solicitor acting for the New Statesman, called on Mr Major and Ms Latimer to hand back the damages they were paid earlier on the basis that the article had been libellous, a contention they had chosen not to test in court.
In a statement last night, Steve Platt, editor of New Statesman & Society, said: 'We have said consistently that our original story, which looked at repeated attempts in the press and broadcast media to spread rumours abour Mr Major having an affair, was a fair and balanced inquiry into press methods. Mr Major continues to assert that the article had stated or implied that the rumours were not true. This is not the case.'
Mr Platt added: 'Mr Major is also mistaken in his assertion that we cannot repeat the article . . . We consider ourselves free to republish all or part of it.'
The New Statesman's printers, BPCC, and its distributors Comag, and the newsagents John Menzies, reached an out-of-court settlement of about pounds 150,000 over which the magazine had no control.
Scallywag's former printers, Broglia, and distributors, Time Out Distribution, have also paid pounds 15,000 each, leaving four writs against the publishers, WWR Publications.
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