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High drama as actress loses libel case: The 'sex in car' hearing featuring a star of 'EastEnders' ended with scenes worthy of 'Casualty' and a pounds 500,000 legal bill

Will Bennett
Wednesday 26 January 1994 01:02 GMT

GILLIAN TAYLFORTH, the EastEnders actress, collapsed in the High Court and was rushed to hospital yesterday after losing a libel action which left her and her fiance, Geoff Knights, facing a pounds 500,000 legal bill, writes Will Bennett.

It was a dramatic and humiliating end to the case in which the couple had denied that a police officer saw them having oral sex in their Range Rover on a slip road of the A1 in Hertfordshire.

They said that Mr Knights suffers from pancreatitis, brought on by heavy drinking, and had undone his trousers to ease the pain while Miss Taylforth massaged his stomach. They sued the Sun for alleging they had indulged in a 'sex romp' but a jury found in the paper's favour by 10-2.

A deathly pale Miss Taylforth began to shake uncontrollably within seconds of the verdict and was helped from court by Mr Knights and relatives. As they left one of the family shouted at police: 'Satisfied, are you?'

She collapsed in a corridor outside and appeared to be hyperventilating. Her sister Janice screamed: 'Get an ambulance, get an ambulance, she can't breathe. She's going to die.'

Seven minutes after the verdict a paramedic sped through the gates of the High Court on a motor-cycle and gave her emergency treatment. An ambulance followed 10 minutes later, siren wailing.

Miss Taylforth, 38, was taken to Guy's Hospital suffering from shock. A spokesman said she was 'fit and well' by the time she left but she still looked badly shaken.

After she had been helped from the court, Mr Justice Drake ruled that she and Mr Knights, 39, a businessman, must pay the entire pounds 500,000 costs of the 11-day hearing: that is likely to be pounds 200,000 for the plaintiffs and pounds 150,000 each for the Sun and the other defendants, the Metropolitan Police.

The couple are well off with homes in Highbury New Park, north London, and Hertfordshire. Mr Knights owns a Rolls-Royce, a Porsche and a pounds 70,000 Ferrari Testarossa, which is for sale.

However, the bill is a brutal reminder of how libel actions can backfire. The verdict may mark the end of an era in which juries have routinely found in favour of plaintiffs suing newspapers - although in this case the key witness was a policeman, PC Terence Talbot, who said that he was in no doubt what he had seen through the car window.

The Sun denied libel but said that if the story were untrue the Metropolitan Police was responsible because it supplied the information. The police became third parties in the action.

William Garnett, solicitor for Miss Taylforth and Mr Knights, said they were 'obviously deeply disappointed'. 'They have endured immense strain, both before and during the hearing, and at the end of the day the combined forces of the Sun aided by the police have proved too much.'

The Sun's assistant editor, Chris Roycroft-Davis, said: 'She did bring this on herself. She sued us, she took a gamble that she and her boyfriend were going to make some very easy tax-free money at our expense. Unfortunately she has been proved to be lying her head off.' The story was published 'a long, long time ago', he added. 'Miss Taylforth, if she had any sense, would have let it go at that. Everybody would have forgotten it by now.'

The BBC said that the verdict would not affect her role as Kathy Beale in EastEnders - she is due back in the studio next week. She and Mr Knights have to decide whether to appeal against the verdict and to pursue actions over similar allegations against the Daily Star and Daily Express.

Real-life drama, page 3

Master of the one-liner, page 3

(Photograph omitted)

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