A statement has been made in open court in the libel proceedings (1) David Goulding (2) Philip Doughty (3) Britam Defence Ltd v Associated Newspapers Ltd (2013) in which the newspaper publisher accepted that it had wrongly alleged that the claimants had been part of a plot to launch a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Facts

The claimants were a risk management and trading consultancy and two of its senior officers.

On 29 January 2013, the defendant published an article on its Mail Online website under the headline “U.S. ‘backed plan to launch chemical weapons attack on Syria and blame it on Assad’s regime’”.

The article focused on internal emails within the claimant company, which it was stated had been hacked from the company’s computer system and posted online. Those emails were said to demonstrate a plot between the American government and the company to launch a chemical weapons attack in Syria which could be blamed on President Assad.

The article quoted one email which had purportedly been sent between two senior officers of the company, in which the proposal was outlined.

The Claimants asserted that the allegations were entirely false and they had suffered damage to their reputations, as well as considerable distress and embarrassment on the part of the two senior officers of the company.

Statement in open court

The defendant issued a statement in open court in which it admitted that the allegations were false and the evidence completely fabricated.

The newspaper publisher accepted that the article would be understood to suggest that the claimants were willing, for financial reward, to consider taking part in an illegal plot which would have led to the deaths of countless innocent civilians.

The defendant offered its sincere apologies for the damage and distressed caused by the publication of these false allegations.

Having already published an apology and retraction on its website, the newspaper publisher also agreed to pay substantial damages to the claimants along with their legal costs.

Comment

All national newspapers have well-staffed legal departments to check stories that are to be published in print or online. However this case illustrates that there are still stories published which are not always properly verified and this can prove to be a costly mistake when such a story slips through the net.