Desmond loses libel action over Black

Author: By Jan Colley and Cathy Gordon, Press Association

A jury at London’s High Court took nearly four hours to decide by a majority
that the Express Group boss was not defamed in Tom Bower’s 2006 biography of
the now disgraced former Daily Telegraph owner.

His QC, Ian Winter, had branded allegations that he ordered a negative story
about Black after litigation over a printing plant and was then forced into
a humiliating climbdown during a 2003 libel mediation as “wholly false”.

Mr Bower denied libel and said what he wrote in Conrad And Lady Black: Dancing
On The Edge was substantially true and was not, in any event, defamatory.

His counsel, Ronald Thwaites QC, told Mr Justice Eady and the jurors Mr
Desmond was a “malevolent proprietor determined to do as he liked”,
whose bad reputation in the industry merited an award of no more than 40p –
the cover-price of one copy of the Daily Express.

But Mr Winter said the disputed passages contained 10 defamatory factual
errors, which were not addressed in court.

He said that the two press barons had reached agreement years ago and disputed
Mr Thwaites’s assertion that Mr Desmond brought the action out of wounded
pride to show he was not a “wimp”.

The action was not about money but vindication for his reputation as the
claims could be very damaging in business, Mr Winter said.

Mr Desmond left with his lawyers and made no immediate comment about the
jury’s verdict.

Outside the courtroom a delighted Mr Bower was approached by several members
of the jury requesting his signature on their copies of his book.

As he happily signed the books, he told jurors: “I am very grateful to you.
You have been an absolutely marvellous jury.

“You have done a great service to British journalism.”

Speaking to journalists after the verdict, Mr Bower commented: “I think I was
the victim of a very rich man trying to suppress the truth.”

After his defeat, Mr Desmond faces a costs bill unofficially estimated at
around £1.25 million.

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