Thursday 29 July 2010

Mail: two libel payouts in two days

On 16 July, the Mail apologised to Marlon King for a false story it published about him, which it had copied from the Sun.

On 21 July, the Mail apologised to Cheryl Cole for a false story it published about her, which it had copied from the Sun.

Today, both the Mail and Sun have apologised and paid (around £80,000) libel damages to Parameswaran Subramanyam for false stories they published about him. This time, however, the Sun copied it from the Mail.

Subramanyam went on a 23-day hunger strike in Parliament Square in April 2009 during protests against the Sri Lankan government's offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

But on 9 October, the Mail ran a story headlined 'Hunger striker's £7m Big Mac' which claimed - on the basis of an anonymous police source - that Subramanyam had been secretly eating hamburgers and wasn't actually on hunger strike at all. The following day, the Sun ran the same story, with the headline 'Hunger Striker was Lovin’ It: Bogus…striker was 'eating burgers''.

Unsurprisingly, the story quickly spread around anti-Tamil websites.

But today:

Victoria Jolliffe, counsel for Associated Newspapers and News Group newspapers, told the court that both organisations had withdrawn the allegations and apologised 'sincerely and unreservedly' to Subramanyam for the distress that had been caused.

The Mail ran this, linked from their homepage, although positioned very near the bottom:

An article (9 October 2009), 'Hunger striker's £7m Big Mac', reported claims that Mr Subramanyam was caught secretly eating burgers while on hunger strike during the Tamil protest in London, wasting significant police costs. We now accept that there was no truth in these allegations and we and other media have agreed to pay him damages and have apologised to Mr Subramanyam for the distress and embarrassment caused.

The Sun published this:

Our article of 9 October 2009 falsely alleged that throughout a 23 day hunger strike, Mr Parameswaran Subramanyam secretly ate takeaway burgers when dishonestly claiming he was on hunger strike in support of Sri Lankan Tamils, in a campaign which was policed at considerable expense and caused the police to waste public money.

We now accept that these allegations are totally untrue. Mr Subramanyam, whose sole aim has always been to promote the Tamil cause, did not eat any food at all during his hunger strike.

We apologise to Mr Subramanyam and his family for any upset and embarrassment caused and are paying him a substantial sum in damages.

Subramanyam's lawyer, Magnus Boyd, said:

“The allegations are entirely false which both defendants now accept. The claimant did not consume any food at all throughout his hunger strike. The Metropolitan Police Superintendent who was in charge of the operation in Parliament Square confirmed that there was no police surveillance team using 'specialist monitoring equipment' and that no video evidence existed.”

Subramanyam added:

"I am relieved that this matter is now resolved and I can start to rebuild my life again The past eight months have been an unbearable strain on my life, to the extent that at times I have even contemplated taking my own life.

"As a result of the lies that the Newspapers published about me, and through no fault of my own, I have lost friends, been shunned by family members and completely ostracised from the Tamil community."

For the Mail, it's two humiliations in two days.

Because yesterday, Associated Newspapers paid undisclosed libel damages to Reza Pankhurst over false claims he had groomed a suicide bomber. The Mail published an apology for this on 21 April. Inexplicably, it took the Evening Standard, which made the same claims, until 13 May to do the same.

Pankhurst's lawyer Lucy Moorman told the court:

the allegations in the articles were false and that both papers had now agreed to pay him costs and damages for the “injury to his reputation and the distress caused to him” by the articles.

(In other Mail libel news, Nathaniel Rothschild has today launched a libel action against the paper over a front-page story from 22 May.)

(Hat-tip to exclarotive)


  1. Unfortunately this is hardly a 'humiliation' for the Daily Mail. It is entirely consistent with its business strategy of publishing lies and half truths that appeal to bigots, simpletons and the intellectually lazy. The Mail understands and accepts that it will occasionally have to apologise and pay compensation to its victims. That (to its publishers) is far preferable to losing its position as Britain's leading purveyor of hate. If the Mail started pubishing a truthful and balanced view on immigration, single-mothers, global warming, etc, its readers would soon jump ship.

    For me the interesting thing about this story is that Subramanyam has reportedly only received £80k plus costs. I expect that is a proper application of English libel law, but given the devastation caused to this man's life and the immeasurable harm to the Tamil cause (how proud the Mail must be that it may indirectly have caused the continued slaughter of innocent Tamils) perhaps this case presents an argument for further libel reform.

    The Mail (and the Sun) either lied or recklessly failed to verify their story because all they cared about was attracting readers. They apparently paid no regard to the harm that would be caused. The penalty should have been in the millions - sensible damages going to Subramanyam and a much larger amount going to charitable causes. The Mail should also have been forced to print a full front page apology.

    While technically a civil case, this was an example of soft justice. The punishment not fitting the crime. And we all know how the Mail feels about that.

  2. Meanwhile Dacre is claiming that critics of the PCC - the illustrious body of which he is such a part - are "ignorant and prejudiced" defies belief.


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