Weeks after threatening to sue us for libel, the bosses of the Mail newspaper group have come back with some new demands. Our response follows.
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
Last Friday RPC, the lawyers for Mail editor in chief Paul Dacre, legal director Liz Hartley, and editor Emeritus Peter Wright finally responded to our defence of our four articles about the Mail and convicted blagger Steve Whittamore.
In their latest letter, the Mail trio offered to withdraw their threat of legal action on condition Byline would:
1. To continue to publish, with equal prominence to your client’s original articles, and without amendment, our clients’ Letter of Claim of 13 March.
2. To continue to publish, in the same position, same font and same red box, the statement currently published at the top of the articles originally published on 3rd, 4th and 7th March. With the first paragraph of that statement to remain unaltered and the second, third and fourth paragraphs to be deleted and replaced with a link to our clients’ letter of 13 March.
3. Not to repeat in further articles the allegations made in the articles that our clients deliberately suppressed evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
If Byline agrees to this course of action our clients are prepared to waive any claim to damages or costs. Meanwhile they reserve all their rights.
We have consulted our lawyers. The short version of our response is:
The Full Letter
A more fulsome explanation is below.
11 April 2017
BYLINE ARTICLES OF 3, 4 AND 7 MARCH 2017 (“THE ARTICLES”)
1. We refer to your letter of 7 April 2017 which was sent to our clients directly.
2. Please provide an explanation, by return, as to why this letter was not sent to this firm as required by paragraph IB(11.4) of the SRA Code of Conduct.
3. In relation to the substance of your letter, we begin by reminding you of these assertions made in your letter of 13 March 2017 (“the Claim letter”):
(i) “It is extremely important to our clients that these defamatory allegations, which have already been republished by third parties, are immediately removed from your website and that the record is set straight.”
(ii) “In all these circumstances, our clients require that Byline, its authors, editors and/or publishers take the following steps:
1. correct the inaccuracies identified and remove the defamatory statements complained of from any online source where they continue to be published and/or over which Byline and/or its authors, editors and/or publishers have control (including taking steps to notify any relevant website hosts and/or search engine providers (e.g. Google) to request removal of any cached versions of the uncorrected versions of the articles….
2. undertake that Byline and/or its authors, editors and/or publishers will not publish the same or similar allegations concerning our clients which are complained of above; and
3. publish a full retraction of the allegations complained of and an apology to each of our clients in words to be agreed with us in advance, to be published prominently on the top of the homepage of Byline’s website…and sent to all recipients of the articles who subscribe to Byline’s articles by email.
Our clients require that these actions are agreed and undertaken within 48 hours of the date of this letter to ensure that their reputations are not further damaged.” (emphasis added).
4. Your letter of 7 April 2017 was nonetheless sent a full three weeks after your receipt of our letter of 17 March 2017, which made it clear that our client would not comply with the stipulations of set out in the Claim Letter. It appears then that both your protestations of urgency and stipulations as to the outcome of this dispute have been abandoned.
5. Your letter contains no substantive response to the detailed points made in our letter of 17 March 2017. The contention in your second paragraph that a public interest defence is not available if the words complained of bear a different meaning to the one contended for by the claimant is novel and contrary to very well-established authority.
6. The Claim Letter was published by our clients along with our response to ensure that it came to the attention of the public that your clients were seeking to silence its critics in a way which has, in the past, been so vigorously attacked by Mr Dacre in particular, and that there was no merit whatsoever in the threatened defamation action because the claims made in the Articles are true in substance and fact.
7. So far as our clients are concerned; they stand by every word of the Articles. They will not be silenced by groundless threats of legal action by your clients such as that set out in your correspondence, and nor will they be prevented from continuing their investigations into the conduct of both your clients and ANL.
8. Your letter of 7 April 2017 sets out in its numbered paragraphs a further set of demands made by your clients. For the reasons already given our client will comply with none of those demands, any more than it was prepared to comply with those set out in the Claim Letter.
9. Our clients will publish your letter along with this response.
#blaggingscandal, #PaulDacre, #DailyMail, #LibelThreat, #ChillingEffects