Lord Rothermere’s Mail on Sunday suffers ANOTHER humiliating defeat in the libel courts – just months after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle won their pay-outs

Michael Ward
  • BILLIONAIRE-OWNED paper ‘stole’ documents from businessman
  • LOSS OF important paperwork meant Michael Ward couldn’t defend himself in court
  • THEN MAIL JOURNALISTS secretly paid potential prosecution witnesses which the nightclub impresario says helped send him to jail
  • NOW Mail on Sunday has been forced to apologise – and pay him compensation
  • BYLINE INVESTIGATES highlighted Mr Ward’s fight for justice and helped him win case
  • THE DEFEAT comes weeks after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry won their cases against the under-fire Sunday tabloid
  • WARD SAYS he will carry on fight to get his name cleared in the courts

By Chris Allen & Graham Johnson

THE MAIL ON SUNDAY has admitted taking documents from the home of a prominent businessman without his permission.

Michael Ward says the tabloid – owned by billionaire Lord Rothermere – stole the valuable paperwork from his property.

But as a result, HE ended-up going to jail.

The market-leading title has also confessed to paying potential witnesses in his criminal trial.

Ward (R) purchasing The Hippodrome from Peter Stringfellow (L) in 1989.

Last night, Mr Ward told Byline Investigates: “The Mail on Sunday stole the documents that I needed to prove I was innocent, and as a result I was sent to prison.

“It was a burglary. They knew I was abroad, they broke into my house, forced open my filing cabinet, and helped themselves.

“Secretly paying potential witnesses to give evidence against me was the final straw – it sealed my fate.”

Heyday: In late 80s and early 90s Mr Ward was a high-flying leisure industry entrepreneur with an international reputation

The bombshell confession – the first of its kind by a Fleet Street title – came as the Mail on Sunday agreed to pay Mr Ward ‘substantial’ damages for its libellous response to a story about his case.

National titles – such as the News of the World and the Mirror – have previously admitted other forms of unlawful information gathering, such as phone hacking and tasking private investigators to “blag” confidential records. 

However,  none have been linked to entering a property to steal documents, or secretly paying-off potential witnesses, before a criminal trial. 

Two Mail on Sunday articles written by former Mail on Sunday journalists Lawrence Lever – the first one in Clive Wolman’s finance column

The payout is scant comfort to the former entrepreneur, who has been fighting to clear his name for 25 years.

He claims his prosecution left his business empire in tatters, and says his reputation was shattered by prison sentences totalling three years.

Mr Ward says he was jailed in a conspiracy by the Mail on Sunday to corrupt his trial and undermine an earlier libel action against the paper.

Byline Investigates reported in 2019 on Mr Ward’s far-reaching allegations, made in papers submitted to the High Court in February the same year, which included:

  • Witnesses allegedly being encouraged by the Mail on Sunday to lie under oath, and being offered ‘conviction bonuses.’
  • Claims that the paper’s then Finance Editor Lawrence Lever entered Mr Ward’s home and stole files.
  • City Editor Clive Wolman allegedly paying a decorator to “bleed the house of every document he could find”.
  • During the hearing, the paper’s owner Associated News Limited denied or did not admit the allegations.
  • But afterwards a spokesman for the publisher went too far and groundlessly smeared the Cambridge-educated former millionaire.
  • The Mail on Sunday rebuffed Mr Ward’s claims in a statement to Byline Investigates, saying they had already been “rejected” at his trial, as well as by the Court of Appeal and Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
Associated Newspapers Ltd’s official statement following their settlement with Mr Ward in May 2021

Mr Ward began a libel action against the paper, which lawyers agreed to settle out of court two weeks ago following a 19-month, David-and-Goliath High Court battle. 

Astonishingly, Mr Ward represented himself, known as a “litigant-in-person.”

Mr Ward launched the libel action after a previous High Court action.

The story began when he initially challenged a decision by the government to drop the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which he had hoped would examine the press abuses which had undermined his criminal case.

Mr Ward went up against benches crammed full of London’s top barristers and media solicitors, retained by ANL.

The government also sent a lawyer to the court.

However, the hearing did not find in his favour, and Ward lost that judicial review.

But as a result of a Mail on Sunday comment responding to a court report of that hearing published on this site, he sued for libel.

Mr Ward got through the initial libel hearing, known as a ‘strike out’ – and the judge said he won his arguments on the majority of legal points.

The MoS then offered settlement, including admissions of taking paperwork and paying witnesses.

As well as agreeing a confidential payout, lawyers for the Mail on Sunday admitted: “It is a matter of public record and true that potential witnesses were paid and documents removed from Mr Ward’s home without his permission by or on behalf of Mail on Sunday journalists (including evidence later relied on by the SFO [Serious Fraud Office]) and that various courts and the CCRC have expressed disapproval of that journalistic conduct.”

Mr Ward, 73, from Worcestershire, told Byline Investigates: “I am obviously pleased to have been vindicated. It is not easy for a litigant-in-person to take on a powerful newspaper on his own. 

“The Mail on Sunday committed serious criminal misconduct towards me and it cannot any longer deny this as it has done for the last 25 years.”

Ex-merchant banker Mr Ward was convicted in the mid-90s over an illegal share support scheme and creating false documents.

After failing to clear his name in the Court of Appeal and CCRC in the years that followed, he hoped to use the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into press conduct to expose what he claimed in court papers was a “conspiracy” by the Mail on Sunday to secure his conviction.

The first part of the Leveson Inquiry took place in 2011/12 and probed press ethics. 

Leveson Part 2 was due to investigate corrupt relationships between the police and the papers, but was dramatically cancelled in 2018 by the then Culture Secretary Matt Hancock.

Hancock sparked controversy after he was accused of making an inaccurate statement to parliament to justify his position.

Frustrated but defiant, Mr Ward applied to judicially review the decision to cancel the inquiry.

At a dramatic court hearing, he laid bare his catalogue of devastating claims against the Mail on Sunday – which the paper answered by smearing him.

Specialist media lawyer Keith Mathieson, acting for the Mail on Sunday and also retained by Mirror Group in the long-running litigation over phone hacking, was handling the settlement negotiated a month ago.

Lord Rothermere, owner of the Mail on Sunday

The Mail on Sunday has also been accused of phone hacking and “blagging” in over 50 stories on this news site, but the paper’s publisher ANL has yet to be sued.

However, this year has been bad for the beleaguered title with a series of embarrassing trouncings in the courts.

In February, Prince Harry sealed a libel victory over the paper after scandalous claims were published that he failed to carry out his duties as Captain General of the Royal Marines.

Days later, his wife Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, won her own separate two-year privacy battle over the Mail on Sunday’s publication of extracts of a private letter to her father.

The Mail on Sunday’s bid to appeal the ruling was then denied in March, with Lord Justice Warby awarding interim costs to the Duchess of £450,000.

The total costs sum has yet to be fixed, but the Duchess is claiming £1.5m.

Then last month, the Mail on Sunday lost yet another punishing court skirmish with the Duchess.

The Mail On Sunday story at the centre of Associated Newspapers Ltd’s legal battle with Meghan Markle

She was claiming copyright over the letter to her father, which the paper denied, saying she had had help writing it.

However the Mail on Sunday‘s excuse was found to be baseless – a decision it is seeking permission to appeal.

Mr Ward added: “I was the victim of unlawful information gathering by the Mail on Sunday 25 years ago and it’s clear that the culture is still alive today.

“It appears as if the courts are increasingly alive to this problem.

“What made the Mail on Sunday’s misconduct in my case the more shocking was that the newspaper’s central purpose was not to publish the truth but to publish lies.

“That it has taken me 25 years to expose this criminality is the fault of powerful people, institutions, and the courts. It is wrong that one has to battle so hard to get the truth out.”

Byline Investigates has asked Clive Wolman – who has now changed his career and become a barrister – for a comment. Lawrence Lever, who runs a news wire service, has also been contacted.

More follows in Part 2, a backgrounder which reveals Michael Wards extraordinary 25 year fight for justice.

Michael Ward’s campaign website integrityandjustice.org

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