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January 19, 2006updated 22 Nov 2022 6:01pm

FT’s ‘pragmatic’ £4.5m libel deal

By Press Gazette

By Dominic Ponsford, Lou Thomas and Roger Pearson

The
Financial Times’ £4.5m libel settlement with stockbroker Collins
Stewart was described by one leading media lawyer as a “pragmatic move”
and not a climbdown.

Another lawyer contacted by Press Gazette described it as “the best move under the circumstances”.

The
FT settled with Collins Stewart on the eve of a libel trial that was
expected to last two weeks. The City firm was seeking damages of £37m
over articles published in the FT in August 2003, in which a former
employee, James Middleweek, made allegations of management wrong-doing.

The
settlement includes £300,000 damages and expected costs of £2m for the
FT’s own lawyers and £2.2m for Collins Stewart’s costs.

In October 2004 a £230.5m claim for what the stockbroker said it had lost from its market value, was struck out.

In
an apology on the front of the FT’s Companies and Markets section on
Wednesday the paper expressed “regret” for the way in which it reported
the story and said that “it did not ever endorse Mr Middleweek’s
allegations”.

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Media lawyer Caroline Kean, from Wiggin, said: “I
class this as a win for the FT. Collins Stewart brought an initial
claim for £250m which was thrown out, the second part of their claims –
for aggravated damages – was also thrown out.

Regarding the
“apology” she said: “The newspaper has merely informed readers that it
does not endorse the views of Mr Middleweek. There was no apology for
the fundamental story – this is not a climbdown on the part of the
newspaper, it’s a pragmatic settlement.

“People tend to think that anyone who receives money has won, but this doesn’t strike me as a win.”

Martin
Soames, from DLA Piper Rudnick, said: “In the circumstances it was
probably the best thing the FT could do, although the price was high.

“The
main implication is if you report a grudge match, which this was, you
have to really step back from it, not only in terms of how you cover it
but also in terms of where you get your story from.”

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