Cardinal's spokesman libel case witness given anonymity

A woman who is to be called as a main defence witness in a potentially sensational libel action launched by a former spokesman for the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has been granted anonymity when she gives evidence.

Lawyers for Ms X yesterday won a ruling from a High Court judge that her identity must be kept secret for the well-being of herself and her children.

Mr Justice Eady said his decision, made in the particular circumstances of the case, would not set a precedent and would not prevent the media from covering the pending libel trial because the woman’s evidence would be fully reportable, subject to her anonymity.

Austen Ivereigh, former director of public affairs for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, is suing the Daily Mail over a story relating to his love affair with Ms X. The story was based on what she had told the press, although she was not named.

Ivereigh claims that the story, which was later covered in The Catholic Herald, branded him a hypocrite who had publicly condemned abortion and women who have abortions, while privately he had abandoned two pregnant ex-girlfriends, including Ms X, and forced one to have an abortion.

In his claim, he says the story has “wreaked havoc and devastation” in his life.

The jury trial, at which Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor may be called to give evidence, begins on February 18 and is set for a three-week hearing.

Yesterday, Andrew Caldecott QC, for divorcee Ms X, said the publicity given to the case would have a profound effect on her private life and her two vulnerable sons, aged 10 and eight, who knew nothing about it.

The case, involving sex in the context of high church politics, amounted to a “brew which will attract a level of press coverage which will be sustained, permanent, detailed and often sensational”, he said.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, for Mr Ivereigh, said Ms X had made “a detailed, sustained and, if proved incorrect, truly nasty attack on this claimant”

– and all on the basis of anonymity promised by the newspaper.

To allow her to remain anonymous would set a precedent for future cases.

The judge, who had been referred to medical and social reports on the likely effects of publicity, said that, although the proceedings must be open to scrutiny by the media and the public, granting Ms X anonymity would not result in “secret justice”.

The identity of the woman and her children was, in the particular circumstances of this case, “purely incidental” and the conduct of the case would not be inhibited by their remaining anonymous.

He added it was conceivable that, at some point in the trial, Ms X might have to be identified if the interests of justice demanded it.

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