Evening Standard nursing home libel case collapses

Associated Newspapers has beaten off a case brought by a woman who claimed that she was libelled in an Evening Standard investigation of a nursing home she ran.

The case brought by Alberta Matadeen on a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) had been expected to be one of the biggest libel trials in recent years.

It was listed for six weeks between April and May, with 52 witnesses due to testify.

It is the second time within less than three weeks that a case brought against a newspaper under a CFA has collapsed before the trial.

On 29 January, Justice Christopher Clarke dismissed a claim by grandmother Patricia Tierney that The Sun libelled her by reporting that she worked as a prostitute at a Liverpool brothel used by the England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney.

His decision came after the newspaper produced a statement Tierney made to police in 2002 admitting that she was a sex worker.

Matadeen – who had no insurance with the CFA to cover the defendant’s costs if she lost – had launched her action against Associated Newspapers over articles which appeared in the Evening Standard in October 2002.

The articles, based on a three-week undercover investigation by a Standard journalist, alleged that elderly and vulnerable residents were being mistreated at the former Alexandra Nursing Home in Erdington, Birmingham, which Matadeen owned.

Matadeen, who denied the allegations, but has since closed the home, filed her claim in October 2003.

Associated Newspapers’ solicitors, Taylor Wessing, launched what the firm said was “tantamount to a public inquiry into the treatment of residents and conditions at the Alexandra” as it prepared the defence case.

A team of six lawyers from the firm, headed by media law partner Niri Shan, carried out a major investigation over a period of nearly four years.

This led to them gathering an expert report as well as 20 detailed witness statements corroborating the journalist’s published observations.

Defence evidence included statements from the Government regulators, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, relatives of the nursing home’s residents, a staff member, and a neighbour.

Matadeen, who is thought to have been seeking damages in the region of £200,000 finally agreed to withdraw her claim.

Shan, who worked on the defence case for Associated, said: “We are very pleased that the team’s hard work over a sustained period has been rewarded by the dismissal of Mrs Matadeen’s claim.

“The article in the Evening Standard raised questions of serious concern and we are happy that the integrity of the story has been preserved.”

Associated Newspapers’ legal director Harvey Kass said: “This vindication of a major Evening Standard investigation has resulted from nearly four years of outstanding work by Niri Shan and the Taylor Wessing team.”

Defending the case will have left Associated Newspapers facing costs of probably well over £100,000.

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