A senior Air India executive has been awarded £85,000 libel damages – plus about £500,000 legal costs – over newspaper allegations that he was a serial sex pest.
Ashvini Kumar Sharma, a former army captain who was once aide-de-camp to the president of India, said that the ‘grossly defamatory and fundamentally false’front-page article in the London Evening Standard in August 2006 had damaged both his reputation and his health.
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After an eight-day trial at the High Court in London, a jury of six men and six women returned a verdict that the newspaper had failed to prove that the words complained of were substantially true.
Mr Justice Eady granted a stay on payment of the damages and costs pending a possible application by the newspaper for permission to appeal.
Capt Sharma’s counsel, Ian Winter QC, said that when his client read the Evening Standard article, headed ‘Sex Shame of Airline Chief”, he was devastated.
‘In short, his world fell apart. He was unable to sleep or eat properly and fell into depression. In the following six months, he lost 10kg in weight and was prescribed diazepam for anxiety and insomnia. Thanks in large measure to the support of his loving wife and family, he has recovered.”
Associated Newspapers and journalist Amar Singh argued that the article did not mean that 53-year-old Capt Sharma was guilty of criminal conduct, but that he exploited his position to prey on vulnerable females.