By Dominic Ponsford
A man falsely identified as "Lotto rapist" Iorworth Hoare has hit the libel jackpot by winning £100,000 damages plus costs from the Sunday Mirror.
The pay off is double the amount given to a man falsely identified by The Sun last year as a convicted paedophile. And it came despite massive efforts by the Sunday Mirror – such as recalling the first edition and pulping 140,000 copies – to make up for its mistake.
According to lawyers acting for the claimant, George Ayling, the pay out was boosted by "aggravating factors" in the story.
Pictures of Ayling, a retired former security foreman, appeared on pages one, four and five of an early edition of the Sunday Mirror on 17 April in which he was identified as Hoare. The real Hoare was released in March after 16 years of a life sentence for rape and previously hit the headlines after winning £7m on the National Lottery.
The offending article claimed Ayling, wrongly identified as Hoare, had been seen coming out of a bail hostel – an allegation which was untrue. It also described him as looking "evil" and quoted a woman onlooker as saying: "He looked me in the eye and it sent a chill down my spine. I was so scared, I crossed to the other side of the street straight away."
The piece added: "He walked with a very distinctive swagger, hunched over looking very nervous with his hands in his pockets."
In reality, Ayling is understood to have a distinctive walk because he has undergone hip surgery.
Sunday Mirror staff realised their mistake as the presses were rolling, possibly because its sister title, The People, ran its own frontpage story saying Hoare was living under police protection in mid-Wales. The Sunday Mirror story described the man they thought to be Hoare inspecting yachts in a West Country seaside resort.
Staff stopped the presses and pulped some 140,000 first editions, but around 75,000 made it to the newsstands.
It is understood that Ayling learned of the case of mistaken identity from the Sunday Mirror after staff from the paper tracked him down to his Weymouth home. He contacted a local firm of solicitors who in turn contacted London barrister Joanne Cash of 1 Brick Court who was able to show that at least one copy of the offending article was for sale near Ayling's home.
She said: "We are very happy with the result and I think it's a very fair settlement because of aggravating factors about the content of the article."
The Sunday Mirror declined to comment.
In March 2003 The Sun ran a picture of Great Yarmouth man David Gazley, wrongly identifying him as a convicted paedophile. It took out advertisements in local papers to apologise for its error but still ended up paying £50,000 damages plus costs after Gazley engaged libel specialists Carter Ruck.