The New European is planning to sue Baroness Michelle Mone, the businesswoman at the centre of the PPE Medpro procurement scandal, in an attempt to recover fees spent defending against “deceitful” legal threats.
The weekly magazine received a pre-action letter from the office of Baroness Mone in August asserting that it had been wrong to report she “bought herself a yacht with profits from useless NHS protective gear”.
Mone’s office demanded the deletion of such reports online, The New European said, along with the withdrawal of all printed copies of the relevant issue and payment of damages to a charity of Mone’s choice.
Until recently Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman have denied benefiting from £200m worth of government contracts awarded to their company PPE Medpro for the provision of protective equipment during the Covid pandemic.
Last week however Mone admitted in an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that, contrary to her previous claims that she was not connected to PPE Medpro: “I did make an error in saying to the press that I wasn’t involved… I’m sorry for not saying straight out, ‘Yes, I am involved.’”
She also explicitly admitted to lying, saying: “…we’ve only done one thing, which was lie to the press to say we weren’t involved.”
The Guardian revealed on Tuesday that it had been sent legal letters saying it would be “inaccurate” and “defamatory” to raise “any suggestion of an association” between Mone and PPE Medpro.
Byline Times chief reporter Josiah Mortimer told Times Radio on Tuesday that his employer had also been threatened with legal action for reporting on Mone, saying: “When journalists are trying to uncover the truth behind these kind of stories and they’re threatened with extremely costly – frightening, actually – libel action, it does take a toll…
“The costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds and you don’t know that you’re going to get that money back.”
The Mirror, The National and Tortoise are all also believed to have spent time or money dealing with legal threats connecting to their reporting on PPE Medpro.
In light of Mone’s admission The New European announced on Wednesday that in partnership with the Good Law Project it has instructed lawyers to recover the legal fees spent defending against spurious legal threats.
The publication acknowledged that “an action of this sort is highly unusual, but The New European and Good Law Project believe it is necessary to put those making baseless defamation claims at risk.
“High net worth individuals cannot be given a free hit against media organisations or campaigners to silence their reporting.”
It added that the case will “seek to establish whether there is a legal mechanism to recover those costs where deceit is proven”.
New Euroeapn editor Matt Kelly said: “Mone sought to pretend that the Lady M yacht had nothing to do with her. That is a nonsense. We were forced to spend several thousand pounds of costs in legal fees responding to her mendacious threats. We want our money back. More than that, we want to establish a future deterrent against wealthy individuals willing to lie to stymie honest reporting.
“We look forward to seeing Mone in court in the new year.”
[Read more: UK’s top editors call for standalone anti-SLAPP bill]
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