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September 13, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:35am

Dennis Rice versus Byline: Website removes claim journalist involved in ‘unlawful newsgathering’

By Dominic Ponsford

Byline Investigates has removed an allegation of ‘unlawful’ newsgathering against former Mail on Sunday journalist Dennis Rice from its website following a complaint to regulator Impress.

It is the latest in a series of legal disputes between Rice and the Byline titles.

Rice complained to regulator Impress in July 2018 over a story Byline Investigates published about him approximately 12 months after Byline Media was judged to have libelled him by an Impress-appointed arbitrator.

On the first occasion, in July 2017, Byline tweeted that Rice had trolled witnesses to the Leveson Inquiry – a claim which arbitrator Clive Thorne ruled was libellous, ordering Byline Media to pay him £2,500 damages for serious, but not substantial, harm.

The second complaint, settled ahead of arbitration, relates to a story published on 8 July 2018, headlined: “NAMED: 50 Murdoch journalists linked to ‘unlawful’ newsgathering, court hears.

Byline Investigates was set up by Byline Media but is now an editorially independent site. It today added a clarification to the story stating:
“In that article, we named a number of the journalists that were mentioned in the witness statement, including Dennis Rice, who is historically a former journalist but now works as a fully qualified Gestalt counsellor.

“Mr Rice has since written to us to say that the witness statement was inaccurate of him and that the publication of the allegations from the witness statement has adversely affected him.

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“We apologise to Mr Rice for any anxiety or distress that this has caused, without any admission of liability, and have agreed to remove his name and the allegations concerned from the article.

“The article in question was a report of the proceedings and the words causing Mr Rice distress were direct quotes from the witness statement which Mr Rice disputes and says are factually inaccurate and defamatory of him.

“These allegations were made in an interlocutory witness statement but they have never been tested by court at trial; Mr Rice has since obtained the underlying documents upon which the allegations were based from the Information Commissioner’s Office and tells us that they show that what has been alleged in relation to him is incorrect.

“Whilst the proceedings are current, they relate to events from 20 years ago and so we have taken the decision to remove those words from the story to avoid any further distress to Mr Rice.”

Byline Investigates obtained a copy of a witness statement entered into court by solicitor Christopher Hutchings, of Hamlins LLP, in which he claimed Rice and other journalists had acted unlawfully 30 years ago.

Rice previously forced Byline to withdraw his photograph from the piece after he won a £1,700 County Court claim against it for breaching his copyright.

In a statement on his website, Rice commented on another spat with Byline: “In 2019 Byline Times – the sister publication of Byline Media – published two articles which reported on my costs during this Arbitration to be £60,000.

“In one of those articles an application I made to the High Court in support of this Application was described by Byline Times as ‘pointless’ and ‘scurrilous’, while the other was included in an article headlined: ‘A reporter sentenced to a year of terrible legal arguments.’ I was unable to comment on either because I was in this Arbitration, which requires confidentiality, but am doing so now by way of a Right of Reply.

“To begin I was given leave by the Arbitrator to make the High Court application, so while it was unsuccessful it is inaccurate to describe it as ‘pointless’ or ‘scurrilous’ – a fact Byline knew at the time as the other party in the Arbitration. Secondly my costs ended up being half the £60,000 and were in any case dwarfed by Byline spending more than five times this amount defending this Arbitration, with the bulk of this amount going on an application to have the case dismissed, which was thrown out. So I do not think I need lessons on ‘terrible legal arguments’ or costs from Byline.”

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