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July 30, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:28am

Mail Online pays libel damages to Tory peer over article wrongly suggesting he is ‘secret anti-Semite’

By Charlotte Tobitt

A Conservative peer has accepted substantial damages and an apology over a Mail Online article that falsely accused him of “rubbing shoulders with Islamists, hate preachers and Holocaust deniers for years”.

Lord Sheikh said he was “delighted to have been able finally to clear my name from these shocking and unfounded allegations” months after a High Court judge ruled the article had a highly defamatory meaning.

The story, published on 15 August 2018, reported on the peer’s attendance at the same conference in Tunisia in 2014 where former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had taken part in a controversial wreath-laying ceremony.

The headline of the article said: “EXCLUSIVE: Top Tory peer’s appearance at Corbyn’s ‘hate conference’ in Tunisia comes after YEARS of rubbing shoulders with Islamists, hate preachers and Holocaust deniers.”

Callum Galbraith, representing Lord Sheikh, told Mr Justice Warby at the High Court today that his client had given a speech at the conference advocating for a two-state solution to provide for security of the state of Israel and respect for the rights of the Palestinian people.

He played no part in the wreath-laying ceremony, Galbraith added, nor was aware of it taking place.

The article reported that two Tory MPs, Robert Halfon and Zac Goldsmith, had demanded an investigation into the peer’s presence at the “hate-filled event”.

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Three months after publication, the Conservative Party’s independent code of conduct panel dismissed a complaint by the two MPs.

Lord Sheikh launched his libel proceedings after this update was not reported to Mail Online readers and the original article remained online.

Mr Justice Warby ruled in November 2019 that an ordinary reader would read the story as alleging “the claimant has a long history of support for, or close association with, people and organisations that express or hold anti-Semitic and other extremist views and attitudes”.

He added that despite the peer’s attempts to explain his actions, readers would think this “provides strong grounds for suspecting that he is secretly an anti-Semite who approves of and sympathises with Holocaust denial, Islamist jihad and hate preaching, which he is prepared knowingly and actively to support”.

Lord Sheikh said in a statement that he has worked to promote racial and inter-faith understanding for many years and is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against anti-Semitism.

“To find myself accused by a newspaper of the very conduct which I have always opposed was profoundly hurtful,” he added.

Less than a month after the judgment of meaning was published, the Mail Online took the story down and offered to publish a correction and apology and pay compensation.

Gervase de Wilde, representing Associated Newspapers, told the court today: “The defendant, through me, offers its sincere apologies to the claimant for the distress, embarrassment and upset caused to him by the publication of the article.

“The defendant accepts there was and is no truth in the allegations advanced in the article and is happy to set the record straight and apologise to the claimant.”

Picture: UK Parliament

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