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October 31, 2022updated 14 Nov 2022 7:45am

Paddy French ‘withdraws’ from John Ware libel case but trial will go ahead

By Charlotte Tobitt

Press Gang website editor and former TV producer Paddy French said he has “withdrawn” from the case in which BBC Panorama journalist John Ware is suing him for libel.

Ware is seeking £50,000 in damages over a pamphlet published by Press Gang in 2019 about a Panorama programme looking into anti-Semitism in the Labour party, which the pamphlet described as a “rogue piece of journalism”.

French (pictured) planned to defend the case using both the truth and public interest defences. However, he withdrew the truth defence this summer. He also no longer had legal representation, meaning he would have had to represent himself at the trial.

He has raised about £94,000 including through two crowdfunding pages since Ware launched the case, but told Press Gazette most of it has been swallowed up by legal fees. One prominent donor was Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, who has himself seen recent controversy over comments he made about the Russian war in Ukraine.

French said in a statement on Friday: “I have decided to withdraw from the case and will take no further part in the proceedings.”

This was in part, he said, because a High Court judge ruled in favour of Ware at a preliminary hearing last year. Mr Justice Saini found French’s article carried the meaning that Ware was a “rogue journalist who had engaged in dirty tricks aimed at harming the Labour Party’s chances of winning the general election by authoring and presenting an edition of Panorama in which he presented a biased and knowingly false presentation of the extent and nature of anti-Semitism within the party, deliberately ignoring contrary evidence”. The judge added that accusing a journalist of this behaviour was “clearly defamatory at common law”.

French said on Friday: “This was not my intention — my concern was about the quality of the journalism.”

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French had also seen the case as “an opportunity for a forensic examination of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party while Jeremy Corbyn was leader” but said this was no longer relevant following several recent publications about the party, including the Forde report into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism.

French said: “These developments mean that Ware v French has become less and less relevant.”

French did not know how the case would proceed following his withdrawal.

But Mark Lewis of Patron Law, representing Ware, told Press Gazette the trial will still begin on Monday 7 November as previously scheduled. It had been expected to take four days, although recent events may change this.

Lewis said: “It would not be appropriate to comment as the trial is about to start. There is no recognisable legal concept of a defendant unilaterally withdrawing from a case.

“As will become apparent from the trial Mr French’s descriptions of the chronology of his actions and his decision to ‘withdraw’ do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.”

Lewis is a veteran of media law, with high-profile cases including leading celebrities’ phone-hacking cases against the News of the World, winning food blogger Jack Monroe’s Twitter libel case against commentator Katie Hopkins and advising Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis in his defamation fight against Facebook scam adverts using his name.

Ware has argued French’s allegations were “inherently serious” and struck “huge upset and damage” to his professional reputation as a journalist.

The article, headlined “Political storm rages over BBC’s ‘rogue’ journalism”, was published on the Press Gang website and in the free online magazine Cold Type. The print pamphlet containing it was sent to senior figures at the BBC, Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday, according to documents in the case.

Ware has previously successfully received substantial damages and an apology from Labour after it falsely accused him of “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public” in the Panorama programme. He has also settled a case brought against Jewish Voice for Labour after its media officer said on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show that the journalist behind the Panorama programme “has a terrible record of Islamophobia, far-right politics”.

Picture: Paddy French

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