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August 14, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:30am

Reach ordered to pay £49,000 in libel damages to teacher who grabbed pupil by collar

By PA Medialawyer and Press Gazette

A primary school teacher has been awarded damages of £49,000 over a series of articles published by three Reach titles.

The Sunday Mirror, Mirror Online and Kent Live published articles in December 2018 falsely stating Martin Gilham had been found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by the Teaching Regulation Authority after grabbing a seven-year-old boy by his collar because he entered a classroom with muddy shoes.

While Gilham did face a Teaching Regulation Authority hearing, the panel acquitted him of wrongdoing and said that his ability to teach remained unaffected.

The newspaper group made a qualified offer of amends in May 2019, a procedure whereby a newspaper admits its error, publishes an apology and agrees to pay compensation to be determined by a judge if not agreed by the parties.

However, after failing to agree on the wording of the apologies, Reach proceeded to publish unilateral apologies in June 2019, which the court described as “grudging, unsuitable and insufficient in terms of providing adequate vindication, restoring the claimant’s reputation and reducing the distress and upset caused to him”.

The £49,000 damages were awarded against Mirror Group Newspapers and Reach this week after a hearing to assess compensation, which was held on 19 June this year.

Carter Ruck, which represented Gilham, said the size of the damages “reflects the gravity of the allegation, the fact it was false, the high reputation of the claimant in his local community, and the egregious conduct of [Reach] after the publication of the article”.

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In his judgment, Judge Lewis said Kent Live had, “for reasons that are difficult to understand” added further defamatory material to the story when it had already accepted it had made a “serious error” and amended the wording.

He did though give credit to the Mirror titles for quickly publishing apologies which he said seemed to be “in good faith” and “did not come across as grudging or insincere”.

“I can accept that the publication of the articles would have been hurtful and humiliating for the claimant given that much of his life was focussed on working with children, and the events related to the local community in which he lives,” the judge said.

“I can also accept that it would have been distressing, placing on hold his plans to resume his career.”

Picture: Pixabay/Steve Buissinne 

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