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  1. Media Law
May 21, 2015

JK Rowling condemns ‘indefensible’ Mail article claiming she wrote ‘sob story’ about single parent past

By PA Media Lawyer

Harry Potter author J K Rowling has been "fully vindicated and her reputation restored" following a newspaper's apology over allegations that she wrote a "sob story" containing false claims about her time as a single mother, the High Court was told today.

The reading of the statement in open court follows a subsidiary libel dispute over the wording of that statement.

The publisher of the Daily Mail had accepted that the allegations were "completely false and indefensible", published an apology and undertaken
not to repeat them, Mr Justice Warby was told at the High Court.

Associated Newspapers Ltd had also agreed to pay Ms Rowling substantial damages, which she was donating to charity, and to contribute to her
legal costs, said her lawyer, solicitor-advocate Keith Schilling.

He read out a two-page statement saying that the newspaper's allegations left the author "understandably distressed" but she was now happy to
bring her libel proceedings – lodged in the name Joanne Kathleen Murray – to a close.

The judge agreed that the proceedings should be ended and "the record withdrawn".

On 18 September, 2013, Rowling wrote an article for the website of Gingerbread, the single parents' charity, on her own experience as a single mother in Edinburgh while writing the first of the Harry Potter books.

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She described one instance where a visitor stigmatised her when she was working at her church.

Schilling said that at no point did Rowling criticise or complain about her treatment at the hands of fellow churchgoers – adding that in
fact she spoke about her time working at the church "with immense gratitude".

Ten days after her article, on 28 September, the Daily Mail published its own two-page article with the headline: "How JK Rowling's
sob story about her single mother past surprised and confused the church members who cared for her."

Schilling said the article alleged that Rowling "had given a knowingly false account" and "falsely and inexcusably accused her fellow churchgoers of behaving in a bigoted, unchristian manner towards her, of stigmatising her and cruelly taunting her for being a single mother".

The article also alleged that her Gingerbread account had been disputed by other members of the church, who were left either upset and bewildered or surprised and confused by her "sob story".

Schilling said: "The claimant's Gingerbread article was, in fact, neither false nor dishonest."

The Mail journalist had spoken to one member of the congregation, quoted in the newspaper, who had not seen Rowling's article, he said, adding that despite the Mail's claims, members of the claimant's church were not left upset, bewildered, surprised or confused.

Schilling said: "Publication of the allegations left the claimant understandably distressed.

"This distress was exacerbated by the dismissive manner in which the defendant dealt with the claimant's complaint in respect of an obviously defamatory and indefensible article."

For several months, Associated Newspapers denied that their article was capable of defaming Rowling.

In December 2013, she launched a defamation claim, and the following month the publisher accepted the allegations "were completely false and indefensible", published an apology and agreed to pay substantial damages which the author was donating to charity.

Schilling said: "In these circumstances, and this statement having been read out in court, the claimant now considers that she has been fully vindicated, her reputation has been restored and accordingly is happy to bring these proceedings to a close."

Referring to an earlier legal action, a statement was issued on the author's behalf, saying: "J K Rowling is pleased at the judgment made in
the Court of Appeal which allows her statement in open court to be read out today."

Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Associated Newspaper's against a decision by Mr Justice Tugendhat that Rowling
could make a unilateral statement in open court relating to the settlement of her libel claim over the Mail's article.

Lady Justice Sharp, sitting with Lord Justice Longmore and Lord Justice Ryder, rejected the publisher's contention that Ms Rowling's statement
should not include the word "dishonest" as it was not actually used in the pleading for the defamation claim.

While the word "dishonest" was not actually used in the pleading, it was impossible to see how Rowling could have given an account which she
knew to be false – and which contained false and inexcusable allegations against fellow churchgoers – without being dishonest, Lady Justice Sharp

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