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April 16, 2014

Mail to apologise over claim JK Rowling gave misleading ‘sob story’ about single mother past

By Dominic Ponsford

The Daily Mail has admitted it libeled Harry Potter author JK Rowling over a story which said she gave a misleading "sob story" about being taunted by churchgoers for being a single mother.

The paper admitted liability under the “offer of amends” procedure in the Defamation Act. But it has yet to agree what damages to pay Rowling and it challenged some of the detail in her unilateral statement in open court about the matter.

In a judgment released yesterday, Mr Justice Tugendhat upheld the right of Rowling’s lawyers to make a statement on her behalf without the agreement of the Daily Mail. And he said that the court would make a decision on the amount of damages (if no agreement can be reached between the two parties).

Rowling sued over a 27 September 2013 article which appeared in the Daily Mail headlined: “How JK Rowling's sob story about her past as a single mother has left the churchgoers who cared for her upset and bewildered.”

In a legal claim form her lawyers argued that the story suggested she had “given a knowingly false account of her time as a single mother in Edinburgh in which she 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”.

She said the paper had misinterpreted he a piece Rowling wrote on the Gingerbread website and then failed to inform her about the detai of the allegations when it contacted her in advance of publication.

The Mail made the offer of amends on 21 January ahead of a preliminary hearing.

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In it the title said it would:

  • make a suitable correction of the words complained of and a sufficient apology
  • publish the correction and apology in a manner that is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances
  • And pay such compensation (if any), and such costs as may be agreed or, if they cannot be agreed, as determined to be payable by the court.

Last month, lawyers for Rowling put forward a proposed statement in open court which the Daily Mail objected to.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said in his judgment: “The court in assessing any damages…will take into account not only what the defendant has published, but also what the claimant has stated in open court…

"Having carefully considered the correspondence from both sides, I have concluded that there is not sufficient reason for refusing permission to the claimant to read the unilateral statement in open court in the form of the draft submitted with her application notice…The resolution of the claimant's complaint, which was eventually admitted to be well founded, has taken far too long already."

Read the full judgment here.

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