View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. Media Law
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.

Content from our partners
MHP Group's 30 To Watch awards for young journalists open for entries
How PA Media is helping newspapers make the digital transition
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it

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.


A dozen of the UK's leading legal minds will explain what the Defamation Act 2013 means for journalists and the media at a unique conference being organised by Press Gazette in London on 19 June. The cost of defending a libel action at trial can be more than £1m, tickets for Defamation 2014 start from £89+VAT

Topics in this article :

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network