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October 4, 2012updated 05 Oct 2012 5:57pm

Victory for former Sun features editor Matt Nixson in News Corp sacking dispute

By Dominic Ponsford

  • No admission of liability settlement following summary sacking 14 months ago
  • Total bill for News International could top £1m with legal fees for both sides
  • Press Gazette coverage thought to have hastened settlement of case

News International has settled its dispute with former Sun features editor Matt Nixson 14 months after he was sacked on the orders of News Corp's Management and Standards Committee. 

Press Gazette understands that its coverage of the case is thought to have been a key factor in hastening the settlement of the dispute.

Nixson was summarily sacked without notice pay in July 2011 prompting him to sue for unfair dismissal and to lodge a separate legal case against the News Corp Management and Standards Committee for wrongful dismissal in the High Court.

The MSC had uncovered an email from 2009 which it believed suggested Nixson had authorised an inappropriate payment of £750 to a prison officer in relation to a story about special treatment for Soham murderer Ian Huntley. The police have since told Nixson they are not interested in speaking to him about the matter. And the NUJ, which has represented Nixson in his unfair dismissal fight, has said there is no evidence he did anything wrong.

But unlike the 20 Sun journalists arrested over the last year who have kept their jobs, Nixson has been unable to work for News International, or any other news organisation because of the shadow cast over his character.

In July – one year after Nixson’s dismissal – Press Gazette published an article in which NUJ deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick said the way he had been treated by News International was "deplorable" and "shabby".

He said: "It's placed him in suspended animation almost, unable to work as a journalist anywhere else until this thing has been cleared up."

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That piece prompted an unprecedented response on the Press Gazette website with more than 150 individuals, including many former colleagues, Nixson speaking up in his defence.

Press Gazette understands that this piece was seen by someone at the very top of News Corp, possibly Rupert Murdoch himself, helping prompt the decision for the case to be settled as quickly as possible.

The level of the settlement is a closely guarded secret, but damages for Nixson plus extensive legal costs on both sides are like to leave NI with a total bill for around £1m.

Nixson said in a statement: “I am really pleased to have reached agreement with News Group Newspapers Limited.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Barry Fitzpatrick and Roy Mincoff of the National Union of Journalists, and all their colleagues, for backing me unstintingly during this very difficult period. I would also like to thank my solicitor Alison Downie of Goodman Derrick LLP for acting for me and her support. I am particularly grateful to the many journalists, former colleagues and friends in the press, including at News International, who have provided incredible support to me and my family over the last year.”

His solicitor Alison Downie of Goodman Derrick LLP said: “My client is delighted to have reached agreement to settle both his High Court and Employment Tribunal claims against his former employer News Group Newspapers Limited. “Matt is a widely respected and highly experienced senior journalist, previously head of features of The Sun.

“The High Court and Employment Tribunal litigation has ended by settlement, with Matt Nixon’s high reputation and professional integrity maintained. He is glad to be able to put the litigation behind him and looks forward to continuing the career he loves.”

News International has separately issued the following statement: "Matt Nixson and News Group Newspapers Limited have reached an agreement, without admission of liability, to settle the claims brought by Matt Nixson against News Group Newspapers Limited in respect of the termination of his employment. Matt Nixson has withdrawn his claims against Lord Grabiner QC, William Lewis, Simon Greenberg and Jeffrey Palker without admission of liability by any of those defendants."

NUJ deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick said: “I am immensely pleased that Matt has reached conclusion to this very sad affair. I would like to thank the many journalists who have written about this and sent messages of support to Matt, the Press Gazette for their support also, and Alison Downie and the legal team.” 

Some of the comments made following Press Gazette's 24 July story about Matt Nixson:

Liz Carnell

Let me tell you a story about Matt Nixson… Apart from being a journalist for many years, in 1999 I founded a children's charity called Bullying Online (later Bullying UK) and we worked with Matt, who was NoTW features editor, on a very successful campaign which included me running a helpline in the NoTW office one Sunday. Andy Coulson and Stuart Kuttner were also involved to a lesser extent. Matt arranged a suitable NI donation for charity funds, running into several thousand pounds. I was surprised when it was followed a few days later by another cheque, for at least another £1,000 from a whip-round that Matt had held in the newsroom. Lovely man with a big heart. Take care Matt xxx
Peter Smith
The story of Matt Nixson’s summary sacking from The Sun could have been penned by Kafka. When this highly talented journalist and throughly decent human being was ejected onto the street a year ago he had no clue as to his supposed crime.  All he was told was that he had been ‘tried’ in his absence by NI’s shadowy Management and Standards Committee and found guilty on an unspecified charge.
Matt repeatedly requested details of the accusation levelled against him, but received only stony silence in reply. When NI finally revealed why they sacked Matt, it emerged they had been sitting on their 'damning evidence' for nearly two weeks and just happened to fire him when Murdoch jnr was being accused of misleading Parliament. A breathtaking example of a company trying to spin the news away from their man by throwing an employee overboard.
The fact that the police team conducting the phone hacking inquiry were not interested in questioning Matt proves NI had committed a monumental blunder – and a gross injustice. But it is an injustice they are either too heartless or too cowardly to acknowledge. To see Matt battling to support his wife and young baby over the last year has been heartbreaking for all of us who count him a true friend. And there are many of us out there. It is time this shameless farce was brought to an end and a great journalist was brought back in from the cold.
Barry Brennan 
The NI injustice surrounding  Matt Nixson seems even worse when we reflect that not only was he not charged by police.  He wasn't even arrested.  How can The Sun, and all of the mighty NI, leave this loyal man to remain in the wilderness?
Tracy Gaton
News International has treated Matt Nixson appallingly. Having known him for several years, I can confirm that, as many others have stated, he worked unbelievably hard and made a great effort to treat everyone – fellow journalists and members of the public alike – with scrupulous courtesy and fairness. Our profession needs more people with such principles and integrity. Shame on you, NI, for behaving so shabbily. Good luck, Matt, in your efforts to secure a resolution to this sorry aga.
Nick Constable
I've worked with and for Matt Nixson for years and he's as straight as they come.  Unfortunately that hasn't stopped his career being threatened by a bunch of half-witted headless chickens who – just maybe – got over-promoted.  Proper newspaperman and God knows we need them right now. 
David Wells
Matt Nixson is one of the most decent, hardworking, respected and talented journalists I've ever had the pleasure of working with – and one of the nicest. He really does not deserve this. All the very best of luck in resolving this soon Matt.

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