Media baron Richard Desmond has been left facing an estimated £1.25m legal bill after losing a libel action made over claims by journalist Tom Bower that he interfered in the editorial running of his newspapers.
A jury at London’s High Court took nearly four hours yesterday to reach the majority decision that the owner of the Express and Star newspapers and OK! magazine was not defamed in Bower’s 2006 biography of the disgraced former Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black.
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Desmond left court with his lawyers, making no immediate comment, but was later unrepentant as he expressed satisfaction at his three week court battle against Bower.
He said: “I sued Mr Bower for defamation because he made inaccurate and damaging allegations about me, yet he refused to apologise and publish a correction.”
Desmond claimed that Bower made a series of errors about events and timings and got the name of one of his newspapers wrong.
“His biggest mistake was in thinking I would not go to court to uphold my reputation and the resulting action has cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend a few ill-thought-out remarks that were not even essential to his bookâ€¦It was worth it to stand up in court and set the record straight.”
Outside court a delighted Bower was approached by several members of the jury requesting his signature on their copies of his book.
He happily obliged, telling the jurors “I am very grateful to you. You have been an absolutely marvellous jury.
“You have done a great service to British journalism.”
Bower then told journalists: “I think I was the victim of a very rich man trying to suppress the truth.”
During the two week trial Bower had denied libel and said what he wrote in Conrad And Lady Black: Dancing On The Edge was substantially true and was not, in any event, defamatory.
His counsel, Ronald Thwaites QC, told Mr Justice Eady and the jurors Desmond was a “malevolent proprietor determined to do as he liked”, whose bad reputation in the industry merited an award of no more than 40p – the cover-price of one copy of the Daily Express.
Desmond’s QC, Ian Winter, had branded as “wholly false” allegations that Desmond ordered a negative story about Black and was then forced into a humiliating climbdown during a 2003 libel mediation.
He said that the two press barons had reached agreement years ago and disputed Thwaites’s assertion that Desmond brought the action out of wounded pride to show he was not a “wimp”.
The action was not about money but vindication for his reputation as the claims could be very damaging in business, Winter had said.