Richard Desmond: 'No vendetta with Conrad Black'

Newspaper proprietor Richard Desmond denied today that being called a pornographer was the “added twist of venom” to his vendetta with Conrad Black.

The owner of the Express group said he found the label “offensive” but it did not form part of a “tit-for-tat” battle with Black’s Hollinger group which dated back to a dispute over the West Ferry printing plant.

Desmond was being cross-examined in his libel action against Tom Bower over claims that he had abused his position to pursue a personal campaign against Black and was then forced into a humiliating climbdown.

His QC, Ian Winter, has told Mr Justice Eady and a London jury that the allegations in the 2006 biography Conrad And Lady Black: Dancing On The Edge were “highly defamatory and wholly false”.

Bower denies libel and says that what he wrote was substantially true and was not, in any event, defamatory.

Ronald Thwaites QC, for Bower, said the claim that Desmond “relies on pornography” was in an October 2002 Sunday Telegraph article entitled Desmond Laid Bare – which appeared the week before The Sunday Express published a story called ‘Conrad Black Laid Bare As Bankers Pull The Plug’.

Desmond said that he did not order the story about Black which, Thwaites asserted, distorted a piece sourced from a financial journal as it omitted the crucial fact that another banker had stepped in.

The proprietor added that Black later accepted his apology for wrongly saying that banker TD Securities had withdrawn – which was all he apologised for at a September 2003 libel mediation.

Thwaites submitted that, in showing him the piece just before publication, Sunday Express editor Martin Townsend “was signalling to you: ‘Look boss, we’ve got them, this is the article you wanted for revenge for last week, a piece of retaliation for calling you a pornographer.’ Isn’t that what this was about?”

Desmond replied: “No.”

Thwaites: “Part of a long-running vendetta?”

Desmond: “No.”

After Winter rose to remind the court that this was not part of the pleaded case, Thwaites continued: “No, it’s the twist – the added twist of venom to the vendetta.”

Desmond agreed that he saw the Telegraph group’s former chief executive, Dan Colson, by chance, in a coffee bar the day before the Sunday Express printed a follow-up article.

He said that Colson had complained to him about the previous week’s piece but that he did not like any form of reporting about his company.

Thwaites asked: “And did you tell Mr Colson that if they continued referring to you as a pornographer they could expect more of the same?”

Desmond replied: “No, I would not have said that, especially with Colson the clever lawyer.”

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