The publishers of the Times and Daily Telegraph have paid libel damages to a top prosecutor who they wrongly claimed had been criticised following England cricketer Ben Stokes’ acquittal on charges of affray last year.
A Times splash on 15 August 2018, headlined: “Senior prosecutor under fire after Stokes is cleared of affray,” wrongly said the initial decision on what charges to bring against Stokes (pictured, left) was made by barrister Alison Morgan, who was then first junior treasury counsel.
It also wrongly reported that Morgan was responsible for the decision not to charge Stokes’ fellow England cricketer Alex Hales (pictured, right) for his involvement in the incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September 2017.
Daily Telegraph articles published on its front page and page five on the same day made similar criticisms of Morgan.
Morgan pursued the Times for libel in court but settled with the Telegraph without mounting formal legal proceedings.
The Mail has already apologised and paid libel damages and legal costs to Morgan over similar claims.
In July a High Court judge ruled the Times article was defamatory because it would be understood to mean Morgan was “reasonably suspected of having been professionally negligent in regard to her decisions as to who should be prosecuted and for what offences in the trial of Ben Stokes and that those decisions had meant that Mr Stokes had not been charged with the correct offences, that Alex Hales had not been charged at all despite film of him kicking one of the victims in the head and that the prosecution had thereby not been properly mounted”.
The Times and Telegraph cases concluded with a statement read by lawyers at the High Court on Thursday.
William Bennett QC, representing Morgan, said the criticisms in both newspapers were “entirely unjustified and based on false statements” about her brief involvement in the case.
Morgan had no involvement in selecting the charges or deciding which defendants would be tried, and although she was briefly instructed in the case she had to give it up because of a diary clash.
“The publication of the false and defamatory allegations in two national broadsheet newspapers caused Ms Morgan significant harm to her otherwise unblemished reputation,” Bennett said.
“As a self-employed member of the Bar, Ms Morgan’s good judgement and competence are two of her most important attributes.
“The fact they were challenged in such a manner compelled her to bring these claims in order to set the record straight.
“Furthermore, the publications have caused Ms Morgan considerable distress, by striking at the very heart of [her] professional character.”
Times Newspapers and Telegraph Media Group both agreed to pay damages and Morgan’s legal costs.
The Times amended its online story the day after publication with a correction at the bottom which reads: “The initial decision to charge Ben Stokes, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale with affray was taken by CPS lawyers and not, as we wrongly said, by Alison Morgan, first junior treasury counsel.
“Ms Morgan, named in court as the prosecution lawyer who reviewed the case and who was satisfied that the affray charge was suitable, has asked us to make clear that she has not personally come ‘under fire’ over the prosecution case.”
Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra