The Times has paid £30,000 in damages and apologised after an article was “re-nosed in editing” to suggest an advocacy organisation was acting as an apologist for a suspected terror attacker.
The newspaper suggested Cage and its outreach director Moazzam Begg (pictured) were supporting the suspect accused of stabbing three men to death during a rampage in a Reading park in June.
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Khairi Saadallah has since admitted three counts of murder.
The Times published a story five days after the attack, headlined: “Campaign group helps Reading suspect Khairi Saadallah”, which wrongly claimed Cage had “backed the Reading attack suspect”.
A statement from Rahman Lowe Solicitors, who represented Cage in its libel claim, said it had seen an email to an editor from the journalist who wrote the story raising concerns that “the below article was re-nosed in editing without consulting me to change the meaning of the top line”.
The Times immediately removed the article after it was contacted by Cage but did not agree a satisfactory wording for its correction, and the organisation and Begg both subsequently launched libel claims.
Begg, a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay, said: “This appears to be a case of Times editors sexing up a Times journalist’s story to create a completely false link between a Muslim grassroots advocacy group and a suspected terrorist attack.”
The Times quickly agreed to pay damages to Begg, admitting it had made the defamatory imputation that he was “acting as an apologist for someone suspected of a terrorist attack by working (after the event) to support him, and by seeking to excuse his actions by reference to failings by the police and others”.
But it initially argued that Cage would have to prove it had suffered “serious financial loss” as a result of the libel in addition to serious harm to its reputation, claiming it was a “body that trades for profit” under the Defamation Act 2013.
But after Cage’s legal team supplied evidence that the group was created “to promote human rights throughout the world” and other “benevolent and philanthropic purposes”, and argued that the Government had not intended for civil society NGOs to be prevented from challenging false and defamatory claims with this clause, the Times settled the claim.
The newspaper has paid a total of £30,000 in damages to Cage and Begg, plus legal costs, and on Friday published an apology in print and online.
It admitted wrongly suggesting that Cage, which campaigns against discriminatory state policies, had excused Saadallah’s actions by referring to failings by the police.
The newspaper had also wrongly stated Cage had not responded to requests for comment on their involvement with the suspect, when Cage had actually responded ahead of publication that they were “not aware he has ever approached us for support”.
“In fact, while they commented on police and media reaction to the attack, they had no involvement with the suspect,” the newspaper said on Friday.
“We apologise to Cage and Mr Begg for these errors and for the distress caused, and we have agreed to pay them damages and legal costs.”
Zillur Rahman of Rahman Lowe said: “£30,000 is a substantial sum of damages for an article that was online for less than 24 hours. It exemplifies the gravity of the allegations and provides the vindication to which Cage and Mr Begg are entitled.
“It also demonstrates that the media cannot publish defamatory articles and assume that removing them from their websites and publishing inadequate corrections will permit them to avoid liability for these libels.”
Picture: Rahman Lowe Solicitors