02 December 2004

MP Wins Libel Case

Galloway Wins Saddam Libel Case

MP George Galloway has been awarded £150,000 in libel damages from the Daily Telegraph over claims he received money from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

The Glasgow Kelvin MP was awarded the damages in compensation for articles published by the paper in April 2003.

He had denied ever seeking or receiving money from Saddam Hussein's government, which he said he had long opposed.

The newspaper had said it was in the public interest to publish the claims, based on documents found in Baghdad.

Mr Justice Eady said he was "obliged to compensate Mr Galloway in respect of the publications and the aggravated features of the defendants' subsequent conduct, and to make an award for the purposes of restoring his reputation".

The Telegraph had denied libel, saying during the case that it had not intended to "suggest guilt", but published the story because there was a case to answer.

The judge said the allegations were "seriously defamatory" of Mr Galloway.

He said readers of the Telegraph claims may have understood them to mean:

* Mr Galloway had been in Saddam's pay, secretly receiving about £375,000 a year.

* He diverted monies from the oil-for-food programme, thus depriving the Iraqi people of food and medicines.

* He probably used the Mariam Appeal, a campaign Mr Galloway launched to raise money for an Iraqi girl with leukaemia, as a front for personal enrichment.

* What he had done was tantamount to treason.

Judge Eady said: "It was the defendants' primary case that their coverage was no more than 'neutral reportage' of documents discovered by a reporter in the badly-damaged foreign ministry in Baghdad, but the nature, content and tone of their coverage cannot be so described."

Telegraph foreign correspondent David Blair had earlier told the judge how he had found the documents inside the Iraqi foreign ministry.

They included a five-page memorandum from the head of Iraqi intelligence which the journalist thought "had the makings of a major story about Mr Galloway's links with Saddam Hussein's regime".

'No opportunity'

The judge said that although Mr Galloway was interviewed by telephone on 21 April, he was not given an opportunity to read the Iraqi documents beforehand, and neither were they read to him.

The reporter who contacted him, Andrew Sparrow, only summarised the claims relating to funding of the Mariam Appeal, but did not tell him the newspaper was planning to publish claims about personal enrichment, the judge said.

"[Mr Galloway] did not therefore have a fair or reasonable opportunity to make inquiries or meaningful comment upon them before they were published."

He added: "In all the circumstances, it cannot be said that the defendants were under a social or moral duty to make the allegations about Mr Galloway at that time, and without any attempt at verification."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/12/02 11:08:31 GMT



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