Cruddas ‘offered access to Cameron’


Published: Tuesday 17th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Former Conservative party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas corruptly offered access to David Cameron and other leading members of the Government in exchange for donations, the Court of Appeal has found.

Three judges reduced a £180,000 libel award made to the 61-year-old businessman against Times Newspapers in July 2013 to £50,000, and ordered him to repay the £130,000 plus interest by the end of the month .

Mr Cruddas had brought the claim against the group and two members of the Sunday Times’s Insight team, masquerading as potential donors, over three articles which appeared in March 2012.

Today, Lord Justice Jackson said that the trial judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat got it wrong in one of his findings in relation to the truth of the meanings of the articles.

The appeal judge said: “On a proper reading of the transcript of a meeting on March 15 2012, the following is clear.

“Mr Cruddas was effectively saying to the journalists that if they donated large sums to the Conservative Party, they would have an opportunity to influence Government policy and to gain unfair commercial advantage through confidential meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.

“That was unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong.

“Therefore meaning one was substantially true. The defendants are not liable for libel or malicious falsehood in respect of meaning one.

“I should add that what Mr Cruddas said at the meeting does not represent the true position of the Conservative party. The Prime Minister has dissociated himself and the party from what Mr Cruddas said.”

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Ryder and Lord Justice Christopher Clarke, went on to agree with Mr Justice Tugendhat that the newspaper had failed to justify the second and third meanings and were liable for libel and malicious falsehood in respect of them.

These related to the allegation that Mr Cruddas made the offer, even though he knew that the money offered for such secret meetings was to come – in breach of the ban under UK electoral law – from Middle Eastern investors in a Liechtenstein fund and that, to circumvent and thereby evade the law, he was happy that the foreign donors should use deceptive devices, such as creating an artificial UK company to donate the money or using UK employees as conduits, so that the true source of the donation would be concealed.

After the ruling, the Sunday Times – together with journalists Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake – said they were “completely vindicated”.

It added: “This was an important public interest story. Our journalists acted with professionalism and integrity and with the full support of the newspaper’s editors and lawyers.

“They and the newspaper have fought this case for three years. Today’s judgment confirms that journalism, and in particular undercover journalism, plays a key role in exposing the conversations behind closed doors, that feed public mistrust.

“In so doing, it serves a vital purpose in a democracy.”

The newspaper said the £50,000 which Mr Cruddas will not have to repay was to compensate him for the “less serious” allegation that he had countenanced breaches of electoral law in relation to foreign donations.

“The Court of Appeal found that this allegation was not true and the defendants had published it maliciously.

“The journalists and the newspaper recognise that they are bound by the finding of malice, although they do not believe it to be correct.

“They did not intend to accuse Mr Cruddas of countenancing a breach of electoral law, and did not think they had done so.”

It said it would pay half Mr Cruddas’s trial costs and, as the Sunday Times paid him £180,000 in damages and £500,000 in costs following trial, he would now have to make repayments to the newspaper, which were estimated to be more than £300,000.

Mr Cruddas, who was refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, said later: “Naturally, I am disappointed that the Court of Appeal has allowed part of the Sunday Times’ appeal, but it is some consolation that I remain the overall winner of my action.

“The court has said that the newspaper failed `by a wide margin’ to justify their suggestion that I was prepared to break UK electoral law by accepting foreign donations.

“What is more, they have confirmed that based on the judge’s assessment of the oral evidence which he heard from the Sunday Times journalists, there is no basis for overturning his decision that they were malicious and knew that suggestion to be untrue.

“This is no victory for the Sunday Times when they still have to pay me damages, and their journalists remain condemned as malicious.”

Published: Tuesday 17th March 2015 by The News Editor

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