Ashcroft cleared of corruption links

Indy's former publisher apologises in court

Lord Ashcroft’s long-running libel claim against the former publisher of The Independent newpaper came to a successful conclusion on 26 November, when Independent News & Media Ltd made a public apology in Court before Eady J.

Mark Warby QC, for Lord Ashcroft, told the court the action arose from articles published in November 2009. The articles concerned Lord Ashcroft’s business interests in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), and referred to Michael Misick, the former TCI premier, and a man widely alleged to have been involved in corrupt activity.

The articles did not assert that Lord Ashcroft was involved in or linked to any such activity, said Warby. On the contrary, one of them said there was no such suggestion. However, “the overall impression, to many, will have been that Lord Ashcroft was somehow implicated in Mr Misick’s wrongdoing.”

Mr Warby told the Judge that the publisher now accepted that, despite the disclaimer, the articles had tended to link Lord Ashcroft’s name with allegations of scandalous corruption.

‘No evidence’

The Court was told that Independent News & Media Limited wished to make absolutely clear that it has found no evidence whatsoever that Lord Ashcroft or his companies have in any way been involved with activities in the Turks and Caicos Islands concerning politicians, public officials or others which might be considered to represent bribery or indeed any other corrupt practice.

For the publishers, Julia Varley of David Price Solicitors & Advocates told the Court they “apologise to Lord Ashcroft for the embarrassment he has been caused.”

Costly saga

Most of the 3 years for which this action ran were taken up with costly interlocutory hearings in which the defendants repeatedly tried but failed to get pleas of justification and fair comment on the record. Their first attempt was struck out by Eady J in February 2011. A later application for permission to reinstate such defences in differing terms was dismissed by the same Judge in July 2011. Appeals against those decisions were dismissed by the Court of Appeal in April 2012. After that, with a total of more than 6 days spent in court on these applications, in July 2012 Eady J eventually did allow such defences to be pleaded.

The agreed statement now brings to an end this long-running litigation and confirms that IN&M Ltd accepts that there is no evidence of involvement in corruption on the part of Lord Ashcroft.

5RB’s Mark Warby QC and Adam Speker acted for Lord Ashcroft instructed by Kevin Bays of Davenport Lyons.